February 2, 2009

Dispatch from the GenX Bridge

I’ve really been feel­ing my Gen Xness the last few months. I dis­like fram­ing Web 2.0 or Library 2.0 as gen­er­a­tional issues (I think it has far more to do with whether you’re used to cre­at­ing and shar­ing con­tent over­all), but the rise of Twit­ter and Friend­Feed in par­tic­u­lar have made me feel like even more of a bridge because I get stretched thin try­ing to explain both sides of an issue to two groups who aren’t really talk­ing to each other about these things. Like Johnny Cash, I walk the line.

As a GenX bridge, one side of me under­stands the Boomer con­fu­sion at these pub­lic posts and won­ders why these folks can’t just call, email, or text a per­son who could actu­ally do some­thing about the prob­lem they’re encoun­ter­ing. Recently, I felt this most acutely when Jason Grif­fey took the time to write a blog post dis­agree­ing with two rules for sub­mit­ting ques­tions to ALA pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates on YouTube. I’m close enough to the tra­di­tional, Boomer norms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that when I first read Jason’s post, my imme­di­ate reac­tion was to sigh and won­der why he couldn’t have just con­tacted some­one at MPOW to request that the rules be changed. The “direct” approach seems like the log­i­cal one for affect­ing change and hav­ing your voice heard.

And then the Mil­len­nial side of the bridge kicked in and I chided myself, because Jason actu­ally cared enough to take the time to write that post instead of just a 140-character rant. He explained his rea­son­ing in what has (sur­pris­ingly) become a long-form medium online (blog­ging). In hind­sight, his post helped change one of the rules he dis­agreed with, so it was bet­ter that he posted pub­licly where every­one could read it and com­ment, includ­ing us. And hon­estly, some of the com­ments on microblog­ging sites are com­plaints that some­one did try to call or email a human being and didn’t get a good response, so it’s not that these gen­er­a­tional pref­er­ences are exclu­sive. Writ­ing a blog post these days is a pretty high level of engage­ment, and car­ing enough to post a tweet or Friend­Feed com­ment is right behind that in terms of try­ing to get our atten­tion (hey, at least MPOW isn’t mediocre).

My per­sonal les­son from these recent expe­ri­ences is that it’s impor­tant for asso­ci­a­tions (and libraries) to under­stand that every blog post, every tweet, every FF com­ment is like a let­ter to the edi­tor or some­one stand­ing up in a mem­ber­ship meet­ing and voic­ing a com­plaint. They’re the 21st cen­tury equiv­a­lent of a phone call or a con­ver­sa­tion in the hall­way at a con­fer­ence, and we have to take them just as seri­ously and respond to them the same way we would those 20th cen­tury meth­ods of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. It’s not that Boomers want to help any less, but I think they’re used to help­ing peo­ple one-on-one, even online. For many mem­bers who likely trend younger, the new chan­nels are their pre­ferred ones for these types of com­ments, and not just for com­plaints. There isn’t any­thing wrong with either approach, but they’re ships cross­ing in the night, and they don’t lead to con­ver­sa­tions between the two sides that would improve communication.

Some­times I think attack­ing MPOW is a national sport, so it can be depress­ing being the per­son con­stantly relay­ing what’s being said about us online. But it’s impor­tant for those of us in the mid­dle to be that bridge and find com­pro­mises that work for every­one. So I espe­cially appre­ci­ate those folks who take the time to com­ment online in a con­struc­tive way (regard­less of the chan­nel), because it helps me build that bridge.

This strain isn’t new, but I’m curi­ous to know if other Gen Xers are feel­ing an increase in this area due to microblog­ging sites? Have you found suc­cess­ful strate­gies for improv­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion around these new chan­nels? I have some ideas that I’m going to try to imple­ment at work, and I’ll report back here over time, but I’d love to hear how oth­ers are han­dling being at this intersection.

Be Socia­ble, Share!


  1. I think if more peo­ple would be will­ing to be bridges, there would be a lot more under­stand­ing on both sides of the issue. With­out peo­ple will­ing to work with both the phys­i­cal and vir­tual means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, progress just can’t be made. Of course, this goes to both ends, too. Those of us who are more com­fort­able in a vir­tual envi­ron­ment have to be will­ing to make phys­i­cal inter­ac­tions while those who are set in their phys­i­cal means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion need to under­stand that, indeed, some peo­ple are more com­fort­able air­ing their thoughts vir­tu­ally. I don’t think either end will be bet­ter or worse than the other, and that’s why being a bridge will become more and more impor­tant, par­tic­u­larly, as you state, at the asso­ci­a­tion level.

