Posts Tagged ‘demographics’

A final thought on that Osbaldeston Lecture. Then I promise I will move on to something else.

Social media is today’s contact sport and the sooner governments understand this new form of communication the better. What better way to let people know what is happening in your department or Ministry than by posting a blog or creating an interactive information site? How better to receive input and feedback on policies that are being developed or considered? If you question this approach, I beg you to visit a university or college campus and watch what students are focused on, how they process information, access data, and interpret their world. It will provide you with an up-dated definition of “contact”.

You don’t actually have to go to a university campus — rather, you only need to watch Michael Wesch’s classic “Vision of Students Today” video:

Of course, it’s not only about the students is it? Many (most?) people are now moving in this direction, focusing our attention on streams of content via social networks.

Example, in keeping with the Facebook mentions in the video: percentage-wise, what’s the fastest growing demographic on the world’s largest social network? Women over 55, followed by women 45-55 (U.S. data from October 2009). Overall, “nearly 50% of Facebook users in the US today are over 35.”

(Sorry no recent Canuck specific data, is it out there?)



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Last Friday, I quickly re-blogged a news item on the 2009 Osbaldeston Lecture, by Martha Piper, former president of the University of British Columbia. Over on my Posterous miniblog, a reader reacted to my highlighting of an analogy that Ms. Piper made between the wristwatch and a Blackberry device. I’m going to reproduce those comments here, because they raise a good point:

“In a speech at the National Arts Centre, Piper likened today’s public service to the declining popularity of the wristwatch. Everyone over age 50 wears one, but most Canadians under 25 don’t.”

My response:

The wristwatch analogy has been used before, it is nothing new and it is not accurate. Most teenagers wear watch not so they can tell time but as a fashion statement. I would really like to meet a public servant that is isolated in Ottawa, the ones I work with are plugged in, on the move and aware of the world changing around them AND are part of the change or driving it. Perhaps she is talking about her perception of Ottawa, and if so, she has been isolating herself in BC. She is clearly out of touch.

I agree — if you focus on the demographic angle, it’s true that the wristwatch analogy is not accurate. It’s a stereotype, and if you were to leave this out of it, it would be more effective.When it comes to technology, young people are not inherently more “with it” than their elders. Different people use the same tools in a wide variety of ways, regardless of whether we can are “youth” or “middle aged” or whatever. & in terms of adoption rates, I’ll bet there is a wide variation in all demographic groups. I suspect that it is more about individual attitudes rather than generational.

What stuck me with the wristwatch/blackberry analogy was not the demographics however; it was the image of an older mechanical device that does one thing well, vs a newer digital device that does a lot of things, including what the old tech did. Maybe the new BB doesn’t tell time as stylishly as the old wristwatch does, but I’m willing to give that up to be able to also use it to communicate with my friends/family/colleagues, read news, organize my schedule, check weather, etc., regardless if I’m at my desk or not.

I realize that wristwatches are almost all digital these days, but to me they still are artifacts of the mechanical era, when the technological paradigm was a narrowly specialized — each tool should “do one thing, and do it really well.” Compare that to how 21st century digital technology is inherently open-ended and focused on multi-functionality. To me, that is what is effective about this analogy — as a comparison of two technological eras.

Regardless, after having had a chance to read the full text (warning PDF link) of Ms. Piper’s remarks, it turns out that the best stuff was not what I saw last week, it is the material that actually followed it. More on that tomorrow later.

(Oh BTW, I do beg to differ with the idea that public servants do not isolate themselves in Ottawa. I feel that point is highly debatable; I can think of a few bureaucrats that I’ve crossed paths with recently … but anyhow.)

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I find often that discussions about social media and web 2.0 in government often turn to demographics to answer the “why should we care about this stuff?” question.

Fair enough, there’s value in the idea of getting on the 2.0 train because this is what the digital natives who are starting to enter the workforce expect from the workplace, and it’s also what digital natives — who will become our biggest stakeholder segment soon — will expect from their government.

But that actually gives an excuse to bureaucrats who aren’t digital natives to continue NOT caring. I guess the thinking would go along the lines of “oh, it’s not about me, it’s about those kids with their iPods” or “I’m gonna retire soon so I can leave this stuff to the poor sucker gets stuck in my job after I’m outta here.”

So I find myself turning to the economic (wikinomics) argument for getting into web 2.0 in government. That web 2.0 represents a new mode of production that is in the making – based on collaboration and sharing, rather than protecting data, information and intelligence.

This is a much more radical, far-reaching notion. If we really are embarking on a new way of generating wealth and economic value, then this cannot be ignored. It affects everyone, whether digital native or immigrant (or luddite!). But it’s not as straightforward an argument to make, since it’s about the big picture. There’s huge policy implications that we are only just starting to get a glimpse of.

I know that I haven’t really got a good handle on the wikinomics idea (I still haven’t finished reading the book, not that that’ll really help me and my wee communicators’ brain) — but I think it’s pretty clear that we are seeing some radical changes around us thanks to massive-scale digital networking. Whether it’s Google’s ascendancy, the death spiral of the big record labels and Hollywood studios, or Barack Obama’s campaign 2.0 south of the 49th. And those are just three quick examples …

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