Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Losing patience with the refuseniks

Last week I was a bit melancholy. This week I'm a bit grumpy. Maybe it's the weather. Or p'raps I've just reached that difficult age. Whatever. Anyway, I'm afraid this post may be a bit of a rant. Sorry about that.

Right, here's the thing. I've been helping people use IT for almost 20 years now (yes, I am that old). I'm well aware that people have very different reasons/motivations for using (or choosing not to use) particular technologies. And that some will take a lot of convincing to get them to try something new. Change can be scary. That's OK though. I'm pretty good at what I do. I tailor my support to the individual and their circumstances. And I am very patient :)

However. I am starting to lose patience a bit with the straight up social media refuseniks. The ones that trot out the "oh no, I don't do social media" line (often preceeded by the "I'm a luddite, me" refrain). Really getting under my skin are those that seem proud of the fact. Wearing it as a badge of honour, almost.

So what's my beef? Well. For a start, that luddite arguement is a red herring. I'm not talking about very senior managers who have their PAs print out their emails (they are a whole other kettle of lightly-spiced fish with a tangy lemongrass dip). The people I'm grumpy with are those that happily send copious emails. And use office IT systems to claim expenses or record their working hours. And no doubt do their shopping and book their holidays online. Social media tools are hardly complicated technologies. There's not a huge ramp up in technical expertise required from sending an email to sending a tweet. So, lets not kid ourselves that it's about the technology.

Back in the day, when I was doing IT support in a DWP office, the typing pool had their electric typewriters replaced with PCs (yes, I really am that old). One of the typists decided as soon as she heard the news that she wanted nothing to do with these new fangled computermabobs and left. The others were nervous, but also curious. It took them a while - and lots of support - to get the hang of the PCs (the mice in particular were a constant source of frustration and we had some fun with the disk drives :)). But they all went on to do amazing things with their new toys. Now that was a significant technological change to get used to.

And here's another thing. I do not like the telephone. Never have. I find telephone calls really uncomfortable. If I can't chat to someone in person, I'd much rather use email. But I have friends who dislike email as much as I dislike the telephone. But they respect my communication preferences and email me occasionally and, likewise, I respect theirs and make the effort to call them now and again. At work, I use the telephone when it is appropriate to do so. And if the phone rings on my desk, I don't turn to my colleagues and say "ooo, I'm not answering that. I don't do the telephone". Although I may try it one day...just to see what the reaction is...

OK, so maybe the public at large doesn't expect us all to be available for immediate communication on the other end of a Twitter account. And of course, it took time for the telephone to reach mass adoption as a communication technology. So the comparison isn't completely fair. But the public's expectations for social media engagement with government are rising. And rapidly. We can't afford to hang around waiting for social media to eventually find its way into everyone's comfort zone.

I have my suspicions about where this particular attitude springs from. Euan Semple touches on it in a recent post. There are strong emotions involved. So, I'd like to say to these guys: hey, I understand that this is a new - and possibly scary - way of working. That's why we're developing policies and guidance and training. And why there are people who can support you. But please don't close your mind to social media completely. And don't tell me it's 'cos you're 'not good with technology'!

So, folks. Am I just being a grumpy old woman? Do I need to cut these guys some slack?

[Incidently, are those of us evangelising about this stuff actually making things worse by emphasising the disruptive nature of social media? Should we be saying, hey, this is just another way of talking to people?]