When you look at the changes in technology in the last 60 years it’s no wonder we have generational gaps—not just in how the generations use technology but in how the changing technology has shaped each generation’s perspectives. Photo iStock
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Here’s the problem. First, we have officers becoming roadkill on the information highway—ending their careers, or being disciplined, for not understanding the boundary between their private online lives and their public lives as officers.
Second, we have police agencies with no social media guidelines to help their officers navigate a constantly changing online world that is way ahead of legislation or court decisions.
Or, we have policies that haven’t kept pace. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) completed a laudable undertaking last year and issued a report on cybervetting police applicants. The report concluded that applicants could be asked to access password protected online material for the recruiter or background investigator to review.
While this is arguably legal, we saw that in last month’s article Digging Up Officers’ Digital Dirt that more than one public safety agency has sparked a media firestorm, public backlash and proposed limiting legislation by asking job applicants to volunteer their online usernames and passwords.
Cause of the Problem
There are generational gaps in how people view online privacy. To develop effective social media policies, police agencies must understand these gaps and then know how to address them. We’ll begin that process in this article.
First, Let’s Define Our Terms
Give or take two to four years up or down, depending on which expert you consult, here’s the age breakdowns for the four generations in the work place:
- Traditionalists: 65 and older
- Baby Boomers: 46–65
- Gen X: 32–45
- Gen Y: 31 and younger
When you look at the changes in technology in the last 60 years it’s no wonder we have generational gaps—not just in how the generations use technology but in how the changing technology has shaped each generation’s perspectives.
Traditionalists grew up with crystal radio sets and rotary phones. Baby Boomers grew up with TV and touch phones. Gen X came of age with cell phones and the Wide World Web while Gen Y’s were tweens and teens with smart phones and social media networking. And they’re all mixing in the same workplace.
Leaps in Technology
Try explaining a party line to people whose first phone was a smart one. I could tell my Gen X and Y readers to google “party line” but here’s what it was:
- Different families shared the same phone line.
- Each family had a distinctive ring (we’re talking different combinations of short and long rings—not different “ringtones” you download from the internet).
- The calls to each family rang on everyone else’s phone that shared that line.
- If you were a busybody you could pick up the phone when the ring wasn’t yours and listen in on someone else’s conversation.
- Everyone knew there were busybodies. We heard them breathing on our conversations.
I am not kidding! P.S. Your phone was connected to a wall and you could only use it to receive or make oral phone calls.
I haven’t met a Baby Boomer, myself included, that doesn’t recall the smell of mimeograph machines and their purple ink with nostalgia. I asked some younger officers if they knew what a mimeograph machine was and one surmised it was a machine used to check for breast cancer.
On the other hand, I have yet to tweet on Twitter, however alluring I find the 140 character limit. The great orator Cicero said, “Brevity is a great charm of eloquence,” altho im nt sur he was tlkng abt twtng, LOL, BFN or IMHO.
Gaps in Generational Reactions to the Technology
All the generations may have experienced the changes in technology, but their reactions differ. My 16-year-old grandson picks up a new tech toy and his fingers start flying over it likes he’s playing the banjo duel in Deliverance. I still complain that it doesn’t come with a printed user’s manual.
As of 2010, Gen Y outnumbered Baby Boomers and 96% of the Gen Ys had joined a social network. E-mail has become passé. Students used to check their emails on the sly in class or exceeded their monthly voice minutes on their family's cell phone plan. Now using a phone for talking or emailing is out of style with many.
College student Bryan Thornton, 24, hasn't checked his email in a week and says, "Texting and Twitter kind of make using email pointless. I used to check it all the time, but now I have over 1,000 unread messages in my inbox. If someone wants to contact me instantly, they can just shoot me a text."
There’s a video film project on YouTube, Online Social Networking and the Generation Gap, that provides some insight into our topic. From it I gleaned:
As of December 2010:
- Facebook had 515 million users
- MySpace had 185 million
- Twitter had 175 million
- Friendster had 90 million
Only the countries of China and India have a population greater than Facebook. The next eight countries in the top 10 populous countries (the U.S. is 3rd with 310,232,863) are all well below Facebook’s population of users.
- Digging Up Officers’ Digital Dirt
- Are You Prepared to Be Cybervetted?
- Roadkill on the Info Highway
- Facebook, Free Speech & Firing Words
- Facebook Comments Can Get LEOs Fired
- Social Media Quick Tip: Make Your URL Memorable