The conversation about whether to have listservs and/or Web 2.0 dialogue has come up in my life, once again. I believe that the technologies serve very different audiences and that generational preferences and communication styles can add an informative perspective to this conversation. Below is my response to a Boomer I respect (and like) very much. I’m offering my view on why I think organizations need to have both listservs and Web 2.0 tools, at least for now and in the current constellation of generations.
To my Boomer friend,
Boomers (the Prophet archetype) grow up in a world, as children, where adults have put tremendous energy into public structures and systems with a focused will to do large projects that make the world better. Boomers grow up in a “world view” that says the physical structures of the world are in great order. That’s why your generation, Boomers, can call forth society to bring spiritual inquiry, values, vision and mission to the tasks at hand. And that’s what your gen does. It sees all the structures and says, “Great, but where is the heart? Where is the soul in all of this success?”
Boomers make the world better by discussion about values. Which is why Boomers tend to prefer listservs. They want to talk and discuss. To contribute their values to a larger conversation so that order will align with values. They tend to like a more closed conversation among an identified group of colleagues. They usually have an agreed-upon, albeit tacit, pecking order of sorts of who has most sway and power on the listservs. I’m going to say something that is not often discussed but is equally important, quite obvious from the GenX perspective and speaks to why an organization might want to keep a listserv going if it’s been around for a long time: Boomers have a tendency squat on turf and not move, for decades! So listservs work for them because once they squat on turf/become an active member of a a listserv (philosophical discussions, community conversations, tech boards, whatever), they’ve marked their territory, built their castle and now have a very real and emotional reason to protect it.
GenXers grow up in a world, as children, where adults are focused on themselves and systems are starting to fall apart. GenXers, by definition of their archetypal pattern (Nomad), grow up in a world where adults do not have their hands on the steering wheel. So the world view of GenXers is that any place there is a gap, a broken system, an inefficiency, we fix it. (I’m talking in broad generalities here, of course.) That’s why GenXers today orient on deep level to Web 2.0 technology, which allows perspective, solutions and information to be published, tagged, repurposed and spread. As well, there is an element of intelligence demonstrated in how one publishes, tags and has info move virally. While some of that motivation can be about personal branding (another HUGE orientation of GenXers), information posted in a Web 2.0 manner is available to help anyone, anywhere. This is a high value to GenXers. They need to make the world a better place — not by values and vision, as Boomers do — but by fixing and improving systems, by helping their peers navigate a world where structures are broken and older adults (as they see it) are too busy talking about vision and values. It’s part of the code of GenXers: If I fix something, I don’t need accolades, per se, but I will do my best to make sure others know how I did it, so that they can learn from me. It’s a GenX code of honor. And deep GenX values are liberty, survial and honor. And listservs, while they have their importance, don’t allow this rich movement of information. Web 2.0 tools match the GenX mindset more. They allow a newcomer, an upstart, an unknown to provide just as much — if not more — value on a subject than a long-entrenched (possibly even stale-of-thought and so-called) expert.
So, it’s not that one technology is better than the other. It’s that they each offer a different environment for communicating and, I offer, that there is much alignment around generational preference for the tools.
And while I would recommend that no organization abandon or shut down a list serv now while many a boomer are still actively engaged in conversations, I do offer that natural energies of effectiveness are found in aligning with generational cycles. See, whatever gen is moving into midlife (42-62 years old), that’s the gen that has cultural dominance and sets the tone and energy of where resources and power go. (Reference our brand-new GenX president for an example.)
So, what I would recommend is that a company or organization start moving toward Web 2.0 tools — and as fast as one can. Why? Because it’s what will attract the attention and contributions of GenXers. And while GenXers by their Nomad archetype are wont to lay low and stay off the radar of pesky adults, once they hit mid-life, which is happening now, their orientation toward fragmentation has to be redirected toward collective knowledge. And Web 2.0 tools are the way to do this.