The Baby Boomer, Gen Y communications gap and social media … the solution or the problem?

I got up this morning at 4:30am – and as I do every morning, I attacked my “1st thing To Do in the morning task.”  Today it was clean out the people I follow on Twitter.  I was getting to the point where I couldn’t even delve into the links because there was too much stuff – stuff I had no room in my brain for.

One thing I found myself doing today was taking a look at the age demographics of the people I followed.  I’m a generational analysis freak, so I got off on this.  Out of the 100 or so people I follow, I found that they were pretty much equally distributed after taking out my industry related stuff.  I have about the same amount of Baby Boomers, Generation X and Gen Y tweeters.  As a reference point:  I’m fifty-one, on the cusp of the Boomers and Gen X.

This got me thinking:  Is this a normal distribution?  After looking into who the people who I followed, I looked to who they followed.  I surmised that I wasn’t the norm.  Humans have a tendency to gravitate towards comfort.  And comfort normally lies with those of similar age.  My observations backed this up.

Now this bring us to this post.

As we all know, the mechanics of communication and socialization have changed greatly with the advent of social media.  God, Facebook has 500 million members, Twitter has almost 100 million and LinkedIn has 80 million.  Countless people all over the world spend countless hours tweeting, following, connecting and friending.

The generation gap

Social media has been touted as bringing the world together – connecting people from disparate cultures and enabling them to get to know each other.  But how much “bringing together” is actually actually going on.  From a geographic sense, sure.  But other than that … is social media bridging a communication gap – or is it creating one.

As I mentioned above, according to my informal research, people are spending more time with others in their own age group due to the time they spend on social media sites.  In “the old days,” we made contact with people of all ages because … well, because we just physically ran into them.  When we were teenagers, if we went to our friends’ houses – we saw and talked to their parents.  With no social media, any contact we would have would have to be either on the phone (normally limited because of only having one house phone) or in person.  If you didn’t get out in the real world, you didn’t socialize.  Remember the term “homebody?”

Seldom do the younger people have contact with the people my age, and vice versa.  On the surface this might not seem like a big deal.  There’s always been generation gaps.  But never has there been an opportunity like this with the ubiquity of social media and the connection and communication possibilities it brings.

And not only are we not taking advantage of it … we’re using it to our disadvantage.

The young need mentoring.  They need to hear stories about what happens if they do stupid things.  The need to know that life is not a straight line, but rather a series of ups and downs and cycles.  And the Baby Boomers like me need the nieve optimism that we once had but has now been replaced by risk aversion.  We need the energy.  We need to know that we may be 50 or 60, but we sure as hell don’t have to feel and act like that.  Satchel Paige once posed the question, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”

I participate in four social media venues:  LinkedIn, Facebook, Brazen Careerists and Twitter.  Let me tell you how I see these four shaking out from a generational perspective.

  1. LinkedIn: As my twenty year old daughter says – LinkedIn is Facebook for old people.  That kind says it all.  Since it’s broken down primarily by professions, I associate with those within profession, digital printing and database marketing.  I would guess the average age is just about my age or maybe a year or two older, within little age diversity.  I also belong to a social media group.  Average here is about fifteen to twenty years younger – and again with little generational crossover.  In summary … I talk to people may age.
  2. Facebook: I don’t really spend much time here.  My only contacts are mainly those people I went to high school with – my age.  And because of the requirement to approve any “friends,” you circle is probably pretty closed and limited to your real world friends.   Any chance meeting with somebody of another age group is small.
  3. Brazen Careerists: This is a site populated mainly by Gen Yers.  Most of them are go getters and I joined to get the “younger” perspective on things.  A lot of the conversation centers around careers (thus the name) and how to move ahead.  My question is, how can a bunch of twenty somethings give career advice when they’re in the middle of the process themselves.  There’s a resume forum which drives me crazy.  “Employers don’t hire resumes … they hire people.”  I know this may sound trite but the focus should be on making contact with those people in the hiring positions (not human resources).  And these people are my age, 50+, or at the least Gen Xers in their late 30s and 40s.
  4. Twitter: This is my favorite – and until this morning I really didn’t know why.  Now I do.  I can follow and listen to whoever I want to.  And anybody can follow me and listen to what I say.  There are blocking features, but who actually uses them.  As I said at the beginning of this post, my Twittering is “equal opportunity across all age groups.”  I like this.

As you can see, with the exception of Twitter, social media (at least the ones I use) restricts intellectual diversity as much if not more than they accommodate it.

