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.

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  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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