Digital Culture


January 16, 2011

We often reminiscence about the sense of community in the Great Depression; barn raisings, families raising friends children when they could no longer feed them.  How will a technology culture express its sense of community?  When you really think about it the web was created by community.  Every website and software company owes much of its success to enthusiastic users who shared feedback and ideas to “build a better mousetrap.”  Devotees were often rewarded with beta versions of new software to play with and debug on behalf of the millions that would follow them.  Google has user forums for every niche to mine the richness of ideas and desires found in passionate, semi-anonymous discussions. 

And that is the other fascinating thing about the web, so much of the communication takes place in a way that blurs or erases gender, age, color, religion, level of attractiveness.  In a semi-anonymous environment people often contribute in a fearless way that is empowering.

Surprisingly, the two Generations that will dominate the future of technology are Gen Y and Baby Boomers.  Gen Y has a more global and multicultural perspective.  Gen Y represents more than a quarter of the world’s population and 20% (over 70 million of all American’s living today).  And Gen Y has been plugged in since birth, unafraid of the lightning-speed of communication.  It’s natural to have virtual relationships, take part in online communities, and explore ideas in a global context.  This is changing the world of work. 

Gen Y does not have the monopoly on technology use and social tools during the work day. Meanwhile, the older generation is getting with the program.

Gen X workers and Boomers have rapidly adopted social networking technology.

  • Gen Y is least likely to share information via text message (26%, compared to 47% of those aged 55+), and least likely to use video conferencing, video chat and web conferencing tools.
  • Gen Y uses social networking the least often in business (40% of Gen Y workers who use social media for business do so daily, compared to 50% of those aged 55+).
  • Older Boomers (55+) have increased their business use of social media 79% in the past year.

The data comes from a study that asked information workers of all ages in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Australia about their business communication habits. It turns out that it is Gen X leading the social networking movement. 

Read more:  plugged in:  The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work by Tamara Erickson.  Harvard Business Press.

Baby boomers show more interest in purchasing consumer electronics than any other age group.  Focus groups made up of boomers age 50 to 60 from around the country showed that boomers have a real interest in technology.  Boomers will be a driving force behind the use of information technology in the next decade.  And Boomers said they don’t want technology products that are complicated and cluttered with excessive features.  This is exactly why Apple has created the most successful social networking gadgets; IPad and IPod.  Let’s face it, ITunes is a socially networked marketplace that has revolutionized sharing music and maybe more in the future.

Recent studies show:

  • Boomers were very involved in technology adoption, and yet are underserved by marketing initiatives, which mostly aim at younger people. (TV Land)
  • Forty-one percent of boomers regularly visit social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and 61 percent visit Web sites that offer streaming or downloadable videos. (NPD Group)

In 2011 about 30 percent of Americans will be age 50 or over. 

Descriptions of  Millennials, idealistic, strong sense of what they want their leaders to be (superheros who have integrity, and a sense of fairness and concern for employees) bring back memories of the 60s.  Boomers and Gen Y have a lot in common, and will eventually start to figure that out.  After all, another unique trend of Gen Y is their relationships with their parents.  Most Gen Y’s genuinely like their parents.  Ninety percent of today’s teens report being close to their parents.  Ironically this is a testament to the Boomer reaction to how they felt about their parents.  In a 1974 survey more than 40 percent of Boomers said they’d be better off without any parents.  The generation became dedicated to forging relationships with their children that were better, richer and deeper than the one’s they’d experienced.  Some Boomers embrace technology to connect with their kids.  Facebook is a handy place to see those pictures of the grandkids when you live on the other side of the country. 

According to the site , the median age of a Facebook user is 26, but the fastest-growing user group is women 55 and over, up more than 175 percent since last fall.  Men 55 and over are right behind, having increased almost 138 percent during the same time period.

Here is a scary video of men over 55 talking about the future – they are a real energy suck.

The Woodstock generation on Facebook may be 1.2 million strong, but it’s vastly outnumbered by the almost 25 million users 25 and under.  The question, which group offers the greatest growth opportunity?

Will the Recession Hurt Facebook – this guy thinks so.

So how will these trends change creating community?  Facebook, Craigslist, Freecycle are all great examples in different niches.  Facebook has created a space for people to reconnect with a broader circle, you know, people we might never even have thought of again if they did send us a Friend request.  Facebook facilitates these unexpected meetings by eerily suggesting friends for you based on your Friends.  Six degrees of separation is laid out for you with a button urging you to “Send a Friend Request.”  In difficult times Facebook can make you feel not alone.  And ultimately it can be used as a tool for change and reform.  The way politicians and activist reach out to community has been energized by Facebook and Twitter.

Craigslist gives you a supermarket full of options from finding a job to finding a blow job.  Craigslist is radically allowed to support a wide network of users, who define their own needs.  Craigslist follows the social network code – let your users lead the way.  It has been the go to source for finding jobs when has failed the former middle class. 

Freecycle is the social network voice of sustainable ecosystems.  Users as part of a Yahoo group give things away so that they are reused and not put into landfills.  You can score a range of goodies from lemons from a too bountiful backyard harvest, coupons about to expire from Whole Foods, and free futons.  If you can haul it away it’s yours.

My favorite new social network phenom is  Emerging at a time when both sides of the transaction are looking for a new economic model to travel deals, Airbnb offers a tool of social connection.  Let’s say I have been hit hard by the economy and I am struggling to keep my home or stay in my rent controlled apartment.  I have an extra room to rent, a in-law unit, backyard cottage; or I have another place I can stay and can give my place up.  My debt burden is reduced by the income I get from renting out my space.  And I get to met generally cool people who are checking out my city.  I was on the other side of the economic equation.  Got cheap flights to New Orleans for Halloween.  Needed a comfortable, reasonably priced place to stay close to public transportation.  My partner was leery of Couch-surfing, although I’m a fan.  We were passed the hostel stage (except for the awesome Pigeon Point Lighthouse with the hot tub overlooking the ocean).  We discovered Airbnb and had an amazing stay at a charming home at the end of the Charles Street streetcar line.  We sat on the porchswing of Chez Monique and watch the neighborhood light up with trick-or-treaters past elaborately decorated homes, owners waiting with excitement on their porches.  It was magical and Monique, who joined us on her porch for a glass of wine on our first night, was so charming.  It elevated the whole trip; linking travel to connection.

So what great social network sites have you found that help ease the pain of the Great Recession?

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