The Difference in Cultural Norms between Generations
By Leilani Cauthen
Understanding the basic differences between generations is key to success when managing staff and understanding the current education landscape for career implications. There is a marked dichotomy in values and expectations between the pre and post digital generations. One area in which the generations differ is in the area of sharing. In 1990, when computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, no one could have foreseen the profound social and cultural changes that would follow.
Hoarding Is Out, Sharing Is In
Predigital generations have used the control of data for power in the past, and some of that does still go on, but post-digital generations share everything. In the past, managers became managers because they knew more, having accrued more practical knowledge and having greater skill, and not simply because they were in place longer. As the information age came about, managers often achieved their place or held their place because they were at the center of a web of information and used it to their advantage. Each of their direct reports gave them information that was not necessarily shared with others. Whole industries have relied on information being sacrosanct and the acquisition and hoarding of it was power. To know something someone else did not produced influence and social capital.
Today, except for certain financial and national security interests, it is socially unacceptable to leave everyone in the dark. To lead effectively is to be a consummate sharer of plans, to provide a shared vision, updating it constantly and keeping everyone in the loop. The days of mushroom management are over; staff in almost any organization will quit if they are not kept in the loop. They like the feeling of being an active part of something, not just a cubicle-cog in the machine.
People, and this is especially true for teachers, can no longer gain credibility merely by knowing more. That’s old school. Data is freely available on the Internet. Therefore, the usual credibility traded on for higher salaries and greater position by teachers, the “cred” of knowing more, is a mostly-dead currency. Long-term workers learned that the hard way during the recession of 2009, when masses of people were laid off only to be replaced later by much younger workers or no workers at all.
The “cred” today is the opposite of previous generations. Instead of hoarding information, today’s generations want to be the first to share, and share it with as many people as they can. Their currency is the size and quality of their personal and professional networks.
How they share it matters as well. Is there entertainment value? What platform was used? What was the level of engagement? Implications for this across our culture are immense. It is a veritable reversal in our politics and culture, because the new generations are sharing much more than information – they are sharing emotion. Unlike previous generations who only shared emotion with family or close friends, new generations appear to be applying emotion publicly, into the larger domain of the Internet.
Society at large has moved into an always-on and always-connected humankind membership. It is therefore naive to say that a regimented uniformity to education will survive in this culture of sharing. Society’s exposure to far more ideas (and to each other) is reaching an entirely different realm.
This is also part of the answer to the question of how teachers can use what they know. Knowledge is still valuable, but attention must be given as to how that knowledge is shared technologically, and room must be provided for emotion. Post-digital generation educators know this and live it every day. Predigital generations need to get up to speed; they can’t afford to be old school on this one.
LeiLani Cauthen is CEO of The Learning Counsel and author of The Consumerization of Learning.