Last week I had the good fortune of being invited to give a talk and be part of a panel at a conference organized by Health Canada on Intergenerational Workplaces. I had a great time presenting, listening to the other speakers and meeting the participants.
Acknowledging the dangers of speaking in terms as broad as generations, there was a highlight moment about generational differences worth sharing. This moment reaffirmed to me how poorly Generation Y is understood – even the alleged “experts.”
During the panel someone asked (what has become and inevitable question) about Generation Y’s attitudes towards security and privacy. In short – don’t they know that the photo they are sharing on Facebook is accessible to the world?
Both the technology expert and the “generational” consultant on the panel talked about how Gen Yers obviously didn’t realize that when they post a picture (say, for example, a photo of them greedily swigging a beer at a conference they helped organize in Toronto) there are a ton of people who can access it – such as everyone in your municipal network (this could be, for example, all of Toronto). Both concluded that if Gen Yers realized what they were doing then they’d behave differently. As a result, it was up to us older – and obviously wiser – members of the audience to educate them.
This, to me, was a stunningly problematic diagnoses which in turn led to a flawed prescription.
My fellow panelists were basically asserting was that they – a boomer and a Gen Xer – had a better grasp of Facebook than the early adopting Gen Yers. They were arguing that Gen Yers who share photos and information the panelists wouldn’t choose to share were – to put it bluntly – at best ignorant or naive, at worst, dumb. Remember, the conclusion is that these people mistakenly believe they are just sharing something with friends. If they knew it could end up getting shared more widely, they’d make a different choice.
When a young person shares a scandalous piece of news on Facebook or posts a picture of themselves drunk at a party you really think they believe others won’t be able to end up seeing it? More often than not… no! They know that all of Toronto may be able to see it. They just don’t care.
That’s right, many Gen Yers just don’t care.
Many take the attitude that what they do on their time is their business, and if you don’t like it… well that’s okay, I probably wouldn’t want to work for you anyway. And in an era of labour scarcity (who else is going to fill the jobs of all those retiring boomers) that attitude probably won’t push them out of the labour market.
What’s important here is that if you realize they don’t care – telling them that the photo they share is viewable by anyone isn’t going to change their behaviour. They already know it is viewable by everyone. While some may make different choices if they believed their career prospects might be impacted – many (and I mean many) will not. A number of Gen Yers (recognizing the enormous problems of using sweeping generalizations like generations) will be making different choices than both boomers and even Xers around both issues like privacy and what they feel is acceptable to share with the world.
I know many boomers believe this will impact Yers employment opportunities. Maybe. But then, boomers did elect a democratic president who admitted to smoking pot (but not inhaling) and a republican president whose done coke. Why shouldn’t a Gen Yer believe that if it is okay for the president to have engaged in that behaviour – how can a photo of me drunk at a party be a deal breaker?