A blog post a few days ago by the very savvy “Community Guy” Jake McKee, Why is a lack of knowledge cool? struck a chord with me.  Jake was commenting on the fact that in an otherwise quite interesting set of comments about social media and specifically Twitter, US Secretary of State Clinton made a joke which was to the effect that she did not really know what Twitter is or does.

And Jake asked “Will there be a time when older people don’t think it’s cool to joke about their tech cluelessness?”. As a card-carrying “older person” I was not offended, although at least one commenter, younger than I, took umbrage at the generalization about age groups.

One reason I was not offended is that I do hear, especially from people over about 55, those jokes about not understanding the technology – usually, I believe, with a sub-text of “and I don’t want to know”.  Up till now I’ve tended to “go along with the joke”, as the saying goes, although I don’t actually find it funny. But now that I’ve read and reflected on what Jake is saying, I think I might emulate young Jake and start getting a tad peeved. Because however jokingly, however implicitly, being proud of ignorance is surely not a good look for anyone, at any age.

And ignorance of social media, at this point in time, is no longer an option for anyone who has a serious desire to be successful, or continue being successful, in business, government or other walks of life.

Social Media Club SFSV

Speaking earlier this week at a conference on Government 2.0, on the theme that parliamentarians and public sector managers need to become active participants in social media, I mentioned that at at another event a couple of years ago, in the private sector, I’d been asked by a member of the baby boomer generation how people who did not become knowledgeable and skilled with the new media would get on, and I’d said “they will just become irrelevant”.  I did not spell out, but left the thought hanging in the air, so to speak, that the same would apply to politicians and public sector managers.

Not that I want to preach to the choir here. I just wanted to share the “Ah ha!” moment I’d had in reading Jake’s post and participating in the comment discussion:  ignorance about social media is no laughing matter.

More to the point, I am guessing there are many people besides me, who are active users of social media, participants in social networks, and are starting to find it frustrating in business to have to deal with people who are not participating.  Minor irritants perhaps, in themselves – “you’re not on Skype and you don’t want to check it out?” “you’re not on Twitter and you think it’s a waste of time?” – but indicating a mindset of resistance to learning and adapting.

I believe some of those people are in for a shock, the day they find that their unwillingness to learn new skills, new ways of communicating and collaborating, has left them out in the cold. Some of us just won’t want to put in the effort to do business with them and will seek out people who are more tuned in to these modes of communication and collaboration.

It won’t be joke time any more.

In short, I can see a time, if it hasn’t already arrived, where being able to use social media effectively and, for the digital immigrants among us, as natively as possible, will become a requirement for doing business. And, for those who feel they are behind the game, putting in the time now to learn and be more skilful will surely pay off in providing an edge in a tough world.

The age discussion is just a distraction.

But as I was asked on Monday by conference convenor Senator Kate Lundy,wh ere can those people who want to learn go to get the information they need? One suggestion I made, which would work for people in business as well as those in government, is to join one of the Social Media Club groups, where the motto is “if you get it, share it”. Other ideas or suggestions?

Picture credit: Social Media Club, San Francisco/Silicon Valley, Kristie Wells, via Flickr – Creative Commons

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