The Tech Cred Gen Ten Problem

Ten years ago almost exactly, I had lunch with a lady about my age. We went to an outdoor cafe and whiled away a pleasant hour talking about work and life. At the end of the hour, she asked me to send her an article via email. I grabbed my pen and asked for her email address, and she said “It’s Sue, a period, Smith, and then that thing - you know, the a in a circle thing — then Equator Investments, then a period, then see oh em.”

Whoa, I thought.

“There’s a kind of shorthand for that, Sue,” I said, “and in your case it would be Sue dot Smith at Equator Investments dot com.”

“My goodness,” she said, “I’m terrible with things like that.”

“No problem,” I said, but I must admit before Jah and this blog’s readers, I also thought, Lady, it’s 1998! My mom knows how to recite her email address, for Pete’s sake!

For better or worse, there is in the business world a certain credibility associated with one's understanding of and ability to use the most popular business technology tools. Ten years ago, I was a bit shocked that my friend couldn't recite her email address and couldn't name the AT sign. Today, I wouldn't blink if a business acquaintance didn't choose to use LinkedIn, text messaging, IM, Skype or Twitter, but I'd be a tad surprised if s/he hadn't heard of them. And I'm not a technical person, myself. I just try to stay on the page.

Generational and tech-savviness indicators become entangled because technology, apart from the benefits it confers on users, is viewed as the toolkit of the young and the hip.

It gave me pause, from a sheer credibility perspective, to have a lady my own age fumble over her email address. I wouldn't judge a person for eschewing technology, but I confess that I might judge him or her for not knowing what s/he was choosing to forgo. These technologies are business tools, not so different from income statements and employment interviews. Do we have a responsibility to pay a bit of attention to them? My brain, undoubtedly biased in all sorts of ways, says we do. It is wrong of me to be the tiniest bit dismayed by an email message in my inbox that says (as someone wrote to me earlier this week) "I wanted to embed my resume into this email message, but I couldn't figure out how to do it"? The saddest part about a message like that - as with the lunch lady and the AT sign - is that the sender didn't see the disconnect, didn't seem to feel any embarrassment about being a lap or two behind the curve.

The tech-credibility hurdle can be an extra barrier for older workers vying with younger ones for knowledge-economy jobs. More and more of the essential business skills revolve around use of tech tools, and I fear that even with the wisdom and maturity that older workers possess, the tech-cred barrier could stop them in their tracks.

Does that person, the one who couldn't cut-and-paste a resume into an email message, deserve a job? For sure, but perhaps not, at this moment, in the white-collar knowledge-worker arena where a working knowledge of email applications and the Cut and Paste functions are must-have skills.

We naturally evaluate our business acquaintances' judgment, insight, and business savvy - not judging in the sense of finding fault, but in order to make sane assessments of whether and how we'd like to be associated. And here we find another multi-generational complication (what I call the Tech Cred Gen Ten Problem, where "Gen Ten" stands in for Generational Tension) because on the whole, older people are less avid users of emerging tech tools than younger ones (although that is changing). Is a person therefore less credible based on that Age Plus Tech Cred metric? Could be. Do older people therefore have to overdo it, to be more technically in tune than younger ones, to earn the same tech cred ranking?

Would I rather do business with a wise, savvy older person who'd never used email but was a subject matter expert and trusted advisor, or a young hipster who used every widget known to man on his blog but didn't otherwise have a clue? The former, of course. Still...when business credibility and tech-tool savvy get intertwined, as I suspect has already happened, generational-communication obstacles certainly don't get any lower.

What's your take?

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