Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Technology Generation Gap at Work

I bumped into this article yesterday and I went back to it today, reading through many of the comments. Self-identified boomers in the comments either say, heck yeah laptops in meetings suck or hey, I like social networking too. I'm not a boomer technically, but a Generation X person, supposedly. There may be some things one can say about how the generations distinguish themselves, but I don't buy all of it. I'm more tech and social networking savvy than many of my students and I never took a laptop to a meeting. The people who did--boomers. I did, however, use Twitter and blogs, etc. at work for work.

Many of the commenters complain about the lack of attention Gen Y people seem to pay to people when they're interacting. I've certainly seen that happen, but again, not with Gen Y people, but with older, glued-to-their-Blackberry people. And if someone interrupts a conversation to take a text message, I'd just say, okay, we're done talking. I think if you think something is a breech of etiquette, you need to say so. That's how people learn. If my phone rings during a conversation, I don't answer it, unless there's a reason to. For example, if one of my kids is supposed to call if they need a ride home, then I would explain to the person I'm talking to that I need to take it for this reason. Most people understand these kinds of interruptions. Just answering every call and every text is rude. Text messages can be answered later as can phone calls (the numbers are recorded and people can leave voice mail).

Same goes for meetings. If you're running a meeting and someone's on a laptop, I think you have a right to say, I need your full attention. Please close the laptop. This is harder to do in classes, where there are more students and sometimes you can say, well, it's their loss if they aren't paying attention. But, in smaller classes, you can often tell if a student is paying attention and if not, can ask that a laptop be put away (of course, I've written aobut this before).

On the other hand, some of the Gen X & Y commenters say those meetings are a waste of my time; that's why I'm on my laptop. Certainly, there's much work that used to be exclusively done in meetings that can now be online, but getting everyone on board with that is difficult. I worked in a technology department and it was difficult. Imagine what it's like in a non tech place.

The other main comment is a question about whether the use of social media is productive. That's hard to know. Someone did comment that they didn't really care what their workers did with social media as long as they remained valuable to the company. We all take breaks from work via the Internet from time to time. But keeping up with the field, researching a particular problem, creating connections with potential clients can all be done via social media. My primary use of Twitter is to pose questions to my followers as a kind of polling tool or when I'm stuck and need help. I also find interesting and important articles to read via Twitter. I read blogs to keep up with the field and I write in blogs as a way of synthesizing what I know about topics (writing as learning, anyone?). In the knowledge economy, productivity may be hard to measure, but certainly one can see if someone seems up on the field or is bringing in new clients. Does it matter if it was done via Facebook?

One comment I wanted to highlight and leave you with--tangential to the conversation, really--described a rather typical boomer (on the older end, I'd guess) family who is online. Let me just say that it made me laugh out loud because it described our families to a T:

Remember that even if the Boomer is on the Internet a lot, there still might be a gap.

I work from home as a freelancer. I run exclusively Linux, BSD, Solaris, *nix. I'm fluent in 15 programming/ markup languages, design graphics in many formats, have a blog, blah blah.

My Boomer in-laws have had computers for the length of my marriage (currently going on 16 years), and yet they still use Windows + AOL. Yes, you heard me. They still get hosed with viruses and malware, they still get their bank accounts cleaned out by 419 scammers, they reply to every spam and always click every ad banner that tells them to, and about every 2 years their computer "breaks" and they have to buy a new one. They're as good as married to Best Buy's "Geek Squad", whose word is gospel to them.

The fact that their son-in-law has earned his living and supported their grandkids in technology the entire time they've known him doesn't add a lick to his credibility. My mother-in-law *corrects* me when I say she runs Windows - she "runs AOL". She calls me up from Best Buy offering to buy me software. A 1000 times I've said, "That won't run, we use Linux." She cannot bring herself to speak such a foreign word. She thinks I'm possessed or in the mafia or something.

They're Boomers, and they're on computers and online alright, but that's like putting a monkey in a car and saying that it can drive.
Let's just say that Mr. Geeky and I keep computers up and running for 6-8 years while our families go through them every 2-3. Also, we've heard that Google is something you pay for and had to help people find their desktop icons again. Not to make fun of them or anything, but it's also true that no matter how much we've tried to educate them, they often ignore us. We try to explain that we actually know what we're talking about and that it's our job to teach others how to use computers and stuff, so maybe we know something, but in one ear, out the other.