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.