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Your Old-ass Values Are Broken in this Shiny New World

I was slow to adopt a lot of new social networking technologies. I read blogs for several years (OK, like, three) before getting into “active” blogging (fairly frequent, first-person writing, unlike the mostly-error-message blog posts I put up at my Harvard Law blog.

I was super-fast, however, to adopt Linux, email, instant messaging, online banking, and even “traditional” Web-page-havin’. Why the delta? (Maybe I’m getting old.)

I think it’s got to do with values. My values were about:

  • the importance of one-on-one and small-group relationships,
  • the value of one’s words, and hence the advantage of controlling and using care with one’s communications,
  • measuring twice and cutting once,
  • privacy
  • etc.

There were also some values that I was aware of (but can’t claim personally to have really made much of):

  • modesty,
  • non-intrusiveness on others,
  • etc.

These values privileged one-to-one communications media (email and IM), and one-to-many, “broadcast” model, write-then-publish media (like print publications, papers, and old-school “resume-ware” personal Web sites). If you believed this stuff, you made a few friends but really good ones. You were loathe to publish things that might look stupid. You didn’t want folks to find out who you knew and who knew you, necessarily, as that could be strategic info. And (of course) you wanted to toot your own horn, but without seeming to be doing so yourself.

But social networking rejects all that. If you hold on to all those old values, you’ll get left behind. In social media, the values are:

  • promiscuity,
  • self-promotion,
  • frequency and speed of communications and replies,
  • saying some crap just to be the one talking (this was big at Harvard, come to think of it),
  • exhibitionism, or at least sharing one’s bad habits with the world, a la Hugh Foskett,
  • etc.

So, we have a generation being raised on social media for their IT experience. What little television they will be watching in 5 years will all be “reality” shows, mixed in with “mash-up” or “remix” TV a la VH1 (where celebrity becomes its own vehicle and its own end, perpetuating itself for the sake of itself, kind of like how degrees in certain subjects qualify the holder only to teach that subject). In this world, having old-ass values will pretty much be limited to accountants, lawyers, and maybe some fussy academics (but not the ones with glossy popularized books or lecture tours).

This is and should be somewhat disturbing. Every day, I ride in an 80-year-old elevator. While I’m sure most of its moving parts have been replaced at least a couple of times over its service life, the mechanism itself still functions as the original engineer created it. I’m frankly rather glad that he was raised with old, crusty values rather than the bright, shiny new values with which we’re going to be replacing them.

I wish this were a flash in the pan. But things like webcams, podcasts, blogs, tumblogs, Twitter, and Dodgeball, not to mention Myspace and the rest, all point to these new shiny values rising to ascendancy.

So, look: if you want to survive and thrive in the brave new world of social media, you gotta jettison those old values that got you into Stanford or through your MBA or into the partner track at Sequoia. You have to embrace the ADD and the confusion and the nakedness.

(Or, you have to figure out how to use your old-school values to operate at an abstraction level above that of the twittering throng…)

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