Message Irrelevance

I recently sat with a group of guys who's responsibility it is to evoke interest in civic responsibility. The conversation immediately turned to technology, communication mediums, why there was interest in some age brackets and minimized interest in others and what to do about it.

A twenty-eight year old or younger gent (Generation Y) suggested that the mediums to which his generation pays attention were not utilized by the forty-four through sixty year aged generation (Boomer generation) currently in leadership. A late twenty-nine to forty-three year old (Generation X) suggested that the mediums to which his generation pays attention were perhaps a bit different, but yet again not leveraged by the current Boomer generation in leadership positions today. Expectedly, a member of the Boomer suggested that he wasn't familiar with any of these communication mediums in discussion and didn't use them. A Generation X, Y and Boomer were looking at each other from across the coffee shop table that might as well have been a canyon less their common love of coffee, early morning 'get-togethers' and civic responsibility.

Differences between generations is not new. What is 'new' is the velocity of technology innovation changing how we distribute information, how we communicate with each other, and the overwhelming volume of information available to us globally that once upon a time was inaccessible to all but "the locals". People in each age range have the choice to transcend theses labels; some simply choose 'not'.

You may have seen this or something similar already, but it is worth amplifying to cull out what is a chasm between generations unless it is purposefully bridged:

  • "Radio took 38 years to reach an audience of 50,000,000..."
  • "Television took 13 years..."
  • "The personal computer took 16 years..."
  • "The internet took 5 years..."

(Rosen, 2004)

Another study reveals how technology is actually used by the various generations in the workplace.

  • "Gen Y workers spend an average of 10.6 hours a day accessing social networking sites, news Web sites, blogs, Internet forums, and multimedia sharing Web sites, versus 5.6 hours reported by Boomers."
  • "Sixty-two percent of Gen Y professionals report accessing a social networking site from work, versus only fourteen percent of Boomers."
  • "Thirty nine-percent of Gen Y workers report using gaming programs at work, versus fourteen percent of Boomers."

(LexisNexis, 2009)

Yet another study suggests that "fundamental differences in how people of different ages communicate -- in large part because of new technologies -- have created gaps in the workplace" (Hayes-Tucker, 2008). Where one group may view technology from afar or as a quasi-off-time/sometimes-at-work type activity; yet another may view the use of technology as how they work, think, communicate and interact -- 'the' medium of choice. These gaps, whether in the workplace or not, need to be recognized, understood, embraced and bridged rather than feared, ignored, labeled as immature and/or attempted to be controlled through policy reflecting the generation writing the policy. It is a very tough problem.

Senator John McCain learned the lesson of embracing technology communication mediums too late. Then Senator Barack Obama understood it from Day Zero. Having a static web page isn't embracing technology; it is how we teach kids to get onto the web. One needs to understand dynamic mediums such as texting, Digg, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, FriendFeed, Second Life, blogging, micro-blogging, podcasts, screencasts and so on. Even then, those mediums just listed may be defunct and replaced with something more current in less than a year. And email? Has it already aged out? The point is to get on the surfboard and surf rather than focus on the board itself.

The implications of technology, information and generational adoption and use of such are far-reaching. How do Boomers get Gen-Y and those after them to choose a political position, let alone become an active civic-minded citizen? How do we train employees and companies? When is an instructor-led class useful and when is a pod or screen-cast a better decision? Even the question is colored by the generation attempting to answer it. How do we provide whatever information someone wants, whenever they want it, in what ever medium they choose? And how much information is important to provide now versus made accessible when needed later, if at all?

I know a bloke who has nearly twenty online accounts, reads nearly fifty news-streams per day, and is logged-in to the net anywhere from 10-16 hours per day, 7 days a week -- 60% from a laptop, 40% from a phone. That behavior alone is different than the person who only uses their computer to occasionally check email and their phone to place and receive calls. And if they work at the same company or lead in the same organization, imagine the gaps in world views, perceived acceptable behaviors, methods of communication and information absorption.

No matter these gaps and changes, one thing has not changed:

  • Determine your message (culture, goal, membership, etc.)
  • Identify the target audience, by generation
  • Identify the primary/secondary communication medium, per generation
  • Shape your message to each target generation, not just yours

"When you see that the next generation is different, you need to stop and think about what caused it. What caused it is usually the previous generation" (Hayes-Tucker, 2008).

Understanding the generations, their behaviors, habits and preferences is old hat for successful marketing companies, campaign chairs, speech-writers and salespeople. Knowing what to do about the differences directly impacts your relevance to them. If you don't know, hire someone in that generation and then listen to them. If you think you know, your success may be the difference between being a Senator or being a President.



Rosen, Larry D., Ph.D. Understanding the Technological Generation Gap. The National Psychologist. March-April 2004.

Perez, Sarah. The Technology Generation Gap at Work is Oh So Wide. April 24 2009.

LexisNexis. New Study Examines Technology Generation Gap in the Workplace. April 15, 2009.

Hayes-Tucker, Katheryn. Is Technology Widening the Generation Gap? June 13, 2008.

Cellular-News. The Technology Generation Gap in the Workplace. April 15 2009.

Glab, Jim. The Technology Generation Gap. November 14, 2008.