Web 2.0 Blog – Discovering Innovation Opportunities using Social Media

The ‘getting it’ gap: A guide to ‘get’ the online generation

Posted on: November 24, 2008

Remember your first virtual conversation? It was longer ago than you think.

It seems the world is divided into 2 groups, the offliners and onliners. An onliner is someone who is mystified by the online social activity of what we will call the “onliners” and just so we don’t get into too much trouble, we’ll call the rest, the offliners. The onliners, well, you know who you are.

Almost every time I have talked to a group of decisions who are not yet involved in social media, the same sentiment is raised. “I just don’t get why these kids talk about stuff on facebook and are on it so much.”
But you do, don’t you? My parents and their parents grew up engaging their friends through technologically mediated virtual conversations sharing facets of their lives. Yes, they talked on the phone. The facebook wall, flickr page and twitter are augmenting the more traditional virtual phone chats.

So if this is not new, why is it so hard to understand? There must be something different than just a phone cord. I found 7 gaps to getting it.

1. Comfort and acquisition of technology. The multimedia online applications which hop between pic, vid, sms, and walls require time to learn and an initial comfort level with interactive computer applications. We have a world divided between those who can sit down and explore the functions of an application in 15-30 min and those who are still reading the last page of the terms of service and deciding which was their favorite pet.

2. One to many vs One to one. It takes a different way to think about messaging many in a group. The traditional phone conversations usually worked by a grapevine strategy. One person would tell 2, 2 would tell 4 etc and news would get around. Now 1 can tell 2, 20, or 2000 without additional effort. The online tools allow greater amplification of the message, so it can move through a large group more quickly. This seems to have a great effect on how to think about composing the message and its content.

3. Multitasking. I am told by JessieX that this is a generational difference. It seems this can account for younger people feeling perfectly comfortable keeping an eye on the friends, watching for twitter SMSs while chatting on the cell with a very close friend. The still disjointed nature of a lot of the online social scene can be pretty intimidating to those would prefer it just be one site and one device.

4. Virtual vs In person Group Dynamics.
Even when we would talk to a small group in school or other places, it was a different mental process to track these group conversations than it is to think about online conversations. Now who you tell is based on which network they are part of, rather than which physical clique they are a part of. It seems a little different to keep track of a group you see together in person versus a collection of screen names, groups etc. The openness of online conversations seems related to be comfortable or have the confidence to let go of message control.

5. Emotional Involvement through Icons. The excitement we see in onliners from events involving online people though online relationships seems odd. But you did this too.. just through different media. The older generations were taught that TV and radio characters events equaled reality and would get emotionally involved in their fictions. So its not too hard to understand getting emotionally attached to the multimedia though often low-res or iconized internet media.

6. Value of online communities. Onliners value their online reputation and position more offliners and sometimes more than their own offline reputation and position. Achieving a reputation or leadership position or even relationship with many people has become more doable online than offline for many.

7. Living it. A lot of these values or differences seem to only form by living the online social experience. No one is born to live online or for that matter, watch TV. But its something you acquire and learn to equate things you value offline with their online equivalents. So don’t get frustrate if you an offliner and curious, give it a chance. Go step by step, learn a little and live a little online.

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4 Responses to "The ‘getting it’ gap: A guide to ‘get’ the online generation"

An interesting assessment – but I’d add something to your calculations… Interest.

My father has the abililty and understanding of the why, but not the interest. Could he spend time online having the interactions? Yes. But he’d rather spend his time reading a book, golfing, skiing, socializing offline with friends, watching the history channel on TV.

There is only so much time in one lifetime and we never know how long we get… so we have to make choices.
While my nearly 91 year old Nana grew up in a time before television, he grew up in a time before the internet. She understands fully how to use a television and occasionally does. But it’s not her preferred form of entertainment. Just as his preferred form of interaction isn’t online.

We are influenced extremely by the commonalities of our own generation.

Me? I span the gap.

Certainly the type of socializing one grew up with plays a role and I’ve found that older people who are comfortable with computers have different interests and prefer different types of socialization. Maybe your father would be interested in meetups on bookclubs and fishing. But life on a computer is certainly not for everyone. Sometimes they have to experience it to find out how it can serve them. I have gotten similar comments in talks and then I ask what are their personal interests and try to find who they would like to be connected with and see there is an online forum to meet the type of people sought.

Ken, I really like your thoughts and perspective here! Interesting stuff. Hey, Joel Mark Witt, whom you may have met at SocDevCamp, and I recently talked about social media and generations. He recorded and edited the conversation for one of his Folk Media podcasts. You can find it here: http://folkmedia.org/?p=442 See you around.

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