Dave Snowden blogged about the virtual and the real. He wonders about the younger generation, reflecting on his own past and the way he learned to interact with other minded people:
" We played on the street, with whoever else was on the street at the time and we learnt to adapt to different people and different attitudes and backgrounds. Our interaction was not virtual, it was physical; it was not restricted to people we wanted to be with, it required us to play (and then work) with people we would not necessarily choose to be with"
'Now if this is the case, and the next generation are only used to operating in a symbolic virtual world, in which they limit their interactions to like minded social groups (and it is at least arguable that this is happening), what will happen when they enter the world of business?'
And his question: "So the dilemma and the question, to which I have not developed any answer. How do we take advantage of social computing and all it offers, while not degenerating the richness of human intelligence to the poverty of a machine?"
This is a question I and others raised too when talking about the faster linking web2.0 world of communities of practice. How to leverage the power of differences if you quickly find like-minded people all over the world? How to make sure communities of practice are diverse enough to innovate? How to make sure you don't loose the skills of conflict resolution and at the first sign of conflict people hop on to find like-minded people?
I think this trend of homogenenisation started with urbanisation and is continuing. In smaller villages, people were forced to live together and find ways of solving conflicts (or not- and then forever living cut off from their families due to feuds... ). Personally, I learned a lot about completely different people through hitchhiking all across europe. When I lived with a smaller community of Dutch people in Takoradi, Ghana, I have the idea I was able to go 'back in time' to experience village life including its social pressure and force to conform. On the other hand, people would always help when in troubles and you are forced to live and work with people with different styles etc. that are useful skills. I currently invest more time in communicating via the computer (this blog etc.), time I do not use to communicate with my neighbours (people with very different ways of thinking).
I hence recognise the dilemma quite well. I don't have an answer, but I tend to think positively, that there are new additional ways of learning social skills by the new media. For instance, with the current ability to peek into other lives, there is a different way of learning about group dynamics and other people. Eg. a program like boer zoekt vrouw is very popular and a great way of learning about farmers, and the diversity amongst farmers. Same for expedition Robinson and other programs, and blogs... I wonder if the younger generation will not just be much smarter in finding and switching groups which help them enhance some of their knowledge and skills. Better in coping with changes and different social settings. And how does that support innovation, being able to focus on a topic with a like-minded group? Don't know really. And these are such generalizations.
But I sure think a large challenge will be in bridging the generational differences in use of technologies in companies.
I do think it's funny that I'm now of the generation who knows how life was before the internet. When I talked to our intern, she said that when she did not have an internet connection she wondered how to find out about the train schedule (without internet). Well...., then you need dinosaurs like me who still know the OV telephone number as well as the 'spoorboekje' :).