    Comment by Kelly — February 2, 2009 @ 12:34 pm

  2. What ends up hap­pen­ning is when a microblog post receives no response, the full blown blog post that fol­lows is nas­tier and angry. Take for exam­ple lay­offs in the writ­ing pro­gram at Vas­sar col­lege. A whole twit­ter account, blog, face­book group… you name it has blown up just because there’s no real forum for dis­cussing the finan­cial cut­backs that Vas­sar has made. See: http://twitter.com/fireatvassar


    Comment by Daniel Morgan — February 2, 2009 @ 10:34 pm

  3. I think you’re right, Jenny, in that these issues aren’t nec­es­sar­ily generational–but they cer­tainly FEEL like it some days. And I have to keep remind­ing peo­ple at MPOW that my GenX-ness means I am actu­ally prob­a­bly an old-framework thinker using new-framework tools.
    Encour­ag­ing things I see is the sea change in libraries and librar­i­ans’ accep­tance of the new tools, regard­less of age range. Google, Face­book, Twitter–these seem to be facts of a librarian’s life now, not dan­ger­ous online places to be railed upon and ral­lied against.
    I think GenX­ers strug­gle the most with know­ing the right medium for the right mes­sage, because we are the bridge. It’s made both harder and eas­ier now, as the options proliferate…

    Comment by Alice Sneary — February 3, 2009 @ 12:29 pm

  4. Jenny,

    I think there are lots of Gen X’ers who are feel­ing like bridges right now. Or at least that they WANT to be bridges, but per­haps don’t know how to accom­plish that. I put up a post about com­mu­nity and net­works, and how they are viewed by Gen X and Mil­len­ni­als: http://www.thegenxfiles.com/2009/01/30/networks-by-generation/. I would love to hear your feedback.

    There is also one other post that speaks to this sort of tired feel­ing you describe: http://www.thegenxfiles.com/2009/02/04/genx-pragmatic-or-disillusioned/

    Although it is rea­son­able to say we are just get­ting old and don’t fully under­stand the new medium, I think that the tem­pera­ment of our gen­er­a­tion really is a factor.

    Comment by Dave Sohigian — February 5, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

  5. Really inter­est­ing post — and I com­pletely relate. That said, I still strug­gle to rec­on­cile my own ten­sion between being “there” — and endors­ing “there” … hard to explain in some ways, but I can’t help but feel some lin­ger­ing ret­i­cence when approach­ing insti­tu­tional par­tic­i­pa­tion in these spaces. Trust, reli­a­bil­ity and pri­vacy come to mind, but don’t quite seem suf­fi­cient to explain my hes­i­tance alone, but as agents of trust (libraries and asso­ci­a­tions that is), I can’t help but think of exam­ples like EFF’s sub­tle, but inter­est­ing take on viral video …


    … is there some type of par­al­lel that should guide an organization’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in these new venues? I dunno. I really don’t.

    For some rea­son, I also find myself con­trast­ing man­age­ment fads and switch­ing costs with mar­ket analy­sis and tim­ing. It is a time to know your audi­ence (cur­rent and future) and try to develop some prox­i­mal allo­ca­tion of resources for respond­ing to the com­mu­ni­ca­tions needs of chang­ing demographics …

    This is an uneasy, but com­pletely fas­ci­nat­ing and utterly engag­ing time.

    Again, this was a good read. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Matt — February 5, 2009 @ 11:41 pm

  6. Heh, also just ran across this kinda inter­est­ing attempt to add some degree of deci­sion mak­ing frame­work around invest­ment in this area …


    Gheese, I guess I also won­der what (or if) there will be some crit­i­cal tip­ping point for this type of activ­ity … or if there is just some social net­work­ing long­tail effect that needs to be bet­ter under­stood … or even if this is less about some gen­er­a­tional effect and more about some odd inter­sec­tion of age and career pro­gres­sion … as the twit­terati of the era move up the prover­bial lad­der, will there use of these ser­vices sus­tain, shrink or grow.

    Comment by Matt — February 5, 2009 @ 11:55 pm

  7. I think busi­ness adapt to these lessons (in this case that every online post is impor­tant) quicker. Busi­ness have long had peo­ple in charge of just mon­i­tor­ing all these ser­vices for com­pli­ments and com­plaints. In their case, it was finan­cially dri­ven. For some­one rea­son, it just takes our pro­fes­sional orga­ni­za­tions and libraries longer to learn the same lessons. Maybe because $ is not the first fac­tor push­ing decisions.

    Comment by Brian Gray — February 7, 2009 @ 8:30 pm

  8. So that’s what I’ll say at my next job inter­view — “Hire me please, I’m that ever-so-vital Gen-X bridge! I just talked to a boomer yes­ter­day to ask for a ref­er­ence and they didn’t know what a kin­dle was (I real­ize you’re not talk­ing about them, but still). The new tech­nolo­gies strike me as being too acces­si­ble, but cer­tainly have their uses — I still feel that peo­ple are blinded to their lim­i­ta­tions and inher­ent biases. I was in a north­ern town of about 70,000 peo­ple recently, and I would esti­mate that only about 10% of the peo­ple under 40 had cell phones (still lots of land line pay phones around too). Could be eco­nom­ics, could be they are still grounded in phys­i­cal reality.

    Comment by Wendy — March 23, 2009 @ 6:49 am

  9. Wendy, can you expand on “I was in a north­ern town of about 70,000 peo­ple recently, and I would esti­mate that only about 10% of the peo­ple under 40 had cell phones (still lots of land line pay phones around too). Could be eco­nom­ics, could be they are still grounded in phys­i­cal reality.”

    I did not see the con­nec­tion with own­ing a cell­phone and not being “grounded in phys­i­cal real­ity”. What do you mean?

    Comment by Brian Gray — May 12, 2009 @ 11:51 am

  10. […] blog­ger, a librar­ian from Illi­nois, has a post, Dis­patch from the GenX Bridge. She’s pretty excep­tional blog­ger, and calls her­self a infor­ma­tion maven. She also has an […]

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