Let's face it, if you don't laugh at pictures of cats with comically misspelled captions then you simply aren't quite the thing -- you're certainly no digital native. Yet what am I to make of my father? He sits in front of an Internet connection all day, so he's no technophobe, but he wouldn't know a lolcat if one peed on his foot. He lives in a digital world -- but surfs a completely different Internet.
Dad has never poked a friend on Facebook, he's never written a blog telling the world about his inner angst, never shot at a babbling American child on Xbox Live -- he hasn't even uploaded a video rant to YouTube. Instead he surfs an Internet filled with property news, George Forman grills and patio furniture. He's concerned with tangible online offerings and real-world information.
I decided to make good on my anthropology degree and spend the day observing him to learn more about his online life. I dress warmly, make sandwiches, and set my alarm especially early.
The date is 18 April 2008 and it's 8am. Bizarrely, my father doesn't immediately switch on his phone to update his RSS feeds, instead he's busy baking raisin-flavoured bread using his brand-new bread maker and watching the news on TV -- it will be hours before he's even laid his eyes on any Web content.
He heads into the office, where he checks emails and makes a few phone calls. It's strange: his computer is cutting edge, and yet with all that processing power and an incredibly comfortable leather chair, he's not playing an online shoot 'em-up, or even browsing the Web. Nope, Dad is happy to stare at Excel spreadsheets and talk to his secretary about a meeting later on that day -- face to face. At no point does he use IM.
Hours are spent doing menial tasks such as word processing, calendar checking and calculator punching, but finally, just before lunchtime I spot him opening his Web browser. What's it going to be? Facebook? YouTube? CNET.co.uk? No, he's in the breadmaker section of Amazon, seeing if he got ripped off on the high street. After lunch he's back to emails and phone calls, but with unbelievable restraint, he only goes online later that day to check the TV guide.
The thing that appals me most is his take-it-or-leave-it attitude to the Web. We both use the Internet, but I seem to be hooked up to it in ways that my dad isn't. I'm also literally hooked to it, in the sense that. I feel almost naked if Google isn't nearby. He's using it like a cross between the Argos catalogue and the Radio Times -- useful, but not exactly crack cocaine.
Unlike my father, who's quite happy living without the Internet, I'm attached to the Web via an umbilical cord. My friends and I are online all the time, endlessly watching You've Been Framed-style videos on YouTube and creating our own lolcats. My dad's idea of a good time when he was a kid was pushing a tyre around the playground with a stick -- our playground is virtual and endless, and our sticks are our keyboards.
We're possessed by our laptops, mobiles and games consoles, and we barely make a move without reporting it on Twitter. Every second of our lives is engulfed with quasi-obsessive-compulsive disorders that confuse and disturb older generations. If my dad is a digital native of an online equivalent to the countryside, my tribe and I live in a busy city with its own language -- and talking cats for pets.