Social Media and Stupidity

by | Jul 7, 2008

Prejudices against youth in the workplace (the supposed “digital generation”) revolve around claims that the under-30 crowd is entitled, “dumb,” or dis-loyal to employers. I suspect problems may be rooted on the other side of the hiring (and reporting) equation.

The recent Toronto Star article by Lisa Summers (“Are They the Dumbest Generation?”) didn’t limit itself to social media, but the Digital Age as a whole. And Heather already beat me to it. Still, I think it’s worth commenting on here, with social media being attributed even in part to my generation’s apparent lack of brain power.

Has digital media contributed to the under-30 crowd being the “dumbest” generation to date? Sure, I may be biased, but I think not. I find the accusation pretty amusing.

Take a look at the article, and then come on back for a reality check.

  1. When you try to give your arguments credibility by citing sources with a sensationalist book on the market, you only make yourself look stupid.
  2. When you quote one teenager and think it represents a generation, you look even worse. Just think about how different the article would have been if my 17-year-old sister had been quoted instead (not a social media junkie, very actively involved in extra-curricular activities from sports to school plays, holding down a job, spending plenty of face-to-face time with friends, without a cell phone glued to her, an honor student who can get into pretty much any school her heart desires, and who always seems to have her nose in a book). If you go out looking for an idiot to quote, you’re bound to find one – in any generation.
  3. If you’re going to quote a source, do your job and ask some questions to give that quote even a hint of credibility (seems to be a key word here) – for example, exactly how many under-30s has Dr. Wong hired? There’s a big difference between making a generational judgment on two employees versus 20. And what positions are we talking about here? Is she paying enough for someone with brains to care about the job? And does it really say anything about the younger generation, or is Dr. Wong perhaps “behind the times” and simply uncomfortable around tech-savvy youths? One more thing – if someone really has a lot of trouble finding qualified employees, does it really say something’s wrong with the employee pool, or does it show that the employer is simply incompetent when it comes to finding and securing qualified people? Hmmmmm.
  4. Under 30 is a rather broad group to be lumping together, don’t you think? Hell, I’m 28, and I can still remember life before social media and cell phones quite well. You all know how I feel about playing with anything and everything just because it’s new versus focusing on what’s actually useful. And I do think teens are a bit more gadget-happy than folks my age (not much). But are these things not useful in the bulk of cases? I think implying that all of these things are a waste of time shows ignorance on the part of the writer and sources here regarding the extent to which these digital tools are used.
  5. Current 20-somethings are quite possibly the most entrepreneurial group in history. Why don’t we ever hear about this when people are whining about things like issues of entitlement or “lack of dedication” in the workforce? It’s become so easy to go out on your own these days, that a lot of the smarter folks are doing it (even if only part-time at first). So the issue isn’t necessarily that the generation is “dumb” – perhaps it’s more that we’re smart enough to know we don’t need all of the corporate bullshit if we don’t want it. Do we feel entitled to something better than companies that ditch us after 30 years, or lost pensions due to corporate scandals? You bet. Had previous generations set a better tone of employee loyalty after the regular company loyalty of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, maybe they wouldn’t be witnessing a backlash. (And companies that do have excellent employee relations don’t seem to complain about these same things – maybe there’s a lesson to be learned there.)

I could go on (like about all of my under-30 friends out pursuing advanced degrees or those in that group I know who are smart enough to be running brilliant companies), but I won’t. I’m sure most here aren’t ignorant enough to make claims of stupidity over an entire generation.

7 Comments

  1. Thanks for the link – you demonstrate entirely the skills that prove the hypothesis that all under 30s are dumb is wrong by showing how false the assumptions are that have been made in the article. But from a PR perspective, the “dumb generation” is unfortunately such an easy hook as it has generated lots of coverage for the book. Sadly too much of it has simply lapped up the headline allegations rather than taking a robustly critical approach of the arguments.

  2. Heather, I would submit that “sales perspective” might be more appropriate than “PR perspective.” The facile title of the book and article certainly attract attention (ditto for “Social Media and Stupidity” up above, which caught my eye), but I’d prefer to have my PR more closely associated with revealing value and utility than just contributing to the sound and fury. I’m given to dreaming at times, yes.

    B.J.

  3. You make a number of good points. I don’t get the “under 30” distinction anyway: from where I sit, there are plenty of “well over 30’s” who I think are negatively impacted by the rise in social media. They use the immediacy of a blog post to excuse errors in spelling and grammar (from communications professionals, no less).

    IMHO, the biggest problem with social media and the glorification of multitasking is that it excuses a lack of concentration and focus. It has become epidemic, and the annoying thing is that people seem to think doing a dozen things at once (and none of them well) is something to be proud of. Blech. This behavior does not lend itself to critical thought, which is a problem. Again, this doesn’t have anything to do with how old someone is, I just see fewer people taking the next step and thinking things through.

    There will always be those who take pride in doing good work and those who hurry and do a half-assed job. There are no age limits to that.

  4. I don’t mind things like occasional typos in blogging – I’m guilty of it myself often enough (the problem being that you often don’t have an opportunity to look at posts with “fresh eyes” before posting – you can re-read it 5 times right after writing, and still miss something that will be glaring at you a week later if you re-read the post).

    The age group issue really was interesting for me, because as I was reading the article I was actually thinking about how it’s actually most older folks I know who are over-doing it with social media in particular (the ones who insist they have to try or use everything that comes out, whereas a lot of the younger folks find their own niches and learn how to use fewer tools more productively, especially in a personal / social way). And of course there are exceptions on both sides – it just seemed strange seeing one group bashed with another ignored.

  5. Agreed…and, I’m okay with occasional typos too. What I’m referring to are basic mistakes (like its/it’s) made repeatedly on blogs by people purporting to be experts in PR and social media. I’m not going to name names, but these mistakes have happened often enough on blogs I read that it’s obvious these professional writers don’t know the difference.

    Honestly, I wouldn’t hire a communication consultant who demonstrates in public, repeatedly, that he/she doesn’t know basic grammar.

    But, who knows–these folks always talk about how busy they are, so apparently it doesn’t bother everyone as much as it bugs me. At 38, I’m “old school.” 🙂

  6. Well if you ever catch me doing that, feel free to yell at me. I don’t remember to go back over every post with fresh eyes later, and I’m sure I make lots of typos over here. 😉

    I tend to look at those kinds of things differently based on the types of bloggers. If the blogger is serious all the time, strictly informational, etc., I tend to hold them to higher standards than those I would consider more personality-driven bloggers. For instance, I also blog on freelance writing issues. When I’m visiting the blogs of other writers, I don’t mind typos or non-standard grammar if the blog is simply conversational and between writers, but when they’re using the blog to push their services directly I’d expect them to be a bit more careful.

    There was an interesting conversation on a forum I frequent a few weeks (maybe months now) back about this issue specifically with tech-oriented bloggers – on how some of the biggest couldn’t string sentences together to save their lives. I guess it all comes down to why our readers are here. If they like the information or personality enough, they seem to be pretty willing to overlook other issues.

  7. This is a great article with awesome points. Older folks seem to have such a discrimination against the younger folks and with articles such as the one you rightfully picked apart – it simply makes them look bad.

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  1. Links for 08-07-2008 | Velcro City Tourist Board - [...] - Social Media and Stupidity “Current 20-somethings are quite possibly the most entrepreneurial group in history. Why [...]
  2. Does Your Company Deserve Employee Loyalty? - [...] about how the under-30 crowd is the “dumbest” generation because of the Digital Age (which I very much disagreed…
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