Social media and the generational divide
Use of social networking separates young and older workers, but the divide can be crossed, panelists say
- By Richard W. Walker
- May 05, 2010
What scares Lt. Col. Charlotte Herring, chief of the information technology division of the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps, most about young agency employees?
It's "the fact that every time I walk by their cubicle they’re on their personal Facebook account,” she said . It bothers her “not because I think they are putting up stuff that’s inappropriate or classified or shouldn’t be out there. It’s the fact that they’re not working.”
Herring, speaking May 4 at the 2010 Open Government Innovations Conference in Washington, held by 1105 Government Information Group, said that about 75 percent of the workers in her division are under the age of 30. She was one of a group panelists who addressed a session titled “The case for cool: How young employees are infusing government with much-needed innovation.”
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The willingness of younger workers to share personal information using social media tools baffles the older generation, said Dan Mintz, chief operating officer at Powertek Corp. and former chief information officer for the Transportation Department. “I don’t know if it causes fear, but it’s incomprehensible. Those people who are really used to hierarchy and structure in organizations have great difficulty in dealing with people who have no respect for the organizational hierarchy."
But younger government workers on the panel emphasized the utility of social media tools.
“Like all communications tools, there’s a time and place for what you’re doing,” said Steve Ressler, an information technology specialist at Immigration and Customs Enforcement who created GovLoop, an online meeting place for government employees worldwide.
He compared social media to a multi-tooled Swiss army knife.
“Sometimes e-mail is very effective at certain things, and Twitter and social networks are effective at other things. It isn’t either/or. It’s using all of them,” Ressler said.
The social media space is still emerging, he added. “The skill set is in doing it right and doing it well."
But panelists agreed that dissolving the generational divide on technology will ultimately help government meet its goals.
“In the Army JAG Corps, my leadership is very much attuned to what our young judge advocates and our young soldiers bring to the table,” Herring said. “They want to hear it. I think we have very much of an open dialogue between senior [staff members] and youngsters, for want of a better word, than we’ve had ever in history.”
“Generations can learn from each other,” said Jonathan Rubin, a communications specialist for the General Services Administration’s Center for New Media and Citizen Engagement. “Real knowledge is how to speak and learn from each other.”
Richard W. Walker is a freelance writer based in Maryland.