Published on: January 29, 2008by Michael Sansolo
There is a world all around us that, depending on our ages, we simply do not know. Its impact on our employees, our shoppers and our families is incredible. And despite what we think, we simply don’t understand it at all.
Given that you are reading this column on the Internet, you probably think you understand cyberspace. I thought I did and I was wrong. I came to this reality last week while watching the PBS show Frontline on kids growing up in the Internet age. As Frontline explained, the generation gap that exists around the Internet is every bit as large as the gap that once separated boomers and their parents over rock and roll.
Let me offer some examples:
Frontline interviewed a teen-age girl who found support and guidance on how to be anorexic on line. Anorexia is referred to as “Ana,” a goddess who helps young girls avoid the nightmare of weighing more than 100 pounds. (I wish I were kidding.)
There were high school girls who engaged in a fierce argument on line that finally erupted into a full-scale brawl in their school. School administrators were caught by surprise because there were no visible signs of hostility until the fight occurred. Another teen explained how easily he subverted the “parental control” feature on his computer.
Even as the Frontline episode aired, the power of this new world was grabbing headlines in Fairfax, Virginia. Upset that school wasn’t cancelled when it snowed one recent day, a student used the on-line white pages to leave a complaint on the home phone of a school administrator. The administrator’s wife replied with an angry voice mail to the student’s cell phone. That was a mistake.
The student uploaded the message to Facebook and YouTube. From there, it was a small jump to celebrity on the front page of the Washington Post and the Today show.
It won’t be the last time.
As Frontline explained, the realm of the Internet has grown beyond the scope imagined by most people of a certain age, probably somewhere around 25. (The dividing age may be even younger. A 20-something Frontline reporter found herself stymied repeatedly by the way teens were communicating. E-mail is now seen as too slow. Text messages and Facebook were the only way she could get through.)
It was a message Martin Lindstrom gave the FMI Midwinter audience a week earlier on the changing face of media and connection today. We’re in a new world, an unseen world and, sadly, a world that is hard to understand. The world of Facebook, texting, Xanga, YouTube, AIM, etc…is here and it’s not going away. It’s reshaping communication in good and bad ways for Generation Y, a population larger than the baby boom itself.
The same effortless communication that set off a firestorm about a snowstorm in Virginia will some day be unleashed against your stores or your products. The same inability to communicate without texting may someday impact your methods of reaching employees. The same need to turn high school classes into multi-tasking, web-based lessons may be the coming face of training.
I like to believe there is always a solution. I think we can learn, we can grow and we can change.
Sure, this generation gap may be as large as the chasm caused by rock and roll, and that should get our attention. I keep flashing back to those days when I tried to get my parents to understand that the Rolling Stones made music, not noise. I never did win that argument, though one of their contemporaries, Dick Clark, certainly seemed to figure it out. As I recall, he created a pretty good business opportunity out of it.
Now we face something just as perplexing with our children who, let’s remember, are soon to be our customers and our employees. That’s our challenge and our opportunity. Think of the advantage that will accrue to companies who learn to master this new world of communication, who learn how to harness these links instead of running in fear of them.
Our world is going to be rocked! So, let’s roll.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com .
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