A girl walks into a shop….

In the midst of a meeting with one of our sections yesterday I had an interesting conversation.

The meeting consisted of some people who work with service users. I wont tell you which one, it’s not relevant and it’s not fair. But in this meeting there were two very digitally literate people and two not so digitally literate people – and I think if you picked any four random public sector workers today and asked a question or two, I believe that’s the balance you would find everywhere.

So I was trying to explain to these two gentlemen that the implications of social media were far bigger than the riots, which is the only thing that had brought social media into their sphere. They had, as a result of the riots formed an idea on what social networking was and how it connected people. But they had done no research past asking a couple of young people who they used it.

So, myself and the two digitally literate bods opposite the table from me proceeded to explain and I used something as an example, which I’d like to share.

A girl walks into a shoe shop with a friend. In the process of walking back out again with a pair of shoes she will: take pictures of the selection of shoes and ask her friends which one they like. Narrow it down to two pairs and ask her friends via text which one’s she should pick after also sending photographs of herself wearing aforementioned shoes. Then, once she has crowdsourced the decision, she will buy the pair of shoes, and then tweet a picture of her leaving with them.

Once home, she will film a ‘haul‘ video and post it on YouTube. She will share with her friends the outfit she wears that evening along with the pair of shoes and while she is out she will be constantly taking pictures and sharing them, asking questions about where to go next, where the party is.

To summarise then:

  • She has made no decisions on her own
  • She has told the entirety of her network and probably her networks network where she was during the day but also in the evening
  • She has posted a picture of her face
  • She has posted to YouTube the things she has bought
  • She has had feedback at almost every stage of her life she has lived that day, be it negative or positive – but more importantly she has asked for it
  • She has not had a single moment ‘to herself’
  • She has been connected to the web in one form or another the entire time
  • She has been reachable by the entirety of her network the entire time
  • She has crowd sourced her taste in shoes and not made a decision for herself
This is a made up scenario. You may think it is not true. I can’t prove to you it is, but I have very strong suspicions.
It’s too late to change this. It’s too late to censor the web. It’s too late to prevent people organising civil unrest via the web and it’s too late to wind back before we put all our secure information in vulnerable situations. It’s too late to think any cryptography can be generated that cannot be, eventually, cracked and it’s too late to remove mobile phones from young hands.
So what, my learned friends, are we going to do about it? How are we going to encourage young people to think for themselves, be themselves, find themselves? How are we going to remind them of the glee of sliding down the side of a steep hill on your ass? How are we going to remind them of the independence and empowerment gained from going off into the unknown and forging your own path? How are we going to teach them about security and seriousness, about risk and revenge attacks without receiving the knee jerk reaction of ‘what the hell do you know?’
I’ll tell you. By knowing. By proving we know. By passing it on. By educating ourselves and each other. So while it might be easy to sneer at the two digitally illiterate men in the meeting yesterday, I actually have the utmost respect for them.
They’ve started their journey. Have you?

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Carol Davison

How can people like this girl make a decision to get any work done? Do they post their reports to facebook for their friends’ analysis?

Louise K

Mostly, I think, these girls are at school. And even when they’re in school apparently some people can send messages from their pockets so the teacher never even notices they’re not paying attention.

Mitchell Gorsha

While the broader points made by this example are quite correct, there are two very general factors that were not discussed that I feel play a much more important role in our examination of society, social media, and our interactions through and with these constructs. The first and probably more volatile of the two is gender. To put it rather plainly: women share and build consensus with each other, and in the process they build and strengthen their interpersonal relationships; men don’t—men typically bond for reasons of self reassurance and to share in a common group identity.

The second factor is time, more specifically the reduction in the amount of time required for typical social interactions, including shopping. Before the automobile, as a point of reference only, our social circles were quite limited in number and it took a considerable amount of time and effort to discuss anything with a group of people, requiring travel on the part of most if not all of the group members. The pony express and mail sped up the process and removed some of the travel restrictions, and allowed for larger groups (social collectives) to be established, but time was still a factor. The automobile, airplane, and basic mass transit further shortened the amount of time required for social interaction and simultaneously allowed the group associations to broaden further, somewhat removing the barrier of geography to social interaction, and our social collectives grew larger. Jumping ahead to current times and technology, social networking and the underlying communications technology have all but removed the restrictions of time and geography, resulting in social collectives of almost unlimited size and membership.

