coming of age during the digital era

Eight years ago I packed up my life in Ontario and moved to Australia. I was an early 20-something seeking experiences and adventures as a backpacker. I knew no one, and spent a year traversing the country: the cities, the country towns, the outback, and the islands.

The only technology I carried with me was a cheap Nokia phone. You know the ones. It had a small black and white screen with T9 language for texting. It made and received calls and simple texts. That was it. It was indestructible.

Eight years on, this thought blows my mind.

It’s been many years now since I haven’t had a smart phone. Like most millennials, I couldn’t live without it now. It’s my map, my photo album, my stereo, my transit schedule, my bank, my shopping centre, and most importantly, my connection to my family and friends. They are at my fingertips via instant messenger apps like Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, Telegram…the list goes on.

I don’t know how I survived in a new country without a smart phone. How did I find hostels or grocery stores in each new city? How did I do regular check-ins with my parents? How did I meet people without using a meet-up app?

Well, of course I managed. I spoke to people, asked questions, got lost, but made it in the end. I visited internet cafes and paid by the minute. I struck up conversations with people around me.

With a smartphone in my hand, the backpacking experience would have been totally different.

One day I spent hours waiting for a Greyhound bus in a small beachside town. I started chatting with someone waiting for it too. We ended up travelling together for a month.  With a smartphone I probably wouldn’t have been waiting for the bus. Or, if I had, I would have been killing time scrolling through Facebook and texting my friends back home about how bored I was.

At the internet café I wrote long emails describing my adventures to my parents in a level of detail that would have never been achieved over a messaging app.

These are just two examples. I have countless other stories like this.

Don’t get me wrong, I would rather lose my left hand than give up my smartphone now. But I feel very lucky to have grown up in an age of such radical technological advances. I remember the time “BS”, before smartphones. And I feel a little bit sorry for those who don’t.