My Former So-Called Life

By Steve Outing

Since it’s winter and much of my exercise has been indoors, I’ve been watching DVDs to pass the time while on the treadmill or bike trainer. Right now I’m watching old episodes of “My So-Called Life,” a great drama from 1994. In case you don’t remember it, Life was a “realistic teen drama series that takes a look at a 15-year-old girl and her trials and tribulations with being a teenager and dealing with friends, guys, parents and school” (description from the Internet Movie Database). While critics loved the show, it nevertheless got canceled after only one season.

I fell in love with this show when it came out, but re-viewing it more than a decade later, it’s even more poignant. (That could be because my eldest daughter is now 15, and Life’s fictional family is identical to mine right now: married couple with 2 daughters, and the youngest TV daughter is about the age of my youngest daughter.)

But I’m not writing this blog item to recommend the show. (Well, I do; it’s good.) Rather, watching the episodes I’ve been struck by how much things have changed since 1994. That was the first year after I left the traditional newspaper world and started working an Internet career. I was one of those rare birds who dived in to the online world then. Most people still didn’t understand it, much less made it a big part of their lives.

I suggested to my 15-year-old that she watch the first episode of My So-Called Life, and she did. What surprised me is that she thought the show was OK, but it didn’t reflect her life. 1994 suburbia was different enough from today that she couldn’t relate to it.

Part of her “that’s how it used to be reaction” is probably because of the technology differences between then and now. (The emotional and relationship story lines certainly haven’t changed.) In 1994, no one had a cell phone, and certainly not every other teen you know. The Internet wasn’t part of a teen’s life (unless you were a tech geek). The computer in your house was probably shared by everyone, and was pretty lame compared to today’s. There was no MySpace or Facebook, and teen relationships were still based on personal interactions, not digital ones. Most everyone still got their news from the daily newspaper and TV news.

As we enter a new year, I can’t help but look back to 1994 and marvel about how far we’ve come. Digital technology now so pervades our lives that even looking back only to 1994, it seems like a very different world. It was one that today’s teenagers can’t relate to, because it seems foreign to them.

As news and media companies embark on figuring out how to survive and prosper in 2008 and beyond, they might want to keep this in mind if they hope to be relevant to my daughters’ generation.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!