The Silver Surfer is an idea that appeals to the media as people from older generations are adopting social technology to their needs. But it’s a dangerous notion that’s based on the assumptions that older people are inherently behind the curve, that they are not likely to be early adopters or, indeed, that they are less a capable than younger people or less adaptable.
In fact, whilst the concerns may be valid, i think they apply to people from all generations. It’s more likely that we are going to see an engaged population and a disengaged one, but not that the levels of engagement will necessarily correlate against age. It’s possible that it will match against requirements: that we will see people engaging with technology where it solves their problems (whatever their age), but less likely to do so if the technology is not relevant, or if it’s benefit is not obvious.
Within a commercial context, understanding ‘benefit’ is important. There are benefits to individuals, benefits to customers and benefits to clients, but they may not all map against each other.
Take the Blackberry. Latest research shows that over 30% of people use theirs to do work emails when on holiday. This may be a benefit for clients, and indeed for the business, but it’s probably not conducive to a good work life balance. However, allowing people to interact in online work environments may be beneficial for individuals (who no longer have to travel to work as much), to organisations (who may see reduced operating costs and increased motivation, but could be detrimental to clients, who no longer feel it’s easy to reach people, or who become unclear around working hours.
Much of the move to social learning at the moment is driven by technology, without an underlying learning methodology, but there are already clear benefits and risks. For highly motivated and engaged groups, it’s likely to be beneficial, but for the disengaged or ‘not yet’ engaged, it’s likely to pass them by, whatever their age.
Age brings experience, and experience within a social learning population is invaluable. Any community benefits from common, shared goals, but also diversity within the population. Sometimes you need the skills or experience that you didn’t realise you needed, and a diverse population is more likely to deliver this strength. A more one dimensional population is likely to be less adaptable, poorer.