Today, I spoke to Zack Whittaker, who is the youngest in the ZDNet network with his iGeneration blog. In this interview, Zach examines the Gen-Y stereotype about technology, names some pieces of technology that have changed our lives, gives us a glimpse into personal branding in the UK and more.
What is your take on the millennial stereotype that we are all tech experts?
In some respects we all are. Growing up in a small rural village in the north of England where the coal mines closed, the economy was shot to oblivion and morale was the lowest it’d ever been (since the week before: British joke). Most of my then school friends left education with nothing except chlamydia and a sense of having no purpose in the wider world, saying, “I’m no good at anything”. Everyone’s good at something, it just takes time finding the skill.
Technology has surrounded this generation since birth so we are accustomed to using it. The processes we make when writing documents or saving to the web – these are transferable to other objects, service and technologies. We can pick up a new phone and know how to use it through transferable skills we wouldn’t have ordinarily learned in a different sociology. We may not be experts, but we’re certainly keeping up with societies expectations, whether we mean to or not.
What three pieces of technology do you think have changed our lives over the past year?
There’s a saying; “if you say drugs are bad and are awful, you’ve never taken them“. I apply the same logic with the BlackBerry. It’s a drug; a mind consuming, time depriving device which had the chance, most people would be buried with once they finally slide majestically off this mortal coil. For those who haven’t signed away their lives to the device, consider yourself saved – otherwise the BlackBerry is number 1. The Internet is an obvious one – throw that one in as number 2 (and you can tell these are in no specific order as one couldn’t survive without the other), and number 3 would be something as simple as the computer mouse, of which without this, modern computing would have been firmly stuck in the 1980’s.
How has media changed your life and opened up opportunities for you?
Rockstars have underwear thrown at them on stage. Similarly, I often have underwear faxed to me by deranged fans who for some reason fantasize about me as they’re tweeting. I’m the youngest in not only the ZDNet network, but the CBS Interactive network. It’s a bit daunting, to say the least. Day in day out I know I have a massive audience and a lot of people reading, understanding, complaining and the rest of it, but I never forget who my audience is – people like me, next-generation students. I’ve spoken to Ballmer, Zuckerberg, even briefly Jobs – but social media is still a phenomenon to me, in that I speak to random people on Twitter every day and probably love it more. I like variety – it keeps life, and the job very interesting.
Do you have a role model?
Thankfully no, because through the truth of Tucker’s Law, in the end everybody will let you down and in the long run, you can only 100% trust yourself. But don’t get me wrong; the need for support and moral guidance is imperative to my work and the sociology of my life. Mary Jo Foley brought be into the media world, and has been a pillar of support, knowledge, honesty – not to mention a scratching post for anger, frustration and contempt for others. For some people call her the “Evil Queen of Microsoft”, they clearly haven’t met me yet. But anyone from my best friend to the master of my university college, my boss and my boss’ boss – Christ, even my Dad. I never turn away advice or a greater sense of understanding; I just sometimes to choose not to take heed of it.
Can you give us a glimpse of what the social media and personal branding landscape looks like in the UK?
Students need to recognize their online identities. These identities can define a person online as well as offline. My colleague, Jen Leggio, is known as @mediaphyter in the online and offline world. She has this brand and uses it brilliantly to promote herself and her work, causes and personality. As the online world becomes more integrated with the offline and the two mesh together like some tripped-up Venn diagram of confusion, the need to maintain a personal brand of your own through social media is imperative. All it takes is an event like the Hudson River place crash and a camera phone and your established identity is necessary to bring copyrights, media coverage and even remuneration back to that one single person.
Zack Whittaker is the youngest in the ZDNet network with his iGeneration blog. His insight into the next-generation is unique and first-hand, sharing his knowledge of the here and now but more so what’s next and how to get there. Zack started playing with computers before he could even tie his shoelaces; although that skill wasn’t discovered until he was 10. Amongst many things, he is a good-for-nothing, pink sock wearing, British student at the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK working towards a BA (Hons) Criminology and Social Policy. In between studying, drinking, and occasionally sleeping, he works with researchers studying neurological illnesses like Tourette’s syndrome (of which he suffers from), gives talks and lectures on disabilities, and throws in a little child protection and family safety work now and then. He grew up in “Robin Hood Country” in Nottinghamshire, UK for the best part of his life, but still heads there on occasion to see his ever-supporting and loving family, godchildren and his friends. Follow him on Twitter @zachwhittaker.