The shoe shopping girl analogy is not new, just accelerated to be almost instantaneous and broadened without geographic boundaries by the logarithmic increase in technological capability and the corresponding logarithmic decrease in the time and effort required for communication.

The effect that this is having upon us as individuals and as a society are something else entirely, but must be discussed with an awareness of that which enables or encourages it.

Julie Chase

@Carol, I was thinking the same thing. Where my DH works, cell phones can be confiscated, and are mostly from the millenial workers. Big sign out front, NO CELL PHONES PERMITTED. They forget and just whip it out whenever it rings or text on the job. A few were beligerent when asked to hand over the phone. It’s like they cannot exist without it. The gender of the most “caught” with their cell phone are millenial males. Go figure.

The scenerio above is typical. I don’t know how I survived without telling all my friends what shoes I purchased & asked their opinions. Not something I would do. I know as much as I need from social media. It’s not the hill I want to die on. I don’t tweet, because there isn’t anything that I need to say or inform immediately. The gov I think is very suspicious of social media and like to hang on to the “secrets” they have. Being “open” has it’s consequences and forces us all to mind our P’s & Q’s when using social media. Most newspaper article comments as well as local TV stations are getting rid of the “anonymous” poster and totally relying on FB. So if you comment on an article or news story, it’s you and your real name posted out there for everyone to see. As a babyboomer, I have always felt that “the man”, aka the gov was always “watching”. I still believe that, unfortunately, the millenials don’t have a clue. Just remember when you posted the pics of you passed out on the floor after a game of beer pong are going to come back to haunt you. Remember that interview you had the other day, “oh yeah”, well kiss that job good-bye.

That is my lesson I am passing on regarding social media. It will bite the hand that feeds it.

Anna Abbey

There seems to be an assumption that “making a decision for yourself” is inherently better than collaborating or finding consensus with a group of peers, or that sharing (as the girl in the scenario did) means that she can’t/won’t make decisions. Another interpretation could be that she is ultimately making the decision on what to buy, but seeking the input of others whose taste she respects in order to inform her decision.

Fashion choices are an easy example of how new media is being used, but it does not preclude the use of personal decision making. Clothing has always had a social element (to me at least) and these new tools allow us to “go shopping with friends” when our friends are halfway across the country. If the same girl is making her relationship decisions, what to eat for lunch, or which tv show to watch all by cloudsourcing- we may have a bigger problem.

Before thinking through how to educate young people, I would suggest we step back and try to understand the situations from their perspective. We may be surprised at how their understanding of social media tools can shift our thinking and help us get more use out of them. We may also find that their sense of personal boundaries have meandered into a potentially damaging realm. Only by openly listening can we understand the real dynamic and have an open fair dialogue about how to mitigate harm while getting the full benefit from social media.

paul Vale

Let me tug this discussion in a differnt direction. A pathetic demagogue burns a book that is widely available but considered by some to be holy. To them, burning this book is an unforgivable affront to their religion. One offended person captures the book-burning on his cellphone and distributes it to likeminded people half a world away. The outrage builds into riots where innocent people are injured or killed.

An event that would not normally get much notice becomes an international incident due to the mechanism of social media. That’s an extreme, but positive examples of social media’s power are out there too.

Just tryin’ to stir up trouble.

Peter Sperry

Another aspect of living in a connected world is the need to develop survival skills if the connection ends. I have been amazed at the number of young soldiers I’ve met who are so dependent on GPS, they have forgotten how to use a map and compass. Also the number of government employees in critical positions such as law enforcement and first responders who can no longer function without mobile technology. Sad to say but, one high level EMP burst or a few well placed antisatelite missels would leave these people floundering helplessly just when they are needed the most. And of course the information superhighway is already starting to resemble I-395 during rush hour. It may be a good idea to retain some of our old skills just in case the net clogs up completely.

