I wrote a column last year about how my teenage daughter was scandalized when she saw my profile on Facebook. “Gross!” was her verbatim reaction.
I never joined Facebook to spy on my kids, and I almost never go to their profile pages. Who has time? And yet I’ve learned a lot about my kids just by experiencing Facebook for 15 minutes or half an hour every week. I see how kids my kids’ ages communicate with one another (sarcastic, jaunty, and sweetly naive) and how they view the world.
Facebook learning goes in the opposite direction, too. “You liked the Barack Roll video, mom?” asked my son after seeing a comment on my Facebook page. “Why wouldn’t I like it?” I asked. “It cracked me up.” Now my son sends me videos that he likes—except anime, which I find unwatchable. Facebook is a tool for learning a new language. I can destroy my Gen Y friends in the “Name that movie” (famous quotes) quiz and they can obliterate me in any popular-music contest covering the past ten years.
Instinctively we know that exposure breeds familiarity and reduces tension. We know that all sorts of differences, not just generational ones, dissolve more quickly in the fluid of continual conversation and sharing of experiences. We know these things, so we should make use of them. Instead of blocking Facebook at the office, we should set up a Facebook group for our officemates and use it to build community and share knowledge. Older folks like me have a lot to teach, and a lot to learn, and our youngest staffers are no different. A tool that looks like a frivolous distraction (colorful! animated! silly!) could build the bridge between your organization's veterans and its next-gen visionaries. What are we waiting for?