We older folks tend to bemoan what looks to us like total self-absorption in today's young people. Instead of twentysomethings taking to the streets with the sit-ins, the banners, and the marches that we used to change the world, they're mostly just tapping away at their keyboards and IMing their BFFs, seemingly more interested in building their Facebook friends list than in changing the world. What we older folks often fail to recognize is that Generation Y is changing society. It's just happening quietly, keystroke by keystroke.
One could argue that today's technology revolution is perhaps the most profound change humans have experienced so far, in that it changes the basic ways in which people relate to each other and communicate. While we boomers and Gen Xers have gotten pretty adept with a lot of today's technology, we are watching our kids seamlessly assimilate cellphones, PDAs, instant-messaging, social networking, and the rest of it into their lives in ways we don't always understand. Or feel comfortable with.
We older folks often cringe at the personal details Gen Ys like to post to their MySpace page, and the revealing, sometimes downright asinine videos they post on YouTube. Which leads us to worry about their discretion when it comes to meetings. Now that they're live-blogging and using Twitter (a micro-blogging tool that allows someone to update their followers in real time, using 140 characters or less) in meetings, what's to keep them from disseminating information that was not meant to go outside the ballroom? Are we ushering in a new era in which no one can say anything in a public forum without the expectation that it'll show up on YouTube 10 minutes later? Would that result in education that, to avoid any possibility of offense, hits the lowest common denominator? Would people not feel free to be critical of the status quo, knowing their words could be taken out of context and/or blown out of proportion in an online forum? We talk about wanting greater transparency, but have we really thought through what that might mean for our meetings?
But think it through we must, because like it or not, it's our new reality. The hardest part, especially for us older folks, is giving up the illusion of control. And it is an illusion, because whether we condone it or not, attendees already are blogging, Twittering, and otherwise letting their feelings about the meeting be known far and wide. Burying our heads in the sand or trying to beat the trend into submission with draconian rules will do nothing but alienate tomorrow's attendees.
Instead, let's talk about how we can reconcile transparency with what needs to remain private — and find the wisdom to know the difference between the two.