Sunday, April 18, 2010

Are All the Generalizations About Generational Differences Nonsense?

In the most recent issue of Cites & Insights, Walt Crawford examines the widely held idea that younger librarians are somehow vastly different because of their online habits:
"I’ve frequently argued that generational differences and generalizations (what I call 'gen-gen') are generally overstated and damaging. I’ll continue to make that case—that focusing on generational differences gets in the way of treating people like people."

"There’s a difference between generalizing about generations and recognizing that age can make a difference, at least sometimes. The first portion of this essay deals with one such case—a case where, if I denied that age has anything to do with outlook, I was wrong (...)"

"Sharp distinctions between generations—and even labels for specific generations—are mostly nonsense, and damaging nonsense at that. Sure, growing up with tools makes them less apparent as new tools—but it doesn’t mean you understand them, just that you’ve used them. (And, with a few exceptions, it means you’ve used them if you’re from a middle-class or wealthier family in a developed nation.) Gengen is stereotyping; stereotyping always saves time by allowing us to avoid dealing with people as individuals—and that’s pretty much never a positive thing."

"On the other hand…things do change, if not in bizarre generational leaps and gulfs, and those in power need to be aware of change and supportive of younger (or older but more aware) people trying to make sense of that change. Things don’t stay the same: That’s not new."

"I find it improbable that we’ll see less gengen, less stereotyping. It’s too profitable an activity for the Gurus of Gengen, and it’s too easy for others to say 'Oh, here’s what X is all about, now I can stop thinking about it'. "
The thing I have always liked about Crawford's publication (which he produces once a month) is that the analysis of any particular issue always includes a long list of excerpts from the writings of other library world commentators.

Reading Cites & Insights is a good way of getting an overview of the thinking out there.

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 5:50 pm

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