I was recently at a meeting of people that were all Gen Xers, and we got into a conversation about networking and connecting. It was quite interesting as there was an honest feeling that the Boomers, the Xers, and Generation Y all had very different social patterns. It roughly boiled down like this:
Boomers: Boomers came into life with various networks (often due to location, class, etc.), picked up a few over time, and in general maintained them. Some of this was due to less mobility than today, more stable family structures and companies, etc.
Xers: Xers are a group that have less networking, having grown up in a time of more change and mobility. Xers tend to be more standoffish and independent, if only because they were taught to be. They leverage networking and social technologies in radically different ways and have less consistent patterns. They also grew up more mistrustful of institutions.
Yers: Yers grew up with change and mobility, but also a lot of technology, and less sense of go-it-alone (yet with the same or more mistrust of institutions). Yers are more networked than Xers in the age of technology, having leveraged it to build their own connections when they don't exist.
These are of course generalizations, but useful if you acknowledge their limits. Indeed, a lot of Xers I know seem distinctly more disconnected than Boomers and Gen Y people I know – and this was a large point of discussion at the get-together.
For those of us involved in networking (and as I always harp on, all should be), it's important to keep this in mind. The generation of the person or people you're dealing with are going to affect how they network and connect – and how they deal with leveraging their networks to deal with problems.
It will also help you understand how your networking strategies will deal with others. Being technical and big into networking, I rarely find someone younger than me who isn't using various social technologies, but am still floored by how many people my own age don't use things like Facebook, Twitter, or even email that much. When I network with people in the Boomer generation, there's usually technical barriers, but once I network more I feel very welcome.
So when you're Networking, keep the generations in mind. It'll make things easier on you – and may tell you a few things about yourself.
– Steven Savage