journaling, Workplace Culture

The greatest lesson Baby Boomers taught me…

I learned a valuable lesson from the Baby Boomers in my life.  I mean, I’ve learned almost everything I know from that generation, but there is a lesson I am learning right now that I hold very seriously and consciously.  It is very simple.

NEVER OPT OUT OF LEARNING

Don’t worry Boomer-readers, this isn’t going to be another article written by a snarky Millennial or Gen Z writer that disregards the contributions you have made to this world and blames you and your 60-75 years on earth for all that is wrong today.  I know you were born to this train-wreck, just at an earlier stage.  I also acknowledge that your generation has seen the most rapid social, economic, and technological changes than any other cohort in the current memory of man.  This has given rise to the tragedy I am about to explore. 

I don’t even know what to call it – Is there a word for the sudden fall from relevance of the majorities in a generation who opted out of keeping up with technology?  The De-contemporizing? The Defuncting?  The Mass Obsoletion?

Over the weekend someone dear to me was invited to do a new form of job interview.  The person was sent a link to a platform that would ask a question and allow them to record an answer.  Now this person is a technologically above-average-functioning Boomer who uses email and Facebook and even QuickBooks, but this interview process on top of the nerves of job hunting was almost their undoing.  Looking at the process together, watching the tutorial videos and setting up the microphone and video access led them at one point to turn around and say “I don’t want to do it.” 

In that moment of vulnerability I became present to the fears that people of their generation are facing all over the world, every day.  I became present to the marginalization and the weeding out they are dealing with in workplaces they not so long ago were leading.  I see them fighting the sense of unfairness that their hard won credit in the form of decades of experience is worth almost nothing if they can’t create a PDF and attach it to an email or setup appointments with Zoom links in a calendar.

When I shared the thought with a young relative of mine, his response was profound.  This young man, not yet 25 years old, said to me “If we aren’t careful, we will all be computer illiterate in ten years.” 

He isn’t wrong.

How did it come to this?

My 82 year old Grandmother opting into Facebook 11 years ago

Back in the time of typing pools – the early 90’s, so not that long ago – many of the people we now see as computer illiterate were top functioning members of a workforce who never saw the need to learn how to type.  The late 90’s would have brought the prevalence of email, and so the non-typists-turned-two-finger-typists were forced to come up to speed and learn to communicate in the emerging world or be left behind.  Some STILL opted to be left behind, delegating to secretaries and junior staff where they had the luxury to do so.  It seems the harder they come the harder they fall, because this soon became expensive and impossible to afford or to sustain.  Their jobs would be quickly passed over to people who didn’t need to look down at the keyboard and had no idea what a typing speed even was because… why would you need to measure fast?  The evolution of digital office products would become the next challenge for even those who COULD type.  Excel formulae, PowerPoint slides and computer graphs and charts became common in every industry – not just office work.  Work once dubbed as “unskilled” soon came with the unspoken requirement to be able to use a computer.  Once again there were those who opted out of updating.  Once again, these persons were sifted out, made obsolete, and replaced.  Then came social media.  The graphic designers of the past who would spend late nights over drawing boards were replaced by people proficient in Corel Draw and marketing became less about page 3 of the Friday newspaper and more about social media.  This was happening, not in a linear way as I have oversimplified in my description, but everywhere in every industry, all at the same time.  And STILL people chose to opt out, wielding the weapons of seniority and experience in defense against the annual tide of freshly graduated, technologically proficient young adults.

Socially, this has created a nightmare for all generations involved.  The young techies have resented being more qualified but held behind experienced leadership.  The experienced opt outs have become embittered that the paying of their dues and the earning of their stripes has not gained them the expected respect. 

The lesson is loud and clear, because the young have their old age to look forward to and are often blind to the consequences of their youthful impatience.  My cousin said it well, “In 10 years we will all be computer illiterate.”

How do we prevent it happening to us?

Right there and then he and I stopped and took an inventory of where we are not keeping up.  He identified his dislike for social media keeping him off of TikTok and Reddit.  I am still looking for my blind spots because I actually LIKE technology.  Perhaps I need to learn to play videogames.  It has struck me that gamers better understand crypto than the rest of us.  I use Calendly, WordPress, Fygaro, LinkedIn, all the Google Suite, Blinkist, Audible and more apps that I don’t even think about.  But does World of Warcraft and Call Of Duty need to be added to my Opt In?  (A first person shooter game might have mental health benefits, now that I think of it!)

For the Boomers, I encourage patience and compassion.  This has been a LOT. My Boomer readers, please be kind to yourselves.  I suspect yours is just the first of many generations to go through this transition, and yours has been truly a generation of phenomenal firsts.

For the Millennials and Generation Z, I encourage you to sow seeds with your future in mind.  Sow kindness and opt in.  One day this will get hard for you too.  Goodwill and an open attitude toward learning will go a long way.

For everyone, enjoy the journey!  And I’ll see you on COD as soon as I get my husband to teach me how to not get killed.

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