Last night I tried to teach my mom (love you!) how to download a song onto her iPod. It was a nightmare. Not just because I had to explain the concept of an iPod (and of downloading–at least music she understood), but also because of her fear and self-doubt that came along with it. Because I am a professional blogger, I teach people and companies about the Internet, technology and social networking all the time. I have come to realize that sometimes grown-ups are virtual kids and kids are virtual grown-ups…
Why Adults are Virtually Immature and Kids Are Virtually Grown-Up
1) Like Riding a Bike
Learning to Facebook is like learning to ride a bike. If you learn it as a child, you are fearless, you try everything, it comes naturally and you have time to practice. If you learn as an adult (I am still trying to learn how to ride a bike so I know), it is scary. You think about how much it would hurt to fall, you do not practice as much, you feel stupid, you cannot get it as fast, even when you get going you still feel nervous. Kids go through this process early and some are virtually grown-up by age 12!
2) Getting Over Fear (Fast for kids, slow for adults)
A lot of what comes with being a grown-up is learning to manage your fear and insecurities. They do not go away–but you can mask them and they become more founded on real fears like not paying your mortgage, not on the boogie man. With the Internet, some kids need to have more fear online to stay safe, but they are not nearly as afraid as some adults. Many adults I teach, are afriad of pushing the wrong button, feel ‘dumb’ stupid’ and ‘pathetic’ if the cannot get something right. Adults who are virtual kids have more fear and kids who are virtual grown-ups are secure with their online selves.
I just wanted to come up with a silly name, but sometimes I think it is possible to have two different maturation levels. When some adults get online or learn certain things, they are learning as if they are a kid to the world of the Internet. They want help, safety controls and extra guidance even though they are a real ‘grown-up’. Yet, kids go through this process much faster and seem to virtually grow up faster. Can we have two different maturation processes now that the Internet pervades our lives? In a way, many adults become (I also am slower learning new technology than kids) child-like online.
4) Virtual Adolescence
Like real world adolescence there is an online teenagerdom too. In this phase, vitual kids have learned the ropes (can be actual kids or adults learning late) and then are kind of awkward online, they still have to take paper notes on how to get to websites, they accidentally click on banner ads and can never find anything in Google…not yet. It takes time to get through to be a virtual grown up, but some people never make it. The weird thing is, kids always do, adults sometimes never virtually grow up.
5) iPeter Pans
I call grown-ups who never virtually grow up (still always uncomfortable online no matter how much practice and lessons) iPeters. This is because they are stuck in virtual adolescence. They often make risky mistakes–do not open an attachment from the billionaire in South Africa!. But, I believe you can grow up online even if you are a grown up.
If you are an iPeter, it takes time, just like learning to ride a bike as an adult, but the biggest part is getting over your fear of the Internet. Learning that is it is ok to play around on buttons (not banner ads or spammy attachments) and that the Internet works for you. Build your confidence in websites you like, talk to other teenagers and kids and get some of their confidence and maturity in deciding what is ok in the online world and be gentle with yourself…being virtually grown up takes time.