Gregory Butera

Louise, I understand some of the concern you have by what you are saying here. But I think that the world is a very different place because of this technology. Those who have grown up with it will have a completely different perspective than those of us who engaged first as adults. Sure, there are some privacy issues, and some people will find that something they posted (that is eternal, on the internet) will come back to haunt them in their future. But I think there is still plenty of room in life for people using social media and technology to still enjoy sliding down a steep hill and enjoying it, and for making decisions on their own. Just as I think there is a place and appropriate time for crowdsourcing opinions. Fashion is inherently a group sport, the whole point is to get other people to ooh and ahh about your purchase. Otherwise she’d only buy shoes when her only other pair wore out.

Julie Chase

Collaberating is great on the job about a “specific” project with other workers 100’s of miles away. This is better due to cost savings of per diem hotel rates and oh, pardon me, $16.00 per person breakfast at a conference.

Talking on your cell phone during working hours is another ball game. I don’t think some young gov workers get that. My DH shop are WG workers, which means you are physically “working”. The signs out front on the gate are ignored, as one or two get popped for cell phones per week. Days on the beach could be the next step. One got popped in the bathroom in a stall. The supervisor couldn’t find this particular young man, and located him, beep, beep, beep, texting in the john. Is that necessary? Back in the day we were not allowed to take personal calls in the office. This is the same thing, only for “security” reasons cell phones in my DH shop are banned. And yes, Uncle Sam has a “cell phone sniffer”. There are prices to pay for closing in on ones personal space. The men where I work do not have FB. They believe it’s none of anyone’s business what they are doing every minute of every day. And there are people they could care less if they heard from again. Social media is great, but I don’t want to be the headline for the Post or the lead in story on ABC news. Supervisors, it has been proven, search applicants on FB and if they find you with straws up your nose, or dancing on a table top in your boxers, or panties “aka Girls gone wild”, you just kissed that job goodbye. Stick to pics of your cute puppy, mom and dad, your prize rose garden.

As to how are we going to remind them of the glory days before cell phones….take them away. My kids did not get cell phones until they went out, got a job and bought one themselves. When my daughter racked up $200.00 on her cell phone bill, calling, texting and pic sending her shoe shopping adventures, she cut waaayyyy back. Now the phone is a basic flip phone, set number of texts & set number of pic sending. Camera is good but not great. Some learn the hard way.
Same with Uncle Sam, I see no reason anyone other than a big VIP needing a paid for by taxpayer blackberry. I did a poll at work, “If the gov gave you a cell phone would you take it?” Majority said no. Why? Because then Uncle Sam would have access to their ever waking moment and since they are not paid for 24/7 on the clock, they don’t want the phone.

Christopher A. Adams

Sounds to me like the girl in the scenario used the available tools to INFORM her own decisions, not have someone make them for her. Since when is that a bad thing? Listen, I’m on permanent record here voicing my concerns about sound bite debates and 140-character-limted “conversation,” and the permanent digital trail this hypothetical girl left over the course of her day frightens me a little, but how can you say she didn’t follow her own trail? Furthermore, given that we no longer live in the 50’s when it might have been safe for her to hitchhike across the country, it’s the connectivity that provided her a measure of security to go about “forging her own path” on a solo shoe shopping adventure. (I wouldn’t send my daughter out shoe shopping alone without a phone these days.) Sounds to me like her trail will venture much farther into the bold new world thanks to technology than the two digitally illiterate men for whom you have this unexplained respect. They’ve chosen to erect roadblocks on their trails. They’ve stopped forging. Technology allowed the girl to venture past those roadblocks.

Will Saunders

I do not have my DOB or my POB on my Facebook page. I keep my personal information limited. I do this primarily because identity thieves go to Facebook to extract this from people’s profiles. Your name and DOB is enough for an identity thief to start the toll of thievery using your good credit.As an aside, I would add that this should extend to old people as well as young people. People of all ages share too much information. Now, to play devil’s advocate, looking at your scenario, isn’t this the added benefit of social media? Isn’t this the reason why it was created, so that people can reach out to more people exponentially and more quickly? I think that like all things in life, there are cons and pros. It all boils down to making smart decisions on what moderation means. For me, I could care less what someone else thinks about the shoes I bought. If I see it and I like it, I buy it, and that’s how I have always been. Peer pressure was never a factor for me, even when I was a teen. Unless I were a writer on a consumer advisory blog, I would never take that much time before, during, and after a purchase to let everyone know where I am and what I’m doing. However, I do use the ‘Check-in’ feature many stores participate in, for I have gotten some very nice discounts. But I agree that we need to be smarter about when and how we are sharing our information.

