Athena was the goddess of wisdom in Greek Mythology. We all know wisdom comes with experience. Knowing that I have always been puzzled by the nature of her (mythical) birth. Athena only had one parent – and wasn’t really born at all. She didn’t play as a child. She didn’t have a stroppy adolescence. She never had a boyfriend and never gave birth herself. No, Athena was born fully formed from the head of her father, Zeus. A full grown, adult woman. One day she did not exist and then next she was sitting her robed bottom on a throne in Olympus.
Whether this was some sort of ancient Greek take on the virgin birth, is not the point of this post. It is more about the evolution of progress, understanding historical context, and knowing that nothing is ever created in a vacuum, on an island of isolated geniuses who were never raised nor matured but instead ‘emerged, fully formed’ preferably settled at a permanent age of around 32 years.
But much like the fictional telling of a mythical birth, this misconception that all knowledge and experience is exclusive to one generation – emerging fully formed as if from a virgin birth – is ever persuasive.
It was in this vein that I sent out, what I had thought was a throwaway tweet, last week.
If I see one more 20-something despair about “old people” (in their 50s!) who are ‘confused’ and aren’t digitally savvy. 1. What planet do you live on? & 2. Who do you think built this ‘digital world’ you now live in? Did your iPhone spontaneously emerge from the ether?
— Liz Lumley (@LizLum) August 24, 2020
After over 10 years on Twitter, with 528 likes, 88 RTs and 34 replies, this was by far the most engaged Tweet I had ever sent. Ignoring the one ‘Well, actually…’ ‘reply guy’ who seemed to think I was commenting on the Apple development team, the overwhelmingly response was. ‘Oh, yes, THIS.’
Ah! Amen sis.
Did I tell that time at SXSW, a guy next to me pointed at Steve Case, and asked who he was. I told him he’s the one who started AOL – and the reason why so many people in the US started using the Internet.
He looked at me like I was from Mars. 😂
— Theo – 劉䂀曼 (@psb_dc) August 24, 2020
I had touched a nerve. (and it was a nerve I share)
Let me preface what I am about to say with a caveat. I really like young people. I am the mother of a 15-year-old, world weary ‘Zoomer’. I love working with people in their 20s and 30s. I am friends with people in their 20s and 30s (and 40s, 50s, 60s etc…). Young people (and as a world weary 48-year-old I can call those in their 20s ‘young people’) are passionate, full of energy and ideas. A team without 20 somethings is a team that risks settling into a comfortable status quo, resulting is a slower adoption of new business models and new technology. However….
Those 20 somethings did not emerge fully formed from the generational ether – woke, tech savvy and perpetually 27 years old. The digital world we all live in now – Wi-Fi, 4G, smart phones and MacBooks – did not just appear in 2005.
I was introduced to computers through coding classes – in my elementary school in 1984. One of my best friends in High School had a cell phone in her family car. I was one of the first people to get an email address at my company, in 1995. I spent every Saturday, for the next four weeks, going into work to help build the company website. I remember sitting in a café in New York, in 1995 listening to my friend tell me he had just ‘bought a book on this site called Amazon’.
When my computer wasn’t logging into the company network, my boss handed me a screwdriver and told me to ‘figure it out for myself’.
I once had to pay a private researcher $50 to fax me documents from the Securities and Exchange Commission – because there was no website available to search for myself.
I was given a pager. Then I took out a mobile phone contract, in 1998. I remember before Facebook was evil and was mostly a place to see baby pictures from a girl you once sat next to in seventh grade biology. I got on Twitter – and met friends and colleagues from all over the world.
People my age – approaching 50 – did not grow up in the digital world, we did not learn the digital world – we built it. It came from our experiences, our knowledge. The mistakes that have been made reflect the mistakes, failures and growing maturing of my generation.
I sent out that quick tweet – that touched such a nerve – after seeing one from a 20 something lamenting the 50-something ‘old people’(!) who weren’t digital natives and how hard it was to ‘deal with them’. First off, in the digital space 50 is not old. And second even my 92-year-old mother-in-law has a mobile phone and a laptop.
Much like as anyone would study history – wars, social movements, climatic elections – all of these never happen in a vacuum. The world around us evolved.
From women sitting in their kitchen tables, writing out code in the early 60s, to young men building computers in garages in 70s, to Tim Berners-Lee creating HTTP in the late 80s – the world around us, our tech savvy, digital world was created by generations of men and women who were geniuses, made mistakes, were ambitious and hardworking and failed over and over again – and all of this impacts how we deal with our digital world today.
To not understand that is, well … it is a failure of experience.
I have written about technology and data and innovation in financial services for over 25 years. FinTech did not emerge, fully formed from the head of the 2008 financial crises monster, nor from the launch of the iPhone. FinTech as an idea existed and evolved long before we artfully created a hashtag friendly moniker.
That is why we are going back to 1984 for FTT Virtual Nordics for a special Fireside Chat.
In 1984, Olof Stenhammar founded Swedish derivatives exchange OM in 1984 and in doing so became a global pioneer in electronic trading. We will sit down with veterans of the FinTech scene to examine whether Nordic innovation still defined by the launch of OM. How influential has the initial team been within FinTech over the past 35 years? For those of you analysing the current state of FinTech in 2020 – both globally and in the Nordics – we are re-examining The Class of 1984.
No matter what your age – from 18 to 84 – come and join us for FTT Virtual Nordics on Oct 14th.