A few days ago I had the pleasure of brainstorming with some really smart people. As we talked I noted that the four major generations were represented: we had Matures, Boomers, an Xer and a Millennial.
I heard two words – “connection” and “friend” – during the discussion, and I realized they had very different meanings to those who used them. If you were to put the four generations on a sliding scale, the meanings of the words seemed to change according to generational values:
|Many / strong||Few / more intimate|
This wasn’t surprising, given what I know and teach about generational value systems, but I found it interesting and it made me smile.
The members in their 20s and early 30s use these terms all the time. They make connections many times a day on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. They are linked to hundreds of others, some of whom they have never, nor will ever, meet. But they know these people by sight and may know a great deal about them from their profiles and what others say about them on line.
They also have a herd mentality. Their social group is of great importance to them. They socialize frequently with interesting, like-minded individuals in their age group. They’re great networkers and powerful motivators. They value the opinions of those in their pack and will do what they are asked to help each other on a work and networking level.
The older members of this discussion group were all participants with Facebook and Twitter. They joined groups, connected and endorsed whenever asked, but did little with those connections. They felt little relationship with the folks who asked for their participation and often just deleted the offer. One of the Matures told the Millennial that relationships (connections) required trust. To establish trust demands that “I meet you face-to-face at least once – maybe more.”
We then talked about their daily Internet habits. Everyone commented about the volume of e-mails they receive. For the two youngest people at the table, checking their Facebook page was habitual, and they did it several times each day. They checked on their friends, made comments, posted news and then went back to work. One of the four others checked Facebook once a week, LinkedIn daily and Twitter never. The other three rarely check Facebook (except for family member or close friend posts), with LinkedIn more often and Twitter never.
Why do I find this interesting? Well, we all use the words “connect” and “friend.” “Friend” has become a verb in Facebook jargon, as in “to friend” someone. For the Boomers and Matures, “friend” is a word that they use to describe only a few people in their circle. They distinguish between “friend” and “acquaintance,” which refers the depth of their connection. A “friend” is someone who you trust with your secrets, somebody with whom you can cry and be comforted. It is someone who will bail you out of jail or simply take your call at 3a.m. and talk as long as necessary. These folks get tons of e-mails and open only those who come from a trusted source – a friend.
The younger group finds friends via the Internet. They search/check each other out both before and after they meet. They “vet” each other based on available information. They may meet in person, but only if there is a need to do so or if they find that the person is interesting.