A typical day at the Florist that my family owns involves some “idiot teenager” — or so my aunts say — ordering a ridiculous floral arrangement online because “your generation doesn’t have enough social skills to pick up the phone”. We usually then have to call up that certain idiot anyway to let them know what they chose were out of season, we can’t deliver to their area or the vase they chose only holds about $5 worth of flowers.

Adrienne Roberts

I cringe when I hear this, and struggle to think of some — usually inarticulate — reason why it’s simply not true that my generation has poor social skills, that it’s just all a misunderstanding. But this small misinterpretation of generational differences has turned into a major catastrophe. Being an active member of this so-called “YouTube generation” comes with a price. My generation has been called self-promotional, computer nerds, technology-dependent and simply not self-aware. The name calling reveals a deep mistrust between my generation and those previous.

The Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act showed the YouTube generation just how much ignorance exists surrounding the technologies that define our era. The second part of the sentence seems redundant. Watching congressmen call people who know how to use the Internet “nerds” in condescending tones is slightly unnerving.

SOPA is not the only exposé of the animosity that exists between generations. On Jan. 14, Saturday Night Live aired a mock talk show segment called “You Can Do Anything.” It was loaded with sarcasm and, unfortunately, some truth. The hosts say lines such as, “You’re so self-promotional and everyone enjoys that” and “the incredibly high self-esteem of the YouTube generation.” This parody put into words what many are thinking: Members of the YouTube generation believes they can do anything they want from the comfort of a computer screen.

The fact is that my generation and previous generations need to work on understanding and accepting the way different generations live and function in society if we hope for any social or political progress. The YouTube generation — the generation that represents the future workforce and leaders — is constantly judged on how its actions will change the present and future. It can’t look productive to previous generations as my generation sits at a job, or in a lecture, switching between Facebook and Twitter. There is a perception that people in the YouTube generation have no social skills because their heads are too frequently buried in various mediums of technology.

There is a flip side to these accusations. Many times, using social networking sites and still getting work done is possible. Technology has become seamless, meaning that while someone else’s day might end at five, people now do homework and write papers on laptops and smart phones way past the standard workday.

It’s essential for the progress of our society to agree to disagree. It’s quite possible that a person free of technology can accomplish the same as a person engrossed in new technology. People aren’t getting dumber; the way we think is simply changing. Social skills have not died with older generations. They have, however, been modified to fit into today’s society. Change is scary for older generations because what they know and have grown up with is slowly becoming obsolete. Younger generations must realize that social skills and the ability to accomplish things without technology are still essential.

The world has changed less in content and more in style. The need for communication and the desire to do one’s best work have not changed. A cross-generational understanding of this concept has the power to unite people of all ages, leading to the accomplishment of beneficial change and much progress in this world.

And please, just pick up the phone to order flowers. My aunts will thank you.

Adrienne Roberts can be reached at adrirobe@umich.edu. Follow her on Twitter at @AdrRoberts.

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