Séamas O'Reilly: I’ve been trying out new social media sites as an escape raft from Twitter

I know plenty of people who scroll TikTok, but I know almost nobody who actually posts there, because everyone I know is, like me, too old and thick to adapt to the always-on, face-forward, bright and shiny world of TikTok culture
Séamas O'Reilly: I’ve been trying out new social media sites as an escape raft from Twitter

Séamas O'Reilly. Picture: Orfhlaith Whelan

I turned 37 last week, which got me thinking about how old ‘old’ actually is. 

It hasn’t been helped by the fact that I’ve been trying out new social media sites as an escape raft from Twitter, most of which replicate Twitter’s functionality but aren’t as popular and thus don’t have the main benefit Twitter affords: people.

Possibly the number one supplier of ‘I feel old’ sentiments is the phenomenon of having to try new things, and this past week has taught me I simply have no desire to do so.

In real terms, Twitter and its various clones have long since been left in the dust by the only social media platform that is actively growing, and used primarily by people much younger than me, namely, TikTok.

I know plenty of people who scroll TikTok and share its videos (mostly through WhatsApp and Twitter), but I know almost nobody who actually posts there, because everyone I know is, like me, too old and thick to adapt to the always-on, face-forward, bright and shiny world of TikTok culture.

In fact, such is the lot of being a 30-something Irish person, I know more people who work for TikTok (two) than people who post on it regularly (one of those two). In that sense, the digital world has offered more concrete divides between the generations than have ever existed before.

For the past decade, older generations have made a cliché of ridiculing millennials, with often absurd results. Searching Google for ‘Millennials killed the …’ is a revealing exercise: we have been accused of destroying hundreds of industries, pastimes and phenomena, including – but not limited to – shops, gyms, diamonds, marriage, golf, cruises, cinemas, MTV, ‘the guest room’, bar soap, wine, the European Union, cereal, marmalade, trees, oil, the Olympics, and sex.

We have returned fire in kind, pointing out almost all the things we are accused of destroying are either (a) things we can no longer afford to do because we all work in precarious jobs while we rack up personal debt, or (b) the consequence of industry shifts for which no one under the age of 45 could possibly be responsible.

Personally, I tend to think that some measure of inter-generational warfare is necessary, especially from the younger end of whatever divide exists. This is the circle of life, which means I’m ready to be in the crosshairs of those coming up behind us, and preferably for the stupidest reasons possible. 

Millennials haven’t had the chance to do as much damage to the world as our older counterparts, so for now our crimes are less consequential than, say, causing the Great Recession or destroying the Arctic ice sheet, but no less ruthlessly identified and mocked.

Here’s an example: do you know what the ‘Millennial Pause’ is? Unless you were born after 1997, it’s unlikely you do, so please permit a brief primer.

Put simply, the Millennial Pause is that split second of silence that Gen Z has noticed we millennials – wizened, decaying geezers and crones born between 1981 and 1996 – observe when speaking on camera, especially on Instagram, TikTok, or YouTube. 

This has been grandfathered in from our experience with older platforms which, unlike the breakneck hyper-alertness of TikTok’s video function, often took a split second to begin filming.

This has left us unconsciously wary of speaking to camera without leaving a nigh-on subliminal gap, one which is entirely invisible to us, but apparently hilarious to people younger than 28. 

That almost imperceptible half-moment in which we ‘elderly’ dullards stare blankly into camera before saying anything, like a 14th century peasant being shown a camera for the first time, scared the magic box of blinking lights will steal our soul, is the Millennial Pause.

To me, this is a slag so good, I can only stand back and applaud. 

Firstly, it is objectively hilarious that we do this, and that it took our younger counterparts to point it out.

Secondly, it has that rare, beautiful facet of any truly great observation: once you’re made aware of it, it becomes so bizarrely apparent that one sees it everywhere and cringes a little each time.

Thirdly, and most wicked of all, even with this knowledge, it is still borderline impossible for we millennials to shake the habit, so ingrained has it become in our brains.

Hard as we might try, there is, somewhere in our souls, the deep, hard-earned fear that speaking too soon will cut off the first half-second of our speech and mean we have to record our message wishing Auntie Pat a happy 60th, all over again.

This is, perhaps, redolent of a greater hesitancy within my generation, beaten down by the disappointments of life, born from a sense we arrived at the banquet just as the chairs were being put up on the tables. Gen Z, by contrast, arrived to find the restaurant out of business, and thus have no such false hopes of gaining entry.

If I were to name the thing I admire most about them, it would be their lack of apology for seeking active and radical approaches to contemporary issues, and their confidence that this can be done.

Repeated surveys show them to be more politically engaged than the generation above them which, given the traditional rhetoric about apathetic youth, is a startling, and welcome, thing to consider.

If they’re accusing us of not acting fast enough, whether it be in filming a TikTok video, or in advocating for social change and combatting climate change, I reckon that’s a charge that should give all millennials pause.

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