Is social networking of the generation or in the genes?

Flowing out of last week’s Social Media Club meeting, Sunni Thompson offers an insightful, revealing post, Mind The Generation Gap. Take a few minutes to review Sunni’s post.

First about Sunni

Sunni explains how she was raised to be familiar and comfortable with computers. She started using the Internet in the early days, continued through college and relies heavily on social media to maintain connections with family across the country. Her primary news sources are national, with little local news. Sunni explains the effect:

As a result of having spent the majority of my adult life firmly entrenched in learning, researching and collecting news and information on the Internet, I find that I am fairly disassociated from any sense of locality.

During the discussion last week, we considered whether there was a whole generation similarly lacking a sense of locality and, therefore, unlikely to be interested in local elections, such as the Dallas mayoral election. Again, from Sunni’s post:

I DO care, but because of my submersion in the world of Internet news, my understanding of politics and issues is heavily slanted toward a national scale. If it’s not covered by NPR, The Daily Show, or my favorite local blog, I won’t know about it.

Then about me

Understand that I am quite a bit older than Sunni; we are definitely not of the same generation. However, we share much of the same perspective about our “place” in the world. Although I still live within about 10 miles of my childhood home, I view myself as a citizen of the planet more than as associated with any particular place. Perhaps because I have settled where I was born, I view “place” as a matter of chance or circumstances more so than an indication of who I am as a person. I am from Dallas, but Dallas is not who I am.

The other commonality Sunni and I share is that much of our active, engaged, daily world is virtual – here with all of you. By definition, that implies that less attention goes to our place of residence. This is a relatively new phenomenon that was not available during my youth. Now that the opportunity is here, I have embraced it and it seems right.

Finally, the question

Is social networking of the generation or in the genes?

I have no doubt that many, many more young adults are wired and comfortable with social media than are so in my cohort. However, I also have no doubt that many baby boomers are technologically savvy, blogging daily and using social media like it was the best thing since, well, color television. From all generations there are also those that shun technology and could care less about connecting to anyone they cannot see, hear or touch.

This makes me think that having a propensity to engage in social networking on the Internet may be a very personal attribute – in our genes more than our generation.

The generational influence, then, would mostly be a factor of opportunity and comfort; older folks have to work harder to learn new skills that were not taught during their traditional school years. I know a bunch of older, life-long learners who have made this investment and would now be just as lost without social media as I would be (and apparently Sunni too.)

I sense that locality has less significance now than it did 20 years ago. Maybe it’s part of the whole flat world phenomenon.

I’m interested in hearing from you, no matter your generation, about the relationship between age and social media and sense of locality.

Are others like me, feeling as much or more connected virtually than to a particular geographic setting?

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8 Responses to Is social networking of the generation or in the genes?

  1. ggwfung says:

    great question! I think humans are social creatures, as Aristotle famously observed – and these current trends in MySpace and flickr are just electronic, digital equivalents of human social groups. Things invented to meet a deep felt need.


  2. Raven says:

    Interesting question Blaine… I’m a Gen Xer in my mid 30’s and spend more time communicating with friends and family via email, blogs and online photo albums than actually talking to them on the phone or in person. We are social by nature and I think technology has allowed us to keep up relationships that would have otherwise withered (e.g. former co-workers and new people we meet), as well as expand our online social horizons as far as we’re willing to take them. Sure the younger folks are growing up with this technology and are probably making better use of it than a lot of older generations, but I still feel that the desire to reach out, connect and “be” online is in the genes, as you say, and not necessarily tied to younger generations.

  3. Hey, Blaine,

    This is timely. By any definition, I am a Boomer (since classifications seem to be important to some folks). I recently met with a client who is 25 years younger than me and a high-level executive. She came out of a Marketing background. So when I suggested that she check out my blog and a couple of others to get some ideas about a particular topic, I was knocked out when she said: “What’s a blog?”

    ggwfung mentioned that we’re social creatures. Perhaps some of us are sooooooo social that we look for additional ways to connect outside of the “norm.” I can say without hesitation that the whole social networking thing has provided new relationships, new learnings, and new ways to look at the world. I get my news from the internet as well.

    I now live exactly 18 miles from where I was raised. But I have lived and worked on four continents. My reason for being back home has more to do with providing care for older family members than a need to remain here. Social networking keeps me connected globally regardless of where I am seated at the moment.

    “Younger” generation only? Probably not. But they may be more comfortable with it at the outset.

    Keep up the thought-provoking posts!

  4. Wow, thanks for the great comments!

    ggw – Good point. Younger, older, introvert, or extrovert, we all have a deep-seeded need to connect with others.

    Raven – I’ve found that relationships grow when I interact with others via the Internet, possibly more than with the people it see daily. It’s like the really old days when letter writing was common. People took the time to record their thoughts and feelings in those letters, but may not have been as intimate when they were in person. I think we have some of that going on online today. When someone writes me a caring email or leaves a thoughtful comment, I know that they are thinking about me and the things that matter to me. That supports bonding!

    Steve – You caused me to lol when I first read your comment! After just a few short years, some of us take blogging for granted while others are completely unaware. The new options you mention are key. Social media simply provides more alternatives. But because of the positive outcomes in learning, relationships and perspective, it clearly is more than a fad.

  5. […] about the relationship between age, other personal traits, and social networking. I asked, Is social networking of the generation or in the genes? and shared my experience of knowing many baby boomers who “are technologically savvy, […]

  6. Sunni says:

    Wow, Blaine. I LOVE this post. It’s such a great example of how stereotyping and categorizing groups of people (while human nature) fails ultimately. I was stereotyping in my post, but with realization — which is why I pointed out that my mom and dad both use IM with ease, and why I want to set them up on a JotSpot (hello? Google? could you hurry up with that please?).

    At the end of the day, the community that “lives online” is as varied and diverse as the community that “lives offline.” So doesn’t that make it much, much worse that politicians know how to reach or talk to us? We’re not just the “youth vote” here — we’re all ages, all genders and all demographics.

  7. Great point about universal diversity, Sunni. Every person, every place, every second – we’re all different.

    As for politicians, I get the feeling that the number one rule is to not screw up. That drives the top candidates away from taking any risks. Run center-left or center-right during the primaries (depending on the party) then run toward the absolute center in the general, and always CYA. Little room for reaching out to new audiences in new ways.

  8. […] I learned that belonging to a particular generation (age) is only one of the determinates of whether individuals use social media to make online […]

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