Messy facts and neat presentations

Given the “facts” I’m seeing repeated over, and over, and over again in the mass of conference blogging, it’s probably pointless to mention that:

  • Google searching is still a minority of web-search-engine searching. People do use other engines. A lot. Sensible people make a point of being familiar with more than one engine.
  • Not only isn’t Google the only website people care about, it’s something like the ninth most visited, far behind, for example, Yahoo!
  • [None of this is an attack on Google. I think Google does some wonderful things. I’d probably love moving down the road half a mile and working for them, implausible as that is. I think Google Library Project needs a lot more transparency. Mostly, here, I think too many speakers turn “some” into “all” awfully easily.]
  • Facile generalizations about This Generation and That Generation are just that–facile generalizations. Pew no more knows how every Generation Whatever “member” thinks than I do.
  • If today’s teenagers grow up to behave and think exactly the same way they did as teenagers, it will be a unique event.

Just a Saturday grump brought on by reading the same stuff a few too many times. Maybe it’s just as well that I’m not one of the cool kids.

14 Responses to “Messy facts and neat presentations”

  1. Mark says:

    Walt, while I don’t think of you as a kid, I think you’re pretty cool in your own right. Cool as in takes the time to intelligently think through things of import and then publicly offers (some of) those thoughts to the rest of us.

    But I agree. I’ve asked a question at one blog where I’m pretty sure I’ll get a decent discussion, but those traits of the Millenials (and yes, I have one of my own) sure don’t add up.

    Here’s the question I asked:

    What I’d like to know is how the Millenials can be confident, or confident about what?

    Cause supposedly they were sheltered, supposedly they have self-esteem issues, and supposedly they’ve been pressured. Their parents accompany them to job interviews for cripes sake! And although one could be “confident” about some things and still have self-esteeem issues I guess, I’m calling BS. Mix up many of the things claimed for this group and you don’t get confident, you get psychotic.

    And, no, my daughter is not psychotic. But she also is *not* many of the things Pew or any of the others claim for her.

    Thanks for being a Saturday grump.

  2. walt says:

    You’re welcome. I looked at the list of attributes that glibly pigeonhole each generation; the more I looked, the sillier I found the whole thing. (Quick: Which generation do I belong to? Since I’ve been up-front about my age, you could figure it out, but certainly not by generational generalizations (gen-gens?))

  3. steven bell says:

    Good points about Google and Millennials. In an LJ “Backtalk” column from 2005 I wrote:

    Suddenly librarians have to abandon their time-tested methods because of the “this is the Millennial generation” platitude. One expert tells us that Millennials have no tolerance for delays or complexity. Then the next expert tells us they’ll spend thousands of hours trying to figure out a video game that’s more complex than your OPAC. Clearly, the answer is to convert all library resources into exceedingly complex video games. Will experts tell us to change everything again when the next generation shows up? The fact is people learn differently, and teachers and librarians need to adapt their methods appropriately. Enough said.

    While I think it is important to pay attention to demographics and generational change, I would tend to agree with you Walt.

    I’m not attending CIL either. Iusually don’t, although I was there one day to participate in a panel on online communities last year. Instead I attended a presentation by Ray English about the scholarly publishing crisis and open access journal issues at our local ACRL chapter conference. I believe I learned quite a bit more at the program I attended.

  4. Mark says:

    Exactly! The same here. I look at those lists and just laugh because I have attributes from all of them (and some of those attributes have changed over time). So do my children. And to put them in two different generations as most lists do (born in ’80 and ’83) is just plain silly, to put it nicely.

    I like your phrase “gen-gens.” I may have to borrow it, with proper attribution and non-commercially, of course.

  5. Mark nailed the issue that had been bothering me – the fact that not only do these statements make absurd generalisations about huge groups of people, but those generalisations are self-contradictory.

    Of course, there’s no doubt lots of money to be made by becoming an expert on these different groups. Or maybe that’s just me being cynical…and after all, I’m Gen X and we’re all totally cynical, right?

  6. Dorothea says:

    I am probably a bad person for saying this, but so be it… whether all the [generation in question] is a particular way or not, there’s enough of a mass with those characteristics that it behooves libraries to wake up and be ready to serve them — despite well-known librarian tendencies to expect patrons to bend themselves around libraries and librarians.

    No, not every Millennial embodies every Millennial tendency. In the aggregate, however, they present challenges that repay attention.

    Says the darn-near perfect embodiment of the Gen-Xer, anyway. 🙂

  7. walt says:

    Dorothea–I don’t necessarily disagree. Of course, the growing number of healthy, alert, reasonably prosperous geezers (I’m one, so I get to use the term) who expect to be around for another 2-3 decades also have challenges that public libraries could meet better: Don’t we all?

