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?]


Anonymous said...

Nothing wrong with a good rant!

In commenting I assume you're talking about work (I just had an inconclusive exchange with my brother-in-law who couldn't be persuaded that Twitter was anything other than 'people who want to read Stephen Fry's thoughts and why would I want to do that?!' He's from Grangemouth so maybe he should be forgiven).

I'm interested in a work context that you don't mention the word 'culture' anywhere. I think that's critical in the adoption of any new way of working. If the boss does it and expects everyone else to do it that can go a long way to adoption, providing opt outs aren't allowed. When I left my last council in 2010 there was still (I kid you not) a team that had a typewriter, not even electric, for some arcane form they claimed there was no other way of filling. I assume they'd got a good stock of ribbons laid by for future use!

I was interested that Kerslake seemed to be setting a tone as that should help, if he means it.

Another tactic that can help is to make critical information available in one way only (e.g. on an intranet) and flag up in advance that if you want to know x, y or z in future that's the only place you'll find it.

Don't give up. I know you won't!

@mrjonmckay said...

I share your grumpiness! I tweet for work and I tweet for pleasure. Some of my friends get it, some fall firmly into the Luddite category. More worryingly, some of my colleagues could wear that big L badge too. In fact I'm on the verge of dropping a project due to some Twitter ambivalence and that upsets me.
The fact remains that tweeting is no more difficult than sending an SMS and my mum mastered that some years ago (she really IS that old). I firmly believe that most of the people who "don't do Twitter" have never actually used it. The more we can do to incorporate it into our service offering as a matter of routine, the better it'll be for everyone.
The Twitterati are here to stay...join us, or be left behind!

Liz Moffat said...

I agree wholeheartedly. Some colleagues just don't want to use social media at all and they are missing out on so much in the way of professional development and networking.
A great number still think it is a flimsy and purely social form of communication though so maybe it is just a case of yet more training and awareness raising. And yes, guidelines do take away some of the fear.

Ciaran said...

Education is an issue. People are far too willing to go down the "new fangled thing" line. Whip them into shape, Lesley!

I'm not old enough to know what offices were like before e-mail but I'm sure there were similar "no dain it" attitudes about email like we get with social media. Can you imagine life without email now? Unthinkable. That'll be social media in a couple of years. I wholly expect we'll be IMing or using something like Yammer rather than email for a lot of things...I'll admit I rarely even text anymore! Why text when you can DM?

Education is required but how do you educate when the tools are locked in a cupboard and you need to ask the janny for the key to use them? Obviously there's concern about opening up access but the benefits are too big to ignore. I've lost count of the number of emails I've sent to people saying "Quite a few things being said about your initiative on twitter but you can't see them or respond". (I've actually had people ask if I can delete the comments...!)

To be honest, social media isn't helped by the media who are obsessed with running stories about staff skiving on Facebook. People need shown that social media is an important business tool and not Farmville and "just had a really nice cup of tea and a custard cream LOL".

This sounds terribly negative but we do have lots of ambassadors who can pull together and sell the benefits and educate people. Jon's spot on with "join us, or be left behind!".

Anonymous said...

Excellent Comments! Whole heartedly agree!

Ella Taylor-Smith said...

Sometimes I'm just flat out jealous of people who have nothing to do with social media, as I can easily spend most of a day flicking between SNs.

But then I remember all the time wasting strategies I had before social media, before I had access the Internet etc

Or maybe first I remember the useful pieces of content I came across (e.g. Peter Levine on Habermas today )
or people I've met etc

Ella Taylor-Smith said...

Well now I'm reading about how new technologies (or technologies used in new ways) transform roles, tasks and relationships at work. So maybe their fear has some deeper justification.

"tasks and roles frequently change. When work roles change, role relationships usually change: workers interact with colleagues in new ways and may even find themselves interacting with members of occupations with whom they formerly had no contact. When role relationships change, it is likely that the social network that defines the structure of an
organization will also shift."

Leonardi, P. and Barley, S., 2008. Materiality and change: Challenges to building better theory about technology and organizing. In Information and Organization, 18, pp159–176

James said...

Cracking post Lesley. Love the comment about not waiting for social media to find its way into people's comfort zones. That excuse no longer washes and may soon start to seriously limit a person's employability for a number of roles.

Janet E Davis said...

