In several papers, conferences or client inquiries I am hearing the same argument, over and over again: unless you are a digital native, you are not going to buy any soon into social networking, so there is no chance it will happen unless (1) everybody has (high speed) Internet access and (2) a generational change happen in society that makes all this really relevant. On the latter, a comment to a previous post stressed that 95 percent of non-digital natives (i.e. people born before 1985) are unable to digest or even understand what the “digital age” can offer
Let me offer two counter-arguments.
The first one is what I said in a previous response about the “indirect effect” of online social networks. Even if not everybody can actively access the Internet, she may know a digital native who does (a relative, a friend, a young social worker, etc): in other terms the use of web 2.0 by digital natives is going to have an impact on other parts of the population.
The second one is that if the stake is high enough, digital immigrants will actually change their behaviors. Looking for a good school for one’s kids, finding the best hospital for a delicate surgery, understanding how to minimize the consequences of having evaded taxes after being caught, finding a new job or overcoming the main challenges of becoming self-employed: for each of these “life events” (and many more), people do value any advice they can get. If they realize that the Internet and social networks in particular can help get that advice, they will join.
There are plenty of examples of people who are unlikely Internet or social software users who have changed attitudes rather quickly: elderly people who use webcams and chat lines to keep in touch with distant relatives, middle-aged teachers who venture into Facebook to stay closer to their students, interior designers who join non-expert communities discussing how to furnish their house. As I said, if the purpose is clear, if the stakes are high, people will learn quite quickly.
Government executives should not believe to those who say that this will take a generational change. Take Influenza A as an example. Besides the fact that people already rely on the Internet to gather information beyond what governments and health organizations officially state, what do you think they would do in case of a major outburst or of draconian measures taken to contain further spreading? J
Just today I read that some countries are contemplating scenarios where the start of the school year could be delayed indefinitely, until vaccines are tested and intensive care availability is properly assessed. What would people do if their kids do not start school when planned? What would teachers do? Don’t you think that social networks would become the primary conduit for information, peer support and trust building? If this is the case, how will government employees exercise their role, when they are not even allowed to access social media?