Last Wednesday night I was invited to speak to a District Rotaract meeting. Rotaract is a not-for-profit service community affiliated with Rotary for 18-30 year olds. Many years ago, I was a member of the Canberra South Rotaract Club and I remember that time fondly because I made friends in a town away from home, but also helped out in some wonderful projects that helped the community.
Previously in this blog, I wrote about how our Rotary e-club used an open source social collaboration platform using WordPress with a Buddy press plugin to create an online site where our members could meet, discuss, plan and conduct various service projects in our community. You can read the blog post here .
I was asked to speak to Rotaractors across three clubs in the district about the Rotary eClub and how they can use the same concept, as well as use social media to promote their own community service programs and in the process, hopefully inspire other young folk to join.
That night, we had about 25 exhuberant men and women who were quite excited to see each other and talk about community matters. Some were employed, others not. Some were students, other trade apprentices.
I was the first speaker of the night and their informal manner instantly put me at ease. Admittedly, I had slight hesitations in addressing the group because I thought that if there was anyone to teach social media, it was them to me (and not the other way around!)
I opened my presentation with some questions to get some engagement and their answers surprised me.
“Hands up, who has a Facebook account,” I asked. (All of them put up their hands)
“Leave your hands up, if you have ever Skyped,” I added. (None put down their hands)
“Now leave your hands up if you have instant messaged,” (None put down their hands).
“Keep your hands up if you have used You Tube,” (all hands still up)
At this stage I think they were getting bored because no one put their hands down.
“Keep your hands up if you have used Twitter,” I added, thinking that they ALL would have kept their hands up. To my surprise all but 3 people kept their hands up.
A loud murmur resonated around the room and I heard someone say, “Is Twitter important?” to no one in particular. Another said, “Twitter is what you use to tell people what you had for lunch.”
I continued. “Put up your hands if you have a LinkedIn account,” I added. Three people responded with a shoulder shrug and a half hearted wave.
“Put up your hands if you’ve heard or used Pininterest,” I added. One young lady responded passionately with a loud, “I LOVE Pininterest! Use it all the time, simply LOVE it!” Others said, “What’s that? Never heard of it?”
I think by this stage people were feeling a low that the numbers had dwindled and that they didn’t know what some of these social media tools were. Maybe they were thinking that such low numbers across the ones I mentioned meant that they were doing something wrong and began to doubt themselves. The bravado had quickly disappeared.
I had to do some quick thinking and link to my presentation topic of the e-club and so my last question was, “who here has posted a comment on a discussion forum?” and once again all the hands shot up in their air proudly, they started to laugh and this was my cue to start talking about the e-club.
One person did not put up his hand the entire time. He was in his early 20’s and a primary school teacher made it known that he refused all social media, technology and refused to have a phone. I found this difficult to believe as he would have used this during his academic studies but it is entirely plausible that he stopped using them after his studies and now in the workforce. I didn’t entirely believe him simply because nowadays, you cannot afford not to be connected in the workplace or risk being a social pariah. Certainly not someone who is a primary school teacher so I took his bravado around refusal of technology with a grain of salt and some suspicion.
I explained the concept of the e-club and kept my presentation short and sharp but it quickly dawned on me that maybe I, as a Gen Xer, focussed too much on the technology or tool to sway this audience to join an e-club in the future?
Here was an exhuberant group of young men and women, bantering with each other, jesting with each other, laughing and generally having fun. This is why they had joined Rotaract – for the fun activities as well as do some good in the world. Meanwhile, here’s me, the boring old fart, trying to explain the concept of an online social tool where our members only meet face to face on odd occasions and where we do all our Rotary service individually and connect online when we need to.
Had I missed something here? Rotaract was doing the social face-to-face because it was fun, they shared activities and laughs with friends, they enjoyed their time together; meanwhile he we are, the over 30’s with our family committments, endless work pressures, reduced time using technology to connect with others with a shared interest at various times of the week (and we control this time) and it seemed a little bit…sterile. Were we missing the face-to-face component somewhere I began to think. Maybe we too need to have some fun in our club. We need some social activities to get to know each other too and connect not only online, but in person to be able to take those relationships to a whole different level (and I will write about this in the next blog post when I write about my learning attending the LearnX Convention this week at the Melbourne Convention Centre).
I believe Rotaract showed me that night that our e-club MUST have the face-to-face social side to it once in a while so that we can connect personally as well as online and that we should not focus or concentrate on the tool, system or online space as it is only a means to an end. Young people don’t seem to have the same focus on technology as we do. To them, the tool enables them to follow their passion – they aren’t inspired by it or ‘bang on’ about it like we do.
So with that, I wrote my post into the Marketing and Membership Discussion forum of our e-club with my lessons learned and realised that Gen Y have a lot to teach us about what’s really important in our lives. They taught me that what we see is interpreted completely differently by the generations. I could see a certain situation one way; but a Gen Y would see it in an entirely different matter. Also, that in our lives – we need a bit of fun and we need to not lose ourselves entirely with the technology but to connect face-to-face.