Amongst the strangest things said to me at the conference this week was “evidence shows that all these kids talking into their phone have degraded social skills, they’re unable to function in normal society“. Which is odd, because i see no sign of the decline and fall of Western civilisation, beyond Britain’s Got Talent, which is, i grant you, fairly inexcusable. Although probably not the fault of a kid with an iPhone.
I’m frankly surprised at the lack of self awareness of those who would deny the clear fact that the Social Age is here, it’s not just about Twitter, and it’s not my fault. If i am anything, it’s a cartographer of the Social Age: I mapped the mountain, but i did not put it there. What put it there is progress, the erosion of formal control over communication and infrastructure, an evolved relationship with knowledge, the fracturing of the Social Contract and the dissolution of ‘career‘, the fiction of formal control and the rise of social responsibility, the power of amplification and the pervasiveness of stories..
So, like i said, not just Twitter.
In fact, it’s barely about the technology or the fault of young people at all: these are simply the canary in the mine, the most visible manifestation of change. Oh look: young people know how to use a phone. Therefore the problem is young people. No: young people are engaged by something that is facilitated by the phone they happen to have this month. The correct response is ‘what can i learn from this’? What can i do differently to be equally worthy of their engagement? How can i help these people to be more effective, not resent them for independently developing good social technology skills.
Young people do not have degraded social skills. Although they may have poor taste in music. Young people do not have to be patronised and guided, so much as mentored and invested in. And possibly given a voice in their own development. And technology is not the answer to a social problem: how we engage social layers around formal learning and control. Sure, it may facilitate this, but it is not the whole answer.
“What will they do when the technology fails” asked one man with furrowed brow. Well, probably they’ll go to Starbucks and read a book. Or talk to people. Or maybe go for a walk. Perhaps they’ll buy a dog. Young people are not stupid, or rather are no more stupid than old people. They will not wander around with vague and vacant expressions, thumbs irrationally caressing the blank screens of their failed device. No, they’ll just moan about how rubbish their mobile phone company is and do the grocery shopping.
Organisations need to adapt, and if you want to start somewhere, start with this: first, evolve the learning design to include scaffolded, social and co-created elements, so you start to tie into the tacit knowledge of the community.
Second: nurture the facilitating roles, because they may not yet exist within the organisation. Those people with high social capital and strong communities, help them develop stronger Social Leadership skills and be successful: recognise and reward them.
Finally: don’t try to procure technical solutions without tackling social challenges. Seek to understand how these new communities function, rather than simply trying to control them. Or kill them. Or ignore them.
The Social Age is here: a time of constant change. We need to adapt, every aspect of what we do, every aspect of how we work and learn, every aspect of our mindset, if we want to remain relevant, to survive, to thrive. The prize is great, but the risk significant. And your challenge is not to learn how to Tweet. Although if you don’t, how will you ever hear what’s going on out there in the real world, the Social world, the one that surround the bubble we call work.