One of the things that makes me really frustrated is when people treat social media and digital technologies as if they were separate from what they call “the real world”. It is my firm belief that what we now know as social media is a transitional set of technologies towards what will become, in time, ubiquitous, seamless, and integrated communications and sharing tools, which, eventually, will come naturally to most people as the devices become more intuitive and less intrusive.
Thus, on the issue of digital inclusion, some people think there is something special about digital technologies which excludes those who haven’t come on board yet. I argue it is about people’s attitudes rather than aptitudes. I have written before about the case of two 84 year-old men who I worked with on the same day; one who was brimming with enthusiasm about new possibilities and desperate to find out what the internet could do for him; and the other who said he was too old to learn and none of this had any relevance to him. It’s nothing to do with age; it is to do with attitude.
I am exercised about how we unlock the potential of new technologies to help people realise their own personal potential. I am thinking here about the kind of people (gross generalisations coming up), who are of the opinion that they stopped learning when they left school. They sit in an office all day doing mundane tasks, very often on a computer with no speakers or soundcard, and on which access to social media is blocked. The office may be totally quiet, or some “inoffensive” muzak is playing, or, worse still, Radio 2. They then go home, either in silence, or listening to music on their headphones, or Radio 2 (again) in their car. They get home, switch the TV on and spend the evening watching “unchallenging” programming, such as soap operas, cooking programmes, and reality game shows. Once in a while, they reluctantly go on a training course, mandated by their employer, where they sit on uncomfortable chairs, their bum going numb while they listen to someone droning on about the latest health and safety legislation, or whatever.
That may possibly be an extreme stereotype. But contrast it with the person who has access to social media during the day. They are constantly bombarded with new ideas and new angles on things. They have access to Youtube for inspiring talks and “how-to” videos”. They can connect with like-minded people on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Yammer or Google+ to test out and pursue new approaches. And, instead of Radio 2, they can get podcasts full of challenging viewpoints and interesting arguments. And, when they go home, instead of watching TV, they might just watch some TED talks, listen to another podcast, or join in with a Twitter chat.
This is what I mean about the dangers of treating social media like its a separate universe. It means that people can get away with never being challenged to step out of their comfort zone. And this is as negative for their organisations as it is for themselves. Surely an organisation full of engaged, inquisitive people is much more likely to succeed than one where the majority of the workforce are resentful and bored?
So, if you ever see an organisation which says it prides itself on developing its people, but it doesn’t give them access to social media, challenge them on that. Their PR-friendly “human resources” slogans are a lie.
And I am really keen to work out how we can chip away at people’s reluctance to learn new things and give them access to the vast potential which the internet and social media opens up for many of us. How do we get people listening to challenging podcasts in their offices instead of Radio 2? How do we persuade them to turn off the TV every now and again and do something that involves them being creative and active rather than a passive recipient of received cultural wisdom?
The challenge is to show everyone that none of us ever stops learning. And that learning new things can be fun.