Will Saunders

As far as making decisions for yourself, this is something that people learn at a young age. When I was a kid I remember asking my mother this or that and she often asked me, “Well, what do YOU think?” and it was quite jarring. It helped me to develop my own set of critical thinking skills rather than her simply feeding the answer to me. I believe that many of the kids we’re talking about here don’t have the ability to think for themselves, and I don’t believe mobile computing devices have anything to do with it. Technology can certainly add value to our lives and enhance our ability to collect more information quickly to help us make better decisions. Being connected is a wonderful thing. But the problem lies in those who become so reliant upon it that they cannot function without it.

It reminds me several years ago this young kid I was passing on the street asked me the time and I said, “It’s about 20 minutes before noon” and he didn’t understand what I meant. It wasn’t until I said “11:40” that he understood the correct time. That’s what digital clocks/watches did to our youth. Progress is great, but we also need to learn the fundamentals of life as well.

Having a GPS tell you to turn left here, turn right there, is great, if it is correct. Sometimes I have had it tell me to turn left when I knew that was all wrong. Furthermore, if the GPS isn’t working correctly because they’re in a place without a good signal which can happen quite often, I wonder how many people would be able to pull out an old fashioned map and still reach their destination. Probably few would be able to do so. Lets keep technology and stay connected, but lets also be wise about it and practice moderation as well as learn some fundamental aspects behind the technology.

Steve Radick

Oh my…you know what else? I’m also shocked at how many young people just have no idea how to use the slide rule when they forget their cell phones too. The other frustrating thing is that some of these researchers have NEVER sat for hours scanning through old microfiche in the library trying to find old newspaper articles – they just think they can Google this stuff! How are we going to show them the value in sitting there, combing through years of newspapers by hand? I have a 13 month old, and to teach her these things, I’m going to force her to do her homework without the use of a computer or a calculator because how will she ever learn to do things herself? She’ll also be walking to school by herself because her Grandpa wants her to learn what it was like before we had buses and cars everywhere!

Just like some of our “more seasoned” individuals find it ridiculous that “young people” would prefer access to Facebook over more money, I would find it just as ridiculous to have to work somewhere that restricted my access to things like Facebook and GovLoop and Twitter, etc. Just like the more veteran workers don’t understand why people need their cell phone all the time, I don’t understand how you work without it. So while you’re grumbling about how young people don’t do things in the way that you do them, understand that they’re grumbling about how you don’t do things in the ways that they do.

A woman walks into an office…

Her boss tells her that he needs a report detailing the competitive landscape of free teleconference services. She proceeds to pull out her phone book and start calling vendor after vendor after vendor asking for more information. She furiously takes notes during these conversations and then spends the next day analyzing these notes and the other materials the vendors sent her to create her report for her boss.She then writes up the report and submits it later that week.

To summarize:

  • She never once asked on the company Yammer network if anything like this already existed
  • She didn’t search the online forums that provided customer reviews of all of the companies she called
  • She spent hours upon hours on the phone listening to sales pitches
  • She never checked through her Facebook friends to realize that her colleague at her last job is now an IT analyst specializing in teleconference services
  • She did everything in a vacuum so no one else but her and her boss can benefit from that research.

I think this is JUST as crazy as the scenario that’s been laid out here. So what are we going to do about this? How do we show them the benefits of working collaboratively with their colleagues, both internally and externally to the organization? How are we going to show them how publishing and sharing the work that they do can not only improve the final product, but reduce duplicative efforts and increase efficiency?

