By Steve Kelman

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The Lectern: Young people and technology at the Government Leadership Summit

I had the opportunity to chair the last panel at the two-day Government Leadership Summit sponsored by 1105 Government Information Group in Williamsburg, Va. It was a wise decision to have the panel last, because the audience seemed energized by the band of youthful participants, and there were still a lot of  hands up in the audience when we ended the session a few minutes late. The participants were a 28-year-old GSA employee working on the portal, a 23 year-old employee at the Office of Technology in Virginia, a 23-year-old senior at William and Mary, and FCW's 28-year-old reporter Ben Bain. Although we talked a bit about collaboration tools and about blogs, most of the energy, including from the audience, was around social-networking sites such as Facebook. We talked mostly about how the participants themselves used technology, a little about how their agencies did so.

I give the exact ages of the participants because one of the most interesting things to come out of the panel is that there are big differences among different micro age-groups of young people (although to older folks they may seem like an undifferentiated mass). When you think about this, it should hardly be surprising, given how fast technologies are changing.

Both 28-year-olds agreed that they were uneasy about the Facebook world, hesitant to open up as much private information about themselves as that world encourages. One of the two did not even put his picture on his Facebook entry; the other was not on Facebook at all. For the 23-year-olds Facebook was an important part of life, but it was also interesting that they (particularly the college senior who hadn't started working yet) saw it strictly as an entertainment, college kid phenomenon, and had real difficulty associating it at all with the work world -- he was very surprised to learn that any older people, or government/industry folks, were on Facebook themselves. The student working for the Commonwealth of Virginia said she didn't use Facebook as a way to socialize with people at work, either in her agency or other agencies. It will be interesting to see whether that changes as the work world starts getting inhabited by people very used to social networking. The 28-year-old GSA employee noted that people who are friends on social-networking sites are likely to have an easier time collaborating with each other. (Based on my own psychological reactions to being Facebook friends with people, I agree.) He also noted that social-networking sites take on increasing importance for teleworking employees.

The 23-year-olds in turn noted that their younger siblings used technology in different ways from them. They are even bigger multitaskers than their older siblings (and than Blackberry-toting government managers). They use IM for collaborating on homework, while the 23-year-olds use it only for socializing.

All the participants said they read some blogs, but didn't use them as a main news source. (They seemed to be online newspaper readers.) They were aware that Wikipedia might not always be a trustworthy source of information. The two government employees said that collaborative technologies were still only modestly used in their organization, mostly instant messaging.

The initiator of this panel was FCW Editor-in-Chief Chris Dorobek saying to me a number of times, "Kids use technology differently. They don't use e-mail." The panel, however, reported that in their world e-mail was alive and well. The college senior, sounding like many of us, sighed, "I wish e-mail was less a part of my life. I often get so many e-mails that it takes days to respond to them."

After breakfast this morning, one person I was sitting with friended me and another person at the same table on Facebook. After the panel, I friended the graduating senior. As the world turns… .

Editor's note: A participant on the panel recorded the session on her laptop and posted the session. The sound isn't that great, but you can see it below.

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Posted on Jun 04, 2008 at 12:10 PM


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