“If you are not willing to learn, then no one can help you.  If you are willing to learn, then no one can stop you.” Zig Ziglar

As I age, I have discovered a frightening aspect about my demographic peers – the baby boomers – regarding learning, knowledge, and open mindedness.  As a baby boomer, my cohort is now at the edge of retirement.  So, many are relaxing and look forward to a stage of life that delivers calmness, relaxation, travel, family time, and peace.  But, what appears to be happening in concert with this transition is a collapsing of the world.  Not literally, but figuratively anyway.

When I say, collapsing of the world, what I mean is that their lens or view on the world regarding its size and scope of their personal dominion is being greatly reduced.  The universe as these folks understand it is changing, it is collapsing and therefore, their appreciation and understanding of the world around them is also morphing into something new.  This seems to be a natural transition.

However, this new baby boomer domain is shockingly closed and limited from a social media perspective beyond all logical congruence against the overall transformation.  What I am seeing are people who have stopped learning, have grown stagnant in their knowledge, accept myths and unsupported points of contention as basic truths, have ceased to question everything and anything, and stopped exploring new ideas – they have adopted a closed mind.  Most pointedly regarding social media acceptance, but perhaps not regarding all topics or interests.

These people are not stupid, nor are they uneducated, but for some odd reason they are choosing to be ignorant, at least regarding social media anyway.  They are greatly isolating themselves from their immediate and extended community by resisting adoption of social media.  So, what is it?  Are they just lazy and unwilling to work at understanding new and different ideas?  Learning may be much harder for some compared to others, especially as you age.  But, if you do not use your little grey cells, they atrophy.  It is essential to continue to be fully engaged in life and be a part of the woven fabric of your community.  My contention is that as the extended community moves online, so must you.  If you wish to remain engaged in the lives of your children, grandchildren, friends, and colleagues, then social media is where you need to be found.  The gap between the users of social media is startling wide based upon generational demographics as can be seen in the graphic below.

Evidence of this closed mindedness is profound when it comes to adoption of social media.  Many of my peers grew up in an age without social media and without computers and many of the modern technologies that we all take for granted today.  The technology for this generation is television.  Therefore, I can only assume that these computerized social media things are foreign and scary to them.  Rather than making even the slightest effort to embrace these technologies, they push them away and claim that they pose too big of a risk and offer no intrinsic value to them.  Can this be true?

This graphic breaks down the usage by age groups.  The smallest slivers are the grey slices, perhaps to symbolize the grey haired people.  Sadly, this is my demographic cohort.  So, my observations are validated by statistical evidence from these top social media sites.

Instead of becoming digitally literate in social media, they bask in their lack of digital knowledge and ridicule users of social media as mindless and stupid.  “All they do is paste pictures of what they ate on Facebook”“Hackers steal your identity on LinkedIn”“I do not need to be on Instagram, it is just about pictures of Kim Kardashian’s butt anyway.  I do not even know who she is anyway”“Twitter is for fools”.  All of these comments were heard by me in the past three days alone from my friends.  Not online, but face to face over coffee.  (Stop, do not jump to any conclusions about me, I enjoy social media greatly, but often push away the keyboard and get out of my chair to socialize face-to-face too.)  This fierce resistance towards all social media is fascinating to me, especially considering the huge size of this demographic cohort.

Why is it like this?  Why are they so resistance?  Most are cleaver people with stellar careers behind them underpinned with great educations as engineers, architects, business owners, teachers, consultants, doctors, and much more.  They have wealth and have now retired to comfort and indulgence.  So, what is it about social media that has made them so resistant and adamant in their position of absolute and total rejection of anything to do with it?

Analyses within subsamples of research defined by generational age breaks further suggest that social capital production is related to Internet use among Generation X, while it is tied to television use among Baby Boomers and newspaper use among members of the Civic Generation.  Maybe the problem is that this is simply the wrong media for them?  The baby boomer generation is clearly the TV generation.  So, social media was never centric to their lives, why should I expect it to be now in their twilight years?  Why should I expect them to accept change and learn something new?  Maybe they are just embracing their comfort zones?

These strong and highly bias baby boomer perceptions range from the initial unanimous, strong negative to the more positive but cautious, and to the eventual willingness to actually contribute content.  Therefore, it would be unfair to suggest that all people over 60 years old share just one point of view, this is not the case.   Obviously I am here and engaged, but am I a statistical outlier?

So, how can we change this paradigm?  Effective educational strategies are necessary.  Privacy appears to be the primary concern and key perceptual barrier to adoption.  We need to develop and share education to overcome their privacy concerns, including (a) introducing the concepts before introducing the functions; (b) responding to privacy concerns; and (c) making social media personally relevant.

While in line at the bank yesterday, I watched as an older gentleman paid a number of bills – cable TV, telephone, cellular, etc.  My thought as I grew impatient waiting was why was he not paying these bills online?  So, maybe it is a grander computer literacy problem and not just limited to a social media engagement issue?

My conclusion is that fear and relevance seems to drive this resistance to adoption and fuel this ignorance.  Privacy concerns are critical to the baby boomers too.  However, as the physical community is migrating to a virtual presence, so must the baby boomers if they wish to remain connected to the extended and society at large.  Most importantly if they wish to be connected to younger generational cohorts, friends, and family, they will need to shift to this social media driven virtual community.  Otherwise, the social isolation increases dramatically and as their universe compresses, they will lose out on many important and valued aspects of life.  Physical and virtual connections and interactions are critical to a happy life.  Television just passes time, but it is not really a richly rewarding social interaction.

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About the Author:

Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless and digital communications technologies. He is a Senior Executive Consultant with IBM Canada’s GTS Network Services Group. Over the past 11 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He was previously a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN:TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO:TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX:TSX.V).  He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and on the Board of Advisers of four different Colleges in Ontario as well as for 16 years on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.  He holds three Masters level degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has diplomas and certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology.

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References:

DOI: 10.1080/03601277.2010.544580. Bo Xiea, Ivan Watkinsa, Jen Golbecka & Man Huanga. Pages 282-296.

DOI: 10.1080/105846001750322952. Dhavan V. Shah, Nojin Kwak, R. Lance Holbert. Pages 141-162