The Ubiquitous Access to Information
The youngest of the employees you work with or manage grew up with the ubiquitous access of information. Therefore they did not need to memorize a lot of information.
Boy, does this tick us baby boomers off!
This creates a generational rift. Many baby boomers think we have to memorize critical details and your younger employees do not. They have ubiquitous access to information and see no need in memorizing anything.
This is the third in a series on the multigenerational workplace if you would like to read the entire series click here.
Let’s look at the three most common generations in the workplace:
- Baby Boomers
- Generation X
- Generation Y
We are going to frame this around how each generation would have answered the following question when they were in high school?
What is the capital of Madagascar?
If you are a baby boomer, you might remember fondly that first set of World Book encyclopedias you used. If you were special, you might have owned a set of Encyclopedia Britannica. They probably sat on a shelf in the den or a bedroom. In my case, they were in my brother’s bedroom. Each year, you would receive a yearbook that kept the contents of the set up to date.
The average baby boomer would have looked this question up in the encyclopedia. If someone asked you when you were away from home, you had to wait until you got home to make your discovery. However, you knew where to find the information.
Would you remember this piece of trivia? Probably!
When I launched my career in the late 1970s at IBM my office was filled with computer manuals. The only thing I really needed to know was which manual probably contained the information I needed. Once I found the answer, I would make a note in my trusty notebook or make a mental note, i.e. memorize it.
Our method for finding something we did not know was to look it up in a book or a manual. We did not have ubiquitous access to information.
Generation X was the first generation that had access to online materials. In the early 1990s came the rise of the CD-ROM. Encyclopedias started to go online. There was no Wikipedia just yet, but it was not far behind.
This was a very transformational time where information was not at your fingertips…but it was getting there.
A Generation X-er would have still looked this question up in some form of an encyclopedia, which was often to be found online. They still probably had to go home to answer the question because they needed to look it up on the household desktop computer.
Would someone from Generation X remember this piece of trivia? Probably!
As a technical person in the 1990s, it was not unusual for me to have a stack of CDs which contained documentation and other software. If I did not have my CDs with me, I had to go find them.
A Generation X-er’s method for finding something they did not know was to look it up on a CD.
For Generation Y, there was no need for an encyclopedia. All you needed to do to answer this question is google for the answer.
I remember helping my son in 1996 work on a middle school project comparing Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, who was running for President. Everything he needed was available on the Internet. Who needed an encyclopedia?
When my son got to college, he was required to purchase a laptop computer. Search became ubiquitous.
A Generation Y-er would just search the Google to find the answer is Antananarivo
Would someone from Generation Y remember this piece of trivia? Maybe or maybe not!
A Generation Y-er would find the information online, but may not learn it!
Why should they?
This is what pisses off a lot of baby boomers. Why don’t they have to remember it?
They can look it up again!
In 2014, I was speaking at a conference in Baltimore Maryland. My wife and I had dinner at one of the famous crab cake restaurants on the harbor. The walls of the restaurant were lined with stain glass which had various numbers displayed in the glass.
I asked the waiter who was about 25 years of age and he explained that in earlier times in Baltimore every house in Baltimore had their address number displayed in the front door in stained glass. The walls contained stained glass that had survived the Great Baltimore Fire.
I asked him when was the Great Baltimore Fire but he could not answer the question. I googled it on my iPhone and it was 1904. He returned 5 minutes later and said it was 1904. The difference is I will remember that fact, he probably will not.
Why? He does not need to remember it as he has ubiquitous access to information.
I remember working for IBM in 1990. The new computer system I was working on had all of the documentation available on a CD for the first time. IBM at the time was the largest publisher of printed material in the world. The average computer system had 50-100 manuals. As a programmer or administrator, I needed to know about all of these manuals and at least know which manual had the information I needed. All I had to do was stick the CD in the CD-ROM and “search”. The information revolution had begun.
Generation Y has grown up with search available. Now it is available anytime and anywhere!
Several years ago, I was attending a session being given by the new dean of the University of Texas Medical School. The dean explained they were no longer emphasizing the medical students memorizing a lot of information.
The room was filled with baby boomers and there was a noticeable gasp that you could feel. WHAT!
He explained that the latest information is readily available at the doctor’s fingertips. Why should they rely on their memory or what happens when things change and the doctor’s memory has obsolete information.
Ubiquitous Access of Information
We have been driving back and forth between Austin, Texas and Ajijic, Jalisco Mexico in our effort to move abroad. You can read more about this here. We no longer have a map book but we rely on Google Maps to give us turn by turn directions. Is Ms. Google perfect? No, but it does an extremely good job and when we have taken a wrong turn it has recalculated the route.
We print out maps beforehand so if the technology fails we are not driving blind.
This is second nature to the younger generation. With Generation Z that is currently entering the workplace, this is the only method of acquiring information that they have ever known.
How has the ubiquitous access to information affected your workplace?
Has this created a generational rift in your organization?
Please read the rest of the Multi-Generational Workplace Series.
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