September 8, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism, Society, Web

There are fairly obvious differences between the young folks and my contemporaries, differences that seem far deeper than the dissimilarities between generations in the past.

This comes to mind as I seek facilitators for the Peace, Justice & Environment Project, activists that work with activists around the country.  I find myself compelled to look for people that I have met in person.  I find it hard to feel certain that I know someone unless I’ve watched emotions play across their face while listening to their voice.  On more than one occasion, going by voice only, because I’ve only been in contact over the phone, I’ve asked a person to join our project as a facilitator.  They came aboard, but no real cementing of relationship occurred, and the verbal commitment was not reflected in congruence of behavior.

I’m wondering if this preference for face-to-face communication is an archaic characteristic of my generation.  We older folks have trouble trusting what’s not flesh and blood.  I’m observing that younger people find it easier to form relationships over phones, and of course, through the web.  Is it possible they have heightened sensibilities when it comes to detecting the subtle cues that come with nonflesh/blood communication, and so they are able to establish firm trust bonds in this new environment?

When I worked with Moveon, staffers picked coordinators for regional and national positions from their conversations on the phone.  After being assigned to nationally coordinate based on the work I was doing as a regional coordinator and a phone conversation, I was given the job of picking out state coordinators across the country by reading their applications and talking by phone.  This task was easily one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do.  I had only a voice to draw conclusions from.  The 24-year-old that picked me to nationally coordinate used only my voice to pick me.  Coincidentally, he lived eleven miles away.  (There are Moveon central staff members that live and work as far away as Japan.)  He didn’t feel compelled to meet me in person to pick me for the job.

I reflexively trust people.  I have a vivid imagination and can join people in the pictures they create of the good work that they will do.  Still, my incongruity detectors are damn good.  If a person is not being straight, my body knows it.  My detectors are almost all based on real time, nonverbal information.  I’m feeling like the young folks have senses in an additional dimension providing information where, for me, there is no information to perceive.

The intelligence and creativity exhibited by the young with their ability to multi-task, learn quickly, navigate technology and intuit how things work is extraordinary.  I’m coming to believe that there is a qualitative difference between people in their 20s and people 50 and older.  The generation gap has never been so wide.


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