Online Transparency: Who Is Right?

A lot of people say things online that curl my hair!

It makes me wonder what they are thinking that allowed them to say such __________ (insert word here) things to a public audience in a medium that never forgets a single word (thank you, Google).

This Is A Generation Gap

Online communication differences break along generation lines.

Online communication differences break along generation lines.

The young adults today (affectionately known as Millennials or Generation Y by the marketing and cultural anthropology crowds) grew up with the Internet and most of them don’t see any problem with posting their inner thoughts and private behavior for the world. Their friends do it, and they all talk about it together.

But the older Internet users, those of us who remember the world before the Internet, hesitate to air our dirty laundry online. We were indoctrinated into the world where you put your best face forward, and keep your inner world secret.

In the one group, you have people who embrace transparency and use social media to publish their transparency. In the other group, you have people who protect their privacy and often don’t understand the appeal (or power) of social media.

Which One Is Better?

That’s impossible to answer.

I talk today with members of Generation X and Baby Boomers who want to embrace social media, but are not comfortable sharing their feelings or having the kind of personal transparency they see online. Maybe some of their resistance is personality driven, but a large portion is generational. They want to come and play, but it doesn’t feel natural. They think about the possible consequences of online indiscretions and stay within topics that feel safe and unoffensive. They want to err on the side of caution.

When I talk to my nephews and other Millenials about their online presence, they don’t yet understand the politics of the workplace they are newly entering. They don’t understand that their boss isn’t going to like pictures of drinking (or worse) posted online and tagged to their employees (and the company). They are not indoctrinated into that culture. In fact, they seem bent on changing that culture and refusing to cowtow to the rules and structure that currently runs American business.

Where Does This Leave Us?

There’s no easy answer to address this challenge.

For Gen X and the Boomers, it’s the personal journey to push the envelope of transparency to find a comfort zone that allows them to participate in social media without offending their sensibilities. It’s about stretching and experimenting with new behaviors and trying out new ways of thinking. It often feels risky.

For Millenials, it’s about realizing that the rest of the world (i.e. older people) think differently and that they really could benefit by finding a common ground. Until the Millenials rule the world, they have to collaborate with people that may not be as enlightened on personal transparency. And for those Millenials who are not willing to take that journey out of a spirit of good will, there are new horror stories that have the potential to strike fear in their hearts. For example, just last week the BBC reported that Virgin Atlantic fired 13 employees for their posts on a Facebook group that reflected negative views on passengers and the company.

What is the world coming to?

About author:

Charlene is the information strategist behind Crow Information Design.

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