A colleague recently asked me, so what do you think of Prince’s death?
It sucks to die, was my reply.
The woman looked at me a little shocked. I had clearly disappointed her. Apparently I was supposed to break into a rendition of When Doves Cry but at that very moment, I couldn’t come up with a single song of his. Once again I find myself in a generation gap. At 36, I am on the exact break point between Generation X and the Millennials. Surely it should put me in some all knowing position allowing me to easily transition between the two but more often than not I feel like I’m lost in a deep chasm somewhere in Antarctica. Things like Watergate and the energy crisis happened before me and it was raining purple while I was still in diapers. On the other hand, while I grew up with computers, I can’t say they are my first language. My own website remains rudimentary because just putting words down that perfect strangers may read seems like such a bold move. The idea of linking pages and improving my Google factor is just beyond me. I would like to officially dub 1980 as the washout year for all of us that are trying and failing to be both a Millennial and Gen Xer.
Nowhere is this generation gap more evident than in my experience with social media. As an elder of the Millennial generation, I, of course, have a login to all the social media accounts: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, etc. As a member of Generation X, I don’t actually know how to use any of them. Facebook feels like one big public baby album and so when you don’t have kids, somehow you feel a little inadequate. I think phone photography is now a required class in high school. Everyone on Instagram has just the right filter and angle. I am pretty happy if my finger isn’t in the way and my eyes aren’t closed for a selfie.
It is through these various electronic platforms that other national park fanatics have reached out to me. I consider myself a big fan of the national parks but my interest barely registers compared to some of the twitter handles I follow. Many are self-proclaimed “trusted experts” and “professional fans of the national parks” per their Twitter bio, but the diversity is remarkable including young families, singles and retired folks. It is like discovering that you were adopted and your real family is kind of eccentric and maybe obsessed. For perspective, my goal is to see all 59 national parks. Many of these people are out to see all 400+ national parks, monuments, seashores, battlefields, etc. I think there must be a prize out there for being the most avid park lover. I am sure we will all find it at the end of the rainbow.
As it turns out these online communities come together on a regular basis to “chat”. I decided to join in on a couple of these events to connect with other park fans who might be able to give me the scoop on various parks, but mostly out of sheer curiosity. Who are these people and how does one hold a conversation 140 characters at a time?
First you have to follow the chat host who presents a question and numbers it by Q1, Q2, etc. Anyone that answers has to clarify which questions they are answering with an A1, A2, etc depending on the question. All statements then end with a group hashtag to designate that it belongs to a certain conversation such as #parkchat. They debate pressing issues such as: If schedule and money were no object, which parks would you visit? When is the best time to visit parks? Park Rx day is on 4/24. Do the parks = good health? Should visiting parks be proscribed a wellness benefit/prescription?
There are a few problems with this. Just like in any group there is always that one person that knows it all and “speaks” a little too loud and often. Also if they are anything like me, and they are, they tend to forget to label their answers to match the questions. So there are a lot of lonely “agrees” and emojis that float out into the internet. Then there is the problem that unless you happen to be following every person in the conversation, which is unlikely, you only get snippets of conversation. Don’t worry. There is the person that retweets every answer. It is a lot like having a party in an echo chamber where you hear everything at once but nothing in context and always a little later.
In spite of this, I am excited for the next chat, #gearmeout. They seem to be heavy into survival tools and techniques that I hope I never have to use. In spite of this I expect I will be able to add a degree in Outdoor Survival via Millennial University to my Twitter bio by the time I am done. #expert