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Eclectic Thought Samples From Larry Burns

Old Dog – New Tech

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Over Memorial Day weekend I had a chance to enjoy the graduation of my youngest son from high school. It’s a time that any parent tends to reflect a bit. I was feeling acutely aware of how different the world will be for each of my kids as they enter college. When my oldest son, who has graduated (Mizzou, May ‘11), entered college, it was still a surprise to me that a prerequisite was you had to have a laptop of a particular type that was set up for campus. Of course, it’s commonplace to require a computer – I just recall being struck by “really?” In ancient times during my college days, I had a computer lab, green bar paper and punch cards.

As Daniel heads off, I think about how facile he is with his smartphone, which he has within three feet of himself at all times. The man rarely watches “television.” He watches Netflix when it’s convenient for him through his Xbox, smartphone, or another device. All my children have tastes that require cable access. My middle son, who had an option for cable in is dorm, didn’t want to bother with it because he could just watch whatever he wanted on Hulu or other streaming options – some of which I think it may be better if I remain blissfully unaware of..

The whole notion of how media is consumed by this next generation of leaders, folks that are in college now and younger, presents a huge challenge for those of us that are in the marketing world today. We see a lot of articles, we see a lot of trends, and we hear a lot. There are people out there telling us that we’ve got to use the technology to understand it and use it effectively for marketing.

However, when you’re trying to teach an old dog like me new tricks about technology, that’s very different than being a kid today who’s grown up in a situation where there have always been cell phones. Facebook, while only seven years old, had been significant throughout my son’s entire high school career. Today they are already not using Facebook as much as they used to. New and different things continually arrive as the rest of us are just kind of catching up to where the younger generation was, after they have moved on.

Based on the pace of change and the facility that these newly minted adults have to utilize technology, I think we’re going to have to go back to the old ethnographic studies that many CPG companies used to do. Studies where you would literally sit in someone’s kitchen or laundry room and watch what they do and how they do it – so that you can attempt to understand perhaps what they need or want to make their life easier. I don’t think those of us who are in leadership positions of tenure or age can really grasp nor comprehend how folks of this next generation of say people under 25, actually use the tools without watching them. Yet, as we watch we have to avoid asking the, “How did you do that?” question that naturally occurs to us. The risk is thinking that just because you can use an iPhone or a Droid, you actually understand them in the hands of one whose life experience have “always” included such devices. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you understand how these new phone, tablets, etc. are put to use by younger humans for in them there is no amazement – it’s simply a “that’s how its supposed to work” attitude.

I think about the kids that are very young these days. They’re never going to grasp anything that isn’t HD. My kids have always had color TV. They look at the old “Honeymooners” program and wonder, “What’s wrong with the picture?” We all take certain things for granted. If you’re above a certain socioeconomic level these days, it’s like water and ice just comes from the front of the refrigerator door. So,for many they may never really understand what an ice tray was. Similar to my generations lack of genuine comprehension of what an “Ice-box” really was.

I’m convinced that for all our “progress” and ease – far too many people today don’t actually understand the way things work or how to “show your work” so as to demonstrate the capability to exhibit an understanding of the thought process. Sadly, since so many professional educators are forced into curricula that “teach to the test” we are loosing the kind of respected teaching that fosters an increased ability to learn, to question, to discover, and to realize the “right” answer is not always clear and its often a bit murky, even nuanced, and that is not a bad thing to learn.

One of the innate triumphs of being human is our ability to problem solve. We have the ability to figure out how to do something either that hasn’t been done before or that you yourself haven’t done before. Somebody may teach it to you or you may learn it on your own through trial and error. Today, we’re making so many things so easy for so many people that we are creating legions of people who don’t ever have to understand what’s behind the screen as it were. We pay such limited attention to the algorithms shrouded behind the curtain. Our homogenized, franchised, sameness while incredibly efficient and recognizable (“Hey, look there’s a Panera – good, I KNOW what I can get there”), I would suggest also contains an element of hollowness within this endless sameness that I find scary. Are we unintentionally robbing ourselves of a portion of our very humanity? Not necessarily on an individual one human at a time level, because each of us is and remains unique. Yet, collectively I worry.

Back to the opening – if generations following us are not shown how to question, how to dig under and behind the tools to achieve comprehension, then I truly wonder about the long term impact this will have. We have “access” to nearly unlimited data yet, the reality of living is that much of life is in fact grey and hardly ever “black and white.” Certainly neither are the lines drawn as starkly between “Red and Blue” ideologies. Most of us are far more “Purple” than the pundits and the media machines are trying to lead us to believe.

I far too often see a young person behind a register stare dumbfounded at the money I have handed him, truly stumped as to how to make change because the computer is down. Did that person ever have the chance to really understand the basics? The answer in some cases is in fact no and that worries me.

But, as always much of my musings are born of the luxury of facing #firstworldproblems.


Categorised as: Learning, Media, Tech


  • MikeKruger1

    Going off on a tangent: I’ve often wondered at the reason so many of my fellow bicyclists are science/tech types.  I think that’s because the bicycle is one of the few nontrivial machines in use that can be completely understood, even fixed, with relatively little study.  We can’t do that any more with our cars (although they are now much more reliable because of technological improvements) and forget trying to understand/repair your smart phone.