I’m purposely being very flippant here, but the point is that instead of complaining about how technology has dumbed down the younger generation, start looking to them to mentor you in how they can help you better use technology? Both groups have valid points, and both groups are loathe to change their ways. The key is meeting in the middle 🙂

Robert E. Jones

As a “tweener” (somewhere between posting everything about my life and nothing about life), I believe that social media has allowed us to do just the opposite of what you said. A lot of my friends are sliding down hills, being silly, playing in leaves, and enjoying a lot of simple and free pleasures in life. All the while, they are sharing those pleasures with us and reminding us that some things in life are simple and free and don’t require a “constant on connection” to the world.

That being said, I certainly know plenty of people that have asked for opinions on shoes, clothes, cars, electronic devices, etc. I say, “Why not solicit input from others?” Why make decisions in a vacuum? Why let problems and worries fester when you have a medium to vent and seek advice?

Raymond Clark

Balance, balance, balance. Its more important than ever in today’s open media society. I agree with Will Saunders that a person’s ability to “think for themselves” and make decisions (some good, some bad) are formed at a young age. They are formed from interaction with parents (in particular), relatives, and friends. By the time that young person gets their first cell phone/facebook page, they had better have the skills to deal with it. So, its important that parents learn what these new technologies are and how they impact young people. Parents (and other adult mentors of young people) must be able to teach their child how best to interact in this new environment. Not to dissuade them from doing so, that would be counterproductive because they will. Its the new social environment and we can’t shelter them from it. Far from it, we should be helping them adapt. That may put parents in an uncomfortable position of having to immerse themselves in this new media in order to best advise their charges. So, learn, teach, and encourage balance in all things. It will make a difference.

Erica Schachtell

@Steve Radick that was hilarious! thx for providing the voice of reality to this discussion, whether flippantly or otherwise.

Jessica Raynold

Interesting topic. As a young adult I believe that the media plays an important role in demonstrating what seems “acceptable” in society. It is unfortunate that most young adults, teenagers, and even older more mature people live this way. It seems to me that technology has forced people to loose their conversation skills, personality and identity. I am not particularly crazed about the newest advancement or phones but I do ensure that I am informed about it and how to use it.

Although technological improvements has its benefits, it also has negative repercussions. Society has become too dependent on Twitter, Facebook and other online social networks for personal gratification rather than for self education and business networking. This technological addiction is creating cracks in our societal development. We can’t criticize young adults and teenagers when we are also culprits of this behavior at work and in professional environments.

Its sad that we have allowed social networks to dictate who we are (negatively). But unless we try to make the change as a community our individual voices will only on deaf ears.

Julie Chase

” I would find it just as ridiculous to have to work somewhere that restricted my access to things like Facebook and GovLoop and Twitter, etc.”

Steve, I suggest then you not work for DoD, DoN, because “Uncle Sam” watches everything you do on “HIS” network and you my find yourself on the end of disciplinary counseling. Oh, and GS’s here do NOT have bargaining rights, you are on your own to “explain”. And GovLoop is BLOCKED. If you are WG worker in a secured area, cell phones are forbidden and WG’s do not have access to a computer because they are putting together planes, ospreys, helicopters, ships, subs. The younger ones are getting popped for cell phones, yes, dear, just having a cell phone in your pocket on the job in a “secured” area will get you popped with the “cell phone sniffer”. Union can’t help you because you failed to read the warning banner outside on the fence as you swipe your CAC to come in to work.

Technology is fine as long is it is not abused in the workplace. Keep your cell on vibrate at work.

Peter Sperry

@ Steve — “I’m also shocked at how many young people just have no idea how to use the slide rule when they forget their cell phones too. The other frustrating thing is that some of these researchers have NEVER sat for hours scanning through old microfiche in the library trying to find old newspaper articles – they just think they can Google this stuff!”

Good point and very funny. So if in a meeting where electronic devices are checked at the door (common in government today), and a simple math question arises (say budget allocation required if deliverables required are increased by 20 percent) it is no problem when most of the participants are unable to run the numbers with pen and paper. Or when you have already done the fast and easy online search and turn to your assistant for more in depth analysis that requires finding sources the predate the web (most legislative and regulatory histories pre 1992), it is perfectly ok that he or she cannot even find the corporate library, let alone navigate the index of standard reference documents. I live this every day and readily admit to using the old tools maybe 5-6 times a year at most. But coming through with accurate research without making excuses about not finding it on the net has earned my last two promotions.

