Bridging the Digital Divide as a Gen Xer

Situated as I am smack dab in the middle of Generation X, I have some ambivalence about digital technology. I am neither frightened by it, like some baby boomers, nor enmeshed in it, like many millennials. The relationship is more complicated. Then again, we Gen Xers are famous for not wanting to be pinned down or labeled too quickly, a trait that has prompted some social commentators to characterize us unfairly as disaffected and directionless. I like to think that we are simply discerning. And we have good reason to be. My generation came of age between two tectonic shifts in American life: the social revolution of the 1960s and the digital revolution of the 1990s. I belong to the last generation of college students who wrote their term papers on a typewriter—for one year. By the time I entered my sophomore year, I was writing on a word processor; by the time I graduated, I was staring into the blue-grey screen of a Macintosh.
 

My Jesuit superiors tell me that this is one of the main reasons why they chose me as America’s 14th editor in chief. They said at the time that they were looking for an editor who could bridge the gap between an older generation of Catholic writers who came of age with the Second Vatican Council and a younger generation of Catholics whose formative years were largely coterminous with the lifespan of Google. I leave it to you to decide, dear readers, whether I have succeeded in bridging that gap, but this much I can say without hesitation: I am enjoying the challenge!

That is not the case for every magazine editor I know. Some of them embraced the digital revolution uncritically and now begrudge the amount of time they spent chasing clicks instead of reporting and analyzing in depth. A few others have resisted the digital revolution at every stage. True to form, as a Gen Xer, I see things from the middle. At America, we believe in the power of the printed word, but we also refuse to cling to it as if it were a Masada on the outskirts of the digital empire. For us, the digital revolution is a transition not from print to digital per se, but from a mind-set in which we are producing content exclusively for print to one in which we are producing content across multiple platforms, one of which is print. We are not going to stop printing a magazine. Yet even now most of our content is published online, not because it is more affordable to do so, but because a multiplatform approach improves the depth and breadth of our analysis.

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Here’s a good example: In recent years, we have published in print numerous articles covering the lives of people living with disabilities. We will continue to that. But nothing we have done in print matches the reach and depth of a recent film about the subject that was produced by our new film division. That five-minute film has already been seen by twice as many people as subscribe to America. That same week, we dedicated our radio show on SiriusXM to the topic, reaching a national audience of tens of thousands more. My point is that rather than being a challenge we begrudgingly accept, the digital revolution is an opportunity we welcome—an opportunity to tell stories and analyze issues from multiple perspectives, using technologies and platforms we could not afford or even imagine before now.

Add to that a growing and talented staff and the most loyal readers in publishing and it’s safe to say that America is entering the most transformative moment in its history. Thanks to you. Thanks be to God.

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I would like to take this opportunity to thank our friends at the American Bible Society–Catholic Initiatives for supporting this special issue on the Bible, evangelization and digital technology. We are most grateful for their support.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
William Rydberg
2 years ago
Is the objective here to compete with other Catholic news Agencies video platforms? I saw the popular video, its good, but it's similar to what Salt and Light news here in Canada produces on a regular basis. Feel good videos are often distributed freely on YouTube and Facebook with large circulation numbers. Considering that you are Jesuits, perhaps a more systematic, almost Sermon Style might be best. In this way, one focuses narrowly on a particular Subject. But brings the awesome weight of Jesuit Scholarship to the fore. Please note that I use the word Sermon as opposed to Homily to be more specific as to style and format. in Christ,
Richard Booth
2 years ago
I have not found generational categories very useful since they tend to overgeneralize attributes and fail to understand that the categories are far from discrete; in fact, they are quite continuous. One generation raises the next and that generation raises the next, and so on. It seems to me that people are influenced by all the categories with which they come into contact. I know some "baby boomers" who are real techies, and I know some "millenials" who read and enjoy Dickens. However, some traits, though certainly not universal, do somewhat characterize many people of certain age ranges. That much seems true. For instance, I know nothing of your editors' ages, but my guess is that they are of working age and in the "Gen-X" range generally. When I read the editorials, I find many of them poorly researched and like written "sound bytes." On the other hand, the most meaningful writings in America magazine, in my opinion, come from the older contributors, with some exceptions. Educational demands were stricter for college and college+ babyboomers than they are for today's professionals. Another example is that I never saw a priest read a sermon until I was in my 40s. Prior to that time, the "practice effect" was more important, I suppose, and perhaps more memory work was involved. All this is to say that you raised a very important issue that has more ramifications and nuances than we normally give it credit for.

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