The Impact of the Blog/Twitter Revolution

The Pew Research Center recently reported that among 19-28 year-olds, blogging activity dropped from close to thirty percent in December 2007 to around fifteen percent by the end of 2009, while the number of teenagers who blogged continues to decline. Those under thirty now focus primarily on Facebook and Twitter. On the other hand, blogging has increased among adults over thirty by close to forty percent in the last three years, although the 11% of those who do blog is still below the 15% level of the 19-29 age group. Based on current trends, that gap will close significantly over the next few years.

These data scarcely surprise me. After all, once you’ve blurted out, “Here I am,” and explained who you are, maintaining a blog with any form of regularity takes, thought, insight, and dedicated work, none of which are exactly traits encouraged in our young people today, despite the lip service paid to them. And, after all, while it can be done, it’s hard to fully expose one’s lack of insight and shallowness when one is limited to the 140 characters of a Twitter message, and since Facebook is about “connecting” and posturing, massive thought and insight are not required.

There is a deeper problem demonstrated by these trends — that technology is being used once more to exploit the innate tendency of the young to focus on speed and fad — or “hipness” [or whatever term signifies being cool and belonging]. All too many young adults are functionally damaged in their inability to concentrate and to focus on any form of sustained task. Their low boredom threshold, combined with a socially instilled sense that learning should always be interesting and tailored precisely to them, makes workplace learning difficult, if not impossible, for far too many of them, and makes them want to be promoted to the next position as soon as possible.

As Ursula Burns, the President and CEO of Xerox, recently noted, however, this urge for promotion as soon as one has learned the basics of a job is horribly counterproductive for the employer… as well as for the employee. The young employee wants to move on as soon as he or she has learned the job. If businesses acquiesce in this, they’ll always be training people, and they’ll never be able to take advantage of the skills people have learned, because once they’ve learned the job, they’re gone from that position, either promoted or departed to another organization in search of advancement. It also means that those who follow such a path never fully learn, and never truly refine and improve those skills.

This sort of impatience has always existed among the young, and it’s definitely not unique to the current generations. What is unique, unfortunately, is the degree to which society and technology are embracing and enabling what is, over time, effectively an anti-social and societally fragmenting tendency.

Obviously, not all members of the younger generation follow these trends and patterns, but from what I’ve learned from my fairly widespread net of acquaintances in higher education across the nation, a majority of college students, perhaps a sizable majority, are in fact addicted to what I’d call, for lack of a better term, “speed-tech superficiality,” and that’s going to make the next few decades interesting indeed.