Recently I spent some time considering the differences between traditional office e-mail and facebook e-mail: the lack of bc, cc and forward buttons, the way links and videos and sound files are attached, the absence of spreadsheet and document and presentation attachments, and so on.
All that got me thinking. For a while now I’ve been studying the youth of today and how they use the tools of today. For a while now I’ve been exploring the likelihood that when the youth enter their equivalent of what we call employment, they’re likely to enter it with their tools. Tools that they’re trained to use. Tools that they’re good at using. Tools that I know less than enough about.
Take cameras. Go talk to a couple of dozen people at random. Find out if they’ve ever sent each other mobile photos. Ask them if they’ve ever used MMS. Check with them if they’ve ever uploaded mobile photos.
I did just that. And it seemed to confirm what I thought. The bulk of people using their mobile phones as cameras were below 30. Try it. Let me know what you find out.
My assertion is that Generation M knows more about the usage of mobile phones as cameras than we do; that they will find ways of using it in the enterprise, ways we have not considered. I remember a time when we’d purchased one of these newfangled basketball nets; I was away at the time, my wife had asked the handyman to put it up, and he was having some trouble with it. My son had a friend who had the same equipment; a phone call, a photograph, and suddenly light dawned.
Even old fogeys like me find uses for mobile phone photographs. Take book purchases. A goodly number of the books I purchase today are based on recommendations or on collaborative filtering. [In fact, quite a few of the recommendations come from comments on this blog or via Twitter]. Which is fine, except for when I’m physically at a bookstore and I see a book I like the look and sound of. If I’d read the author before then it was simple. If I’d heard good things about the book before then it was simple. But what happens when I had no information other than what I saw in front of me?
Simple. I took a photograph of the book. A normal wander around the bookstore may yield eight or nine photographs. Later, when I was back in a connected environment, I would go through the titles one by one, check them out in a more leisurely manner, look at the reviews and recommendations and then order the titles that made the grade.
I’ve done similar things with flipchart and whiteboard sessions. Taken a photograph and then reflected on the contents at leisure. When someone is demonstrating something new to me, sometimes I do the same thing. But for all this I don’t tend to use the phone, I use a “proper camera”. And upload the photos on to Flickr.
Which brings me on to the use of Flickr and YouTube in the enterprise. I’ve now seen both used in anger within the enterprise, and I’ve been delighted to see their use. You want to share something quickly over a great distance? Take a photograph or video of what you want to share. Upload it, tagging it with something arbitrarily odd like “zv54yng31”. Send the tag to people with whom you want to share the image or video.
And bingo. It’s there, using the internet and commodity tools. Hidden in plain sight, a readily findable needle in a commodity haystack.
Like the story of the Fisher pen and the pencil, there are expensive ways of doing things, and smart ways of doing things. We’re going to see a lot of this. The youth of today are going to use everyday tools to do everyday things. It’s just that their everyday tools and techniques will differ from ours. We need to prepare for this.
New forms of etiquette will emerge to deal with these phenomena. New mistakes will be made, new lessons will be learnt. There is a lot we don’t know about this, but there is one thing we can be certain of:
The Web is normal and commonplace for the youth of today, and the web’s tools are as familiar as friends. They will use the web and its tools in ways that we haven’t dreamt of.
[An aside. About embarrassing photographs appearing on Facebook. When I was young there was an equivalent. People used to do the most amazing things on photocopiers. And then the photocopies would do the rounds amidst gales of laughter. Admittedly this was the kind of thing that happened at office parties. I don’t remember any horror stories in the press, any calls to avoid going near photocopiers. ]