I don’t think we are going to have to wait until 2012 for the Apocalypse. There is some evidence that it is already at hand. The other day I was talking to a neighbour who is an elementary school teacher. She was complaining that she had a student teacher who she was supervising for a few weeks. I opined that it must make things easier because there was someone to share the work with. “No way!” she informed me. “The woman cannot be left alone. She’s a clear and present danger.”
“To the kids?”
“No. To Western Civilization. You won’t believe what she does.”
“She writes on the board in text language.”
It was my turn to say “no way.” But yes, apparently she does things like give the kids class assignments and writes, “Wen ur done c me” on the board. She also writes “Orsum” on well done homework papers.
Call me a Luddite, but there’s a time and a place for everything. I found this story so amusing that I repeated it to other friends and not all of them laughed. Their attitude was more like, “I can top that!” Another teacher said that a dictate had come from on high that if a kid uses text message lingo in a written exam it should be deemed acceptable because that is the way young people communicate and under the pressure of an exam situation, allowances should be made for slips in communication. Aren’t communication skills one of the things kids are supposed to learn in school?
But not only teachers have to deal with this problem.
You might remember that during the economic boom, consultants convinced businesses that life as we know it would end unless we made the workplace Generation Y friendly. No one under 30 would want to work for a company that didn’t accommodate their unique characteristics. Companies were advised to build a Googleplex, eliminate dress codes, stock the conference rooms with Lego and have Starbucks on site. As part of all that, some businesses became ‘text friendly.’
Not only that, because of their greater techno acumen and general joie de vivre, Gen Y people were getting promoted over their older, less with the program colleagues.
However nobody talked about need for inter generational sensitivity training. Let’s look at a hypothetical but plausible example of this generational clash of cultures.
Joshua, a Gen Y MBA, has been put in charge of the financial analysis department of a big American company. One of his subordinates, Ken, has been with the company longer than Joshua has walked the Earth.
Joshua thinks that Ken has issues with him because Ken doesn’t respond to his Facebook friend request, and insists on doing things the way they’ve been done forever. Ken thinks Joshua doesn’t like him because Joshua puts his feet on Ken’s desk when he comes into his office.
Drawing on his experience and acumen, Joshua decides that he and Ken need to have a little talk. So he proposes that they “pop down to Starbucks” which is conveniently located in the building lobby. Ken doesn’t like Starbucks because he isn’t sure if you can order plain black coffee there. But he agrees to go. In order to show that the portals of communication are open, as they wait in line Ken tells Joshua, “You know, I never know what’s good here. Why don’t you order something new and different for me.”
Joshua, delighted at Ken’s overture, says, “Sure, man. You gotta try this new thing they’ve got for Christmas. Approaching the counter he tells the clerk, “Two Gingerbread lattes.”
Ken insists on paying and they move to a quiet corner. Ken eyes the frothy drink in front of him like Socrates examining a proffered cup.
Ken ends up actually enjoying the coffee and the conversation, and both of them feel that they have had a breakthrough. Ken even promises to help Joshua improve productivity by communicating with text messages when necessary.
Happy, they both return to the office and Joshua decides to explore their new relationship by sending Ken a text message, thanking him for the coffee and the meeting. He texts:
10Q 4 *$
To Ken, who has worked in finance for a public company for years, ‘10Q’ doesn’t mean ‘Thank you.’ It means Form 10-Q which is a quarterly report to the Securities and Exchange Commission. He knows that ‘4’ means ‘for,’ but he has no idea that ‘*$’ means ‘Starbucks.’ He remembers that in previous quarters they have put together a draft 10-Q in advance, and he thinks that perhaps Joshua is asking him to do a draft. But there is no 10-Q filing needed for the fourth quarter and that’s what he decides to tell Joshua.
Ken takes his cell phone in his trembling hand and texts:
No 10Q 4Q
New to the game, he doesn’t know if you are supposed to sign text messages. He decides that ‘Kenneth Abercrombie’ is too much of a challenge, so he simply adds his initials:
Joshua’s delight at receiving a text from Ken is short lived. He stares at the message. He briefly wonders what he’s done to make Ken so angry. And then he decides that such insubordination and unprofessional behaviour must be punished. So he texts:
4Q 2 DCM
And he calls Human Resources.
Ken has an adrenaline rush when his phone beeps and he quickly reads Joshua’s message. He doesn’t realize that ‘DCM’ is text talk for “Don’t come Monday,” and means that he’s been fired. He studies the message and decides that Joshua is labouring under the delusion that a 10-Q is needed for the ‘fourth quarter, too,” and is requesting documentation from Ken justifying his position. After all, the kid is fairly new.
So Ken quickly prepares an e-mail with attachments of the pertinent literature. His outgoing e-mail crosses a notice from HR which he reads with incredulity.
And I don’t even want to think about the legal ramifications of all of this electronic miscommunication.