February 18, 2005

Techno-Chic: Youths Gotta Be Up On The Upgrade

By Hector Gonzalez

Technology has been so woven into young people’s lives that even the middle school students I tutor have cell phones with cameras on them. In fact, a new cultural trend has emerged: “techno-chic,” a standard of coolness based on your ability to keep up with new technologies.

When I was a young kid in the early 1990s, our technology trends were things like a game on a digital watch or an alarm clock that sang. When I was in middle school in 1994, some students had pagers, but that’s as techno-chic as we got. Nowadays, young kids have e-mail, instant messenger and cell phones, and that’s just to start.

The other day I asked a girl for her number. As I was pulling out my cell phone to add her to my contact list, I realized that my phone was all busted and old. I was embarrassed. I bought my phone close to two years ago, and even then it was a fairly old model. It doesn’t have any new features like a camera, e-mail or songs that can be downloaded. Although most people would claim that these things are completely useless, they have become necessities in the techno-chic era.

In the same way that someone might have judged you according to your sneakers and jacket several years ago, people are now being judged according to how technologically updated they are. The difference between techno-chic and sneaker-chic is that sneakers can say something about who we are as individuals — skater shoes for skaters, or basketball shoes for ballers — but techno-chic says little about a person. The speed of your laptop, or the number of songs on your MP3 player offers no real clues about who somebody is.

But it still carries cultural capital. Back in the day, young people who were into computers and technology were nerds. Now, techno-savvy is the thing to be.

The other day I heard someone say, “My phone is getting old, I need to upgrade.” The idea that people are using words like “upgrade” in regular conversation is a sign of the times. I’ve known people whose paychecks went to nothing else but cell phone bills and upgrades.

One of the keys to being techno-chic is having a large online identity. Before, the only online identity you might have was your instant messenger profile. But now, with online networks such as Friendster and MySpace, people can become popular, if only through cyberspace. Friendster and MySpace are online networks in which you are given a Web page for others to view. The object is to get people to join your network by adding them as “friends.” Your friends’ pictures are automatically added to your page as links to theirs, so the more friends you have, the more links you will have on — and to — your own page.

If you’re on MySpace and you have more than 1,000 friends on your network, you’re considered on-point, and everyone will try to be your friend. If you have plain pictures, you’re not on-point. But if you have well cropped, Photoshop pictures, then you’re cool. Sometimes, people don’t even write anything about themselves on their profiles. As long as their page is well designed graphically, people want to join their network. Famous artists and actors even have MySpace accounts, and if you’re cool enough, one of these stars will join your network.

Soon enough, I’m sure that cell phones will be as common and practical to young kids as a bicycle, and MP3 song files will be the way of distributing music albums. It seems that technology may soon give young people an identity and status, the way Air Jordan’s did back in the day.

Hector Gonzalez, 20, a writer for Silicon Valley De-Bug (www.siliconvalleydebug.org), the voice of young writers, artists and workers in Silicon Valley.

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