I love this post! I have felt the same at times.
I have been trying to get people to use digital technology for over 20 years - including the original introduction to using PCs for word-processing and spreadsheets by people who had never or rarely typed before. I know how much patience it takes.
I used games to entice people to improve their mouse skills and to become more comfortable with using a PC. I encouraged them to play computer games in their lunch breaks.
These days, I point out some of the amusing sorts of accounts on Twitter as well as the seriously useful ones, and that people play word games. And, yes, I have been telling people for a few years that it's just another medium to use for conversing with people.
PS Totally agree about telephones!

Chris Bolton said...

Thanks for sharing this.
It feels very familair.
I think you should refuse to answer the phone next time because "you don't do telephones". Interestingly its what my kids do with the land line in the house. Happy to speak endlessly on mobiles but will never pick up the house phone, partly because they don't know who's calling.
Spot on about technology not being the barrier but attitude. I've also had a mild rant about this myself. Old post this: I have become a bit more thoughtful in my views:
Great to read your content.

Anonymous said...

I so recognise this - so many of my colleagues (all of whom are younger than me) constantly do the 'I don't do Twitter' thing, or 'I don't understand it'.

I've started a shared blog ( , to be met with 'that's brave of you!'. Hardly brave - yet when I get something published in a journal it's somehow really good

Anyhow, really enjoyed the blog - wasn't a rant, more an insight into culture in the land of Lud.


PJ Kelly said...

I absolutely agree with you. About 10 years ago I did use the Luddite excuse because I wasn't comfortable with HTML or basic coding.

The challenge for me is the balance between persuading senior colleagues of the real value in Twitter - if used correctly and the pointless wast of time of an ineffective facebook page.

Nicola Franklin said...

I'm also agreeing with you - I did think of trying to be devil's advocate, but I honestly couldn't think of any valid reasons for avoiding social media!

I also agree with the poster who made the comment that lack of social media skills will very shortly start impacting on people's employability.

To give an example, I have a permanent role at the moment for an insurance firm, where they want the postholder to be responsible for content on their intranet, external website - and mobile app. This latter doesn't yet exist, so the postholder, in liaison with IT, would be responsible for deciding what content / functionality such an app will offer & how it should differ from the main website content, navigation, etc.

This is the first time I've seen such a blatant reference to a need for mobile technology awareness/skills in a job description for a librarian, but I'm sure it won't be the last!

Marion Boyle said...

I am not alone hurrah, whoopee, fantastic... I could write a little book of excuses for NOT using technology or social media. I, as much as anyone like to live in the past growing my own food, big real fire's and home baked bread but YES I am also that old and I TOTALLY understand this post, as I too have been helping people get online and understand tech for 20 years now and I reckon I have heard just about every excuse on the planet, so no surprises to your post or any comments. Well people like us should get together, after all, I kind of thought we were now in the 21st century or have I been zapped back in time and don't know it? I imagined all sorts of wonderful things for the future of tech and SN oh but it's a slow laborious process...

Marion Boyle

Michael. said...

A bit late to the party, but neither the original author, nor the commentators since, have realised that there is one huge difference between email, telephones, and the like, and "social media" (being normally considered as Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and similar).

The first group is open and non-proprietary. The second group is not open, and is proprietary. I can choose which email provider to use, or even run my own. And my emails will work with everyone else. I can have a phone line or mobile phone with any one of the various companies, around the world, and it will mostly just work with anyone else around the world.

But Twitter? If I want to talk to someone using Twitter, well, I have to have a Twitter account don't I. And the same with Facebook. Etc. People used to use walled garden networks (AOL, CompuServe, etc.). These have all gone the way of the dodo, mainly because they weren't open. If you were with AOL, you couldn't communicate with someone on CompuServe and vice versa. And, even if I were comfortable with that fact, I'm not at all comfortable with the fact that I have to agree to some very suspect Terms of Use and Privacy Policies before using these services.

So that's two reasons (locked in and proprietary, and unacceptable terms of use etc.).

A third reason, for me, also exists.

I have used Twitter, and I didn't like it. I don't like that I can't have an in-depth discussion in that format. Now, if I was merely using it as a way to link to interesting material I found on the web (micro-blogging), that would be different. But that's not how people use it. And I wouldn't use it for that reason, because frankly, I have my own website, what do I need another website to share stuff on the web for?
I've also used Facebook, and didn't like it for various reasons that I won't go into.

Other reasons exist, but I won't go into them. The main reasons that I don't, are that the current major systems are closed, non-federated and with obnoxious terms of use. Get people (that I know and want to communicate with) to use an open and federated system (e.g. an OStatus based system like StatusNet (used by and I'll use social media.

(The above arguments apply for personal use. Obviously in the case where these tools were being used in a professional setting, I could and would use them. With some caveats about how content should not exist exclusively in these walled gardens.)