    What bothers me about gen-gen (hey Mark, feel free to use commercially as well, with or without attribution, as long as you don’t say Gen2.0) is that it pretty much invites libraries to Go Out and Serve The New Patrons, Who Are Defined Thusly–without the nasty work of finding out what the local community actually wants and will respond to, and without worrying about side-effects that annoy existing loyal patrons. I’ll be so evil as to suggest that GenWhatever in Mountain View, CA is unlikely to be overwhelmingly similar to GenWhatever in Yreka, CA, much less Kanab, UT.

    I’m not even entirely convinced that public librarians of my generation and the one that followed have all been expecting patrons to bend themselves around libraries and librarians. Yes, there are some new tools that allow for more flexibility–but a fair number of public libraries have been reaching out for some time.

  8. Dorothea says:

    Within the limits of their systems, particularly computer-based systems, yes. But this particular rant you’ve heard from me before.

  9. Dave Tyckoson says:

    Thank you Walt for pointing out a tendency to stereotype that is becoming increasingly annoying to me. Too many experts are telling us how today’s young people are so different from those of the past and how we need to change what we do to accommodate this new generation. Studies of a few selected (and often we do not know how they were selected) young people are generalized to become these “facts”.

    However, in my several hours per week that I work at the reference desk, I come into direct contact with this same generation of young people. What I see from talking to hundreds (thousands?) of members of this generation each year is that there are no common facts about them. There is a diversity of interest and goals among today’s young population that cannot be generalized into a coherent group of game-playing, hip-hop-listening, instant-messaging, tattoed, attention-deficit-prone, cell-phone-talking, purple-haired slackers.

    What I find is that I have met the new generation — and they are a lot like us. There is one clear difference, though — they have better toys than we did. Of course, we had better toys than our parents, who had better toys than their grandparents…..

    The generation that said “don’t trust anyone over 30” is not only now more than twice that age, but has been running the nation for a decade or more. Today’s young people are the teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, artists, journalists, business owners, social workers, and (God forbid) librarians of the future. From where I sit, the future looks pretty good because the people who will be forming it have the goals, dreams, and motivation to make it happen — just like each generation before them did.

  10. walt says:

    Well said. And, as you may know, I’m an optimist in general.

    The other piece of “better toys” is the extent to which one decade’s technological magic becomes the next decade’s ordinary toolkit and/or background noise. But that issue breaks differently than defined “generations.”

    I must admit that I’m also bemused by the largest-by-definition “Millennial” generation–that somehow everyone born since 1980 is alike. Heck, if you define GenX as everyone born since 1960, then GenX is the largest generation ever. It’s become an odd sort of shell game, or a way of assigning mass and therefore power.

  11. Jon Gorman says:

    The various generation sterotypes annoy the heck out of me, perhaps in large part because they not only seem worthless but they also seem dangerous. Of course, I’m one of the younger generations (born in ’80) so I might be biased. But I look at many of the people I know and I don’t see much in the way of generational differences. Certainly nothing like the management philosophies that are coming out. In fact, by playing to generational sterotypes you miss one of the rules of people management which is to pay attention to the actual people working for you. I better stop here, otherwise I could go on for pages on this topic.

  12. walt says:

    Jon, Great comment–I almost wish you would go on for pages.

    “In fact, by playing to generational sterotypes you miss one of the rules of people management which is to pay attention to the actual people working for you.”

    Geez, what a concept: Dealing with the actual people instead of the nicely-slotted stereotypes.

  13. Mark says:

    Thanks Walt for permission, and I most certainly will not say Gen2.0.

    And, wow! Some real discussion for once in the biblioblogosphere. Of course, I’ve always known that you were open to it. Nonetheless, I don’t see much of it. More on that topic soon though.

    And, Dorothea, yes I agree, there is some (small) amount of merit in paying attention to them. But, as has been further elucidated here, the merit is in payng attention to your own patrons and your own employees.

    I do not base my objections simply on my own 2 kids. I spent several years in the classroom pursuing an undergraduate degree with people the age of my children. I worked the front lines of a university librarie’s circulation, reserve and ILL desk working with, and supervising, many people of these generations. As Dave Tyckoson said, you simply cannot draw many generalizations if you spend some real live time with them. And I’m sorry, but that does not include from the other side of the reference desk as the “professional.” Just had a conversation with my mentor today about her experience trying to connect with this generation as a reference librarian. Wrong position to make much headway there, but that is a completely different, but highly related, discussion.

    Wow, and to think I came here just now for a link….

    Again, thanks all for a great discussion!

  14. walt says:

    Geez, Mark, isn’t that my line (“thanks all for a great discussion!”)

    I may have to do more library-related posts. Even with some moderation delays, conversation on this cluster of posts is nothing short of remarkable.