BTW, I am equally shocked at how many young people do not keep up with NEW technology. You can pretty much tell to within 1-3 years when they graduated from college because that is the last time they upgraded their skill set. At 54, I should not be the internet search expert in the office but I am the only one makes a daily search for new online tools to improve my capabilities.

Steve Radick

@Julie – I do work very often in government facilities, often in locations where cell phones are banned, and in many cases, these bans are necessary evils to protect sensitive data. Unfortunately, there are also many situations where the Internet or cell phones or (back in the 90s) personal calls, etc. are banned because of a lack of trust and/or understanding. It’s these situations that, sadly, have caused young people to flee government work, or in many cases, not even consider it. If you’re a high-performing graduate, why would you choose to work in a place that doesn’t allow telework, doesn’t allow cell phones, restricts Internet access, and gives you decades-old technology? If our government wants to attract the best and brightest, they are the ones that are going to have to change, not the other way around (and to their credit, many agencies are taking great strides to do this).

David W. Scott

This is a great discussion… because it’s controversial! Folks think more deeply and write more passionately on both sides of the issues. My favorite movies are those which critics both praise and pan. 🙂

Julie Chase

@Steve, you are correct, not only “sensitive data”, “senstive planes, ships & subs”. It’s not cute to take a pic of you standing next to a half built plane so your mom can see you at work. Nine times out of ten, you are going to post it on a “social network”, a place where America’s enemy skulks around. Banning personal phone calls has nothing to do with lack of trust and understanding, it has been business protocol way before the 90’s. I had a guy that worked in my office whose wife would call twice in the morning, just before lunch, just after lunch and twice more in the afternoon. We are in an “open” office and didn’t want to hear the bickering back and forth about being seated next to the “Smiths” at their grand daughters wedding. My supervisor, thank goodness, happened to answer this guy’s phone while he was out of the office. My supervisor point blank told her, “unless it’s a life or death emergency, do not call here again. This is a place of business.” As far as the internet goes, Google will handle most anything you look for and it’s not purchasing tickets to the next comic-con or cosplay on Uncle Sam’s computer. If you work for the government, every letter, character you type, whether you keep or delete is recorded. Now if you are ordering something from DoD emall for your dept., that’s a horse of a different color. If this causes young people to flee government work or not even consider it, that is their choice. If you’re a high-performing graduate with mountains of student loans to repay, you’ll put up with it to get your foot in the door & be thankful you have a job & can pay those loans back. Let’s be clear, not all government workers, work in an air conditioned office, so telework for them would be, in a word, ridiculas, unless they are going work on planes and gov vehicles in their driveway at home. I have my cell phone, it’s on vibrate as are my office co workers. It’s called consideration. I don’t want to be in the middle of spreadsheet where the numbers are starting run together, and suddenly a cell phone blares out, “Pants on the ground!”. As for restricting internet access, you would not believe how many firewalls are put on gov computers, and how many idiots there are out there who hack just for the fun of it. Answering blogs and message boards are not in anyone’s PD that I know of, do you? The link you click on could be the very one planted. Thumb drives have been banned at DoD because of the country of origin where they were made. Most contain, malware & spyware, so DoD, banned them. The decades-old technology is probably the easiest one I can point out. The gov has decided to “contract out” it’s IT. So of course they chose the “low ball” bid, and this is what the gov employees get. All the creative & innovating thinking in the world is not going to change that, UNTIL the gov wises up and brings IT back “in house”.

RE: “If our government wants to attract the best and brightest, they are the ones that are going to have to change, not the other way around (and to their credit, many agencies are taking great strides to do this).”

As the song goes, “waitin’ on the world to change…”, you will be waiting a long time. As a babyboomer, no generation was more sure than we were about changing our government, we were the free thinkers, innovators. Out with the “stuffy-puffed up g-man or g-woman”. We woke up real quick when the mortgage was due & baby needed a new pair of shoes. DoD is not going to change. Our enemies are much more sophisticated now than they were when I was your age. The reason we didn’t go to war with Russia is because they were just as afraid of dying as we were. Our new enemies are not afraid.