The Changing Face of Online Culture

I have been observing a difference in the way that people use IM and email as younger people move into the workforce. I have young friends and co-workers (mid-20s) who I communicate with frequently on IM and never / rarely via email. Even some aspects of dating seem to have moved to IM with long, intimate IM chats replacing what used to be long phone calls for many couples. I also have a few techie friends my age and older who are IM addicts, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. From my perspective, IM is great when you want to have a discussion or need a quick answer to a question, while email is handy for business where you need to keep documentation or need complex information for reference (documents usually).

I just read an interesting piece on CNET summarizing this phenomenon:

Email is so last millennium.

Young people see it as a good way to reach an elder – a parent, teacher or a boss – or to receive an attached file. But increasingly, the former darling of high-tech communication is losing favour to instant and text messaging, and to the chatter generated on blogs and social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

The shift is starting to creep into workplace communication, too.

Beyond that, email has become most associated with school and work.

“It used to be just fun,” says Danah Boyd, a doctoral candidate who studies social media at the University of California, Berkeley. “Now it’s about parents and authority.”

“Adults who learn to use IM later have major difficulty talking to more than two people at one time – whereas the teens who grew up on it have no problem talking to a bazillion people at once,” Boyd says. “They understand how to negotiate the interruptions a lot better.”

Kirah, at Microsoft, even thinks young people’s brains work differently because they have grown up with IM, making them more adept at it.

“Nine to five has been replaced with ‘Give me a deadline and I will meet your deadline’,” Kirah says of young people’s work habits. “They’re saying ‘I might work until 2 am that night. But I will do it all on my terms.”‘ (CNET)

It will be fascinating to watch the changing dynamics of the workforce over the next couple of years as employees who have been raised with IM, MySpace, Facebook, and other social networking technologies enter the workforce in larger numbers. I am looking forward to the changes that this generation could bring with them: innovative approaches, quick and nimble decision-making, a focus on the results obtained instead of an 8-5 butts in chairs mentality, a resistance to bureaucracy, and more. With these changes, we may end up with a new set of problems; however, I think that the corporate world could stand a good wake up call.