OK, enough of the problem.  Let’s fix the game. Together we can all find a phone booth and put on our capes.  Here’s my solution on using social media to bridge the gap.

First for us old people.

  1. Get on Twitter.  Forage around and open your mind to things that you wouldn’t normally.  Follow young people.  Especially for motivation.  Start with @marsdorian and @jennifer_good.  If you can’t make it happen after reading their stuff – go back to bed and start over.  If you find somebody you like, see who they’re following and get their inspiration from.  Try to follow people across the age spectrum equally.
  2. For all you LinkedIn and Facebook people and followers of other permission based sites:  Find people in the real world and on Twitter and invite them to be your friend and /or connection.  Now I’m talking about people of other generations.  Because of the viral nature of social media, people you bring into your circle will automatically be exposed to your existing group and your existing group to them – and your efforts will be leveraged.
  3. This isn’t really a social media thing but I’m including it anyway.  Listen to music outside your comfort zone, i.e. the stuff the kids are listening too.  “It’s the best way to bridge the communication chasm.”

Now to all you Gen Yers, yes Alexandria – you too … you’re not off the hook.  You have to meet us half way.

  1. Join LinkedIn.  Facebook is not the “be all end all.”  Maybe if you expose some “parent types” to your rambling  machinations, you’ll clean things up a bit.  Just maybe. The more the “old people” (the people who will make your career) are exposed to you the more opportunities you will have.
  2. Get on Twitter.  Again Facebook is not the “be all end all.”  See above for my reasons.
  3. And finally … phones still work.  You can still text your friends till your fingers fall off, but don’t let your vocal skill set totally petrify.  Us “old people” still use the phone.  And at last notice, I don’t think texting has evolved into an mainstream interview tool.

I don’t know much protection these suggestions are going to have against the kryptonite of the social media segregation … but it’s better than just continuing down the road of the status quo.

Enough of my ramblings … I have to get back to Eminem.

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If you like this … please Tweet it and follow me on Twitter @clayforsberg

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5 thoughts on “The Baby Boomer, Gen Y communications gap and social media … the solution or the problem?

  1. Tammy,

    Thanks for the comment. And it’s also nice hear from a fellow nomad (I Twittered you). Anything we can do to bridge the gap, we have to. We all lose as long as the “chasm” exists ..well as long as it’s so wide a kite can’t fly over it.

  2. Hi Clay

    A very eye-opening and entertaining read; I smiled all the way through it! I agree with you about Twitter, I find it the most ‘open’ and it’s where I can actually make more contacts instead of just saving contacts I already had.

    One of the best experiments I’ve ever done with Facebook was to look up and start conversations with all the other people who shared my name; I had a genuine reason to reach out to them and had some great chats.

  3. Hi Clay — Thanks for mentioning Brazen. It’s always nice to be mentioned next to sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

    One thing that I want to point out is that we actually have tons of great recruiters and hiring managers on Brazen, many of which have made hires. Citigroup is a great example. They have 70+ employers using the community.

    Beyond that, I wanted to mention that I think peer-to-peer networking is a great way to improve your career. I started a business with one of my same-age peers and it was all because I shared my experiences and advice with fellow twentysomethings.

    Anyway … I appreciate the article and give me a shout via email if you ever have any questions about Brazen. I’m always happy to help —> ryanpaugh@brazencareerist.com

    That goes for anyone else reading too!

  4. Clay,

    I agree with you about brazen careerist. I often feel like its the blind leading the blind there and that it is breeding an inclusive culture which is becoming more and more detached from the real world. Brazen attracts GenY because the workforce is not structured enough for us to understand how to add our own value to it. What am I supposed to be doing at work to get noticed, receive more responsibility, receive feedback, earn more?

    When I learned the demographics of Linkedin being primarily 40+ and $100,000+ earners I immediately began to focus more on it as a networking tool because these are the decision makers in business right now. The one problem I’ve found with linkedin is that people don’t automatically add you at all and therefore its difficult to grow your network if you don’t get out and meet people in person. The linkedin groups are global though…so there seems to be some disconnect there as to how to grow your network well.

    On brazen if people like your ideas then they will follow you. On facebook if you have a small shred of a similar background, say you have a friend who has a class with your brother, you will get a friend request. Both of these methods help you grow your network without much work, but this network provides less value to you.

    I have also tried twitter but not gotten the hang of it yet. I find that I don’t add enough value to the conversation yet to be helpful so I mostly am using it to follow people and be directed to what news they find important.

    Nice blog, I’ll make sure to return.

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