GenY reporter asks GenX socialmedia guy about differences between generations online. You won’t believe his response:

But then again, maybe you will believe the response. I just couldn't pass up a chance to write my own buzzfeed inspired headline. To tell the truth, now that I have, I kind of feel dirty.

Anyway, I (a GenX SM Guy) have not had time to blog my own thoughts much lately, but recently was interviewed (by a GenY reporter) over email for a school paper and decided to turn the questions and my responses into a blog post.

Are the results as unbelievable as advertised? You tell me…

Here is how her interview began:

Is there a behavior difference between older adult users of social media (those who did not grow up with it) and young adults?

My response:

I think the data shows that there are some differences between demographic age groups in terms of the platforms used and the purposes for using them. In terms of their behavior while using them, I’m not convinced age is a determining factor per se.

Recently, the folks at asked some experts about “ambient sharing” and GenY. 67% of those surveyed agreed with a statement indicating so-called “digital natives” would “continue to be ambient broadcasters” as they move through future stages of life. From my point of view, those users who engage in curation or content creation online exist across the generational spectrum.

I can see why it would be easy to assume young adults are lacking the kind of experience needed to be able to predict those moments one might regret having posted something online, but I believe the data would show that errors in judgement are probably as frequent from all age groups, it is just that the 90% use rate of social among 18-29 year olds provides for more chances for it to bubble to the surface vs. 78% adoption from 30-49 year olds and even less participation in older demographics. As to the question “why are there not more users from older demographics?” I would answer simply that there is less social pressure for them to be there.

In your observation, is there a learning curve or distrust factor?

In terms of my personal observation I have not noticed great differences of learning curve for digital social technologies according to age demographic until you get to the oldest of the brackets (65 years old and up) and even then I have met a fair number of individuals in that age group with the willingness and ability to learn. There is a lot of talk in this country about “digital natives” but from my point of view growing up amidst a technology doesn’t necessarily guarantee the ability to operate it naturally or strategically without having to learn.

As an example, look at the turn of the century from the 1800’s to the 1900’s. Children growing up in the early 1900s might have (depending on proximity to urban areas) grown up AROUND automobiles, but that doesn’t mean they were born knowing how to DRIVE them or any more able to learn than someone for whom automobiles was a witnessed innovation. In terms of the levels of trust in the systems at play, however, my observation has shown that older users appear generally more cautious and suspicious of adopting new technologies faster, though there are exceptions to every rule, but my opinion is that slow adoption rates are based less on a distrust of the technology than a lack of social pressure to participate.

To be honest, however, I think that American society in general has been revising perspectives of the degree to which one’s life is lived in public. A great book on that I would recommend about this is Public Parts by Jeff Jarvis:

How clear cut is the line between one’s social media profile and their real identity? Is there even a difference anymore?

From my personal point of view, the effort to attach online profiles to real identities was born out of the efforts of marketers to know more about their customers. Largely those efforts have been successfully enabled by the likes of Facebook and Google. Though there are those ecosystems online where one might more easily assume online identity to be removed from “real” identity (4chan, reddit, secret, bitcoin, etc…) the reality is that such obfuscation is increasingly made irrelevant.

Do you think young adults understand the value of maintaining their reputation online? How is this evident?

I think young adults are not stupid. One thing that may differ from young adults and older adults in terms of online and offline is the degree to which digital tools are a very real part of your in-person social life. If you can’t get text messages, as a young adult, that has a very real impact on your ability to move in real “in-person” social circles. The same conclusions might be drawn from whatever social platform happens to be the hottest at the moment in your “real” social circles (Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc…)

An older adult, perhaps with a family and an established business network of peers, might be able to function perfectly well within that society and have no online presence at all. For younger adults (increasingly for all adults period) having no online presence is an inhibiting factor in their ability to move in social circles and avoid being perceived as anti-social or outcast. Since the risk of not participating is greater for younger adults, the cost/benefit analysis is also different, so content that an older adult might judge to be too risky to post in public would appear differently to a younger adult for whom not posting is a greater risk than posting unwisely.

Consider the semi-recent exploits of @vodka_sam:

In my opinion, younger adults are perhaps better suited to understand the “in real life” value of digital social networks than their older counterparts. Research shows that the networks younger users are building using digital tools is more diverse and greater in number than their “offline” older counterparts. Let’s just hope they can understand how to navigate the troubled waters of the difference between a “social” social network and a “professional” social network wherein an individual is judged by a whole different set of standards and that society’s perspectives about what is appropriately public and what must not be public can keep up.

Does it mean anything that we, as users, have come to value applications like Snapchat in which the data self-destructs?

It is significant that there is a trend to try and create digital products and platforms that claim to deliver the ability to let a user's digital social interactions be anonymous or impermanent. There was a time when the folly of youth wasn’t as digitally permanent and public, certainly (though let us not forget our Gatsby.) It is understandable that a younger generation would be drawn to digital platforms that appear to cater to the ability to cash in on that rare privilege of youth to throw caution to the wind and seize the day (or night.)

I think, however, recent news about the legitimacy of the promises those services make in regard to their anonymity and impermanence have kindled an appropriate fire under the butts of younger audiences to take all such promises with a grain of salt. Yet the skills and tools required to be successful at navigating social waters are not and never have been necessarily the same as those beneficial for navigating professional networks and advancing in career (for most) but in the online world those two arenas are merging.

Ultimately, the role of digital tools in the social equations young adults are having to solve is not to be overlooked and I think older adults (specifically those in charge of hiring, who might be inclined to pass over a candidate dropping too many “f-bombs” in their Tweets) need to be more understanding of those very real social demands prior to passing judgement too quickly. (IMHO.)

What do you think?

I didn't get much of a chance to talk about it, but I think the most interesting thing to emerge along these lines in terms of a desire for anonymity/impermanence is Secret, the app:

What do you think about SECRET?



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