Do You Get It or Not? Does It Matter?

Posted 03.21.2011

Two-people-texting1 One of the most e-mailed articles on the New York Times website for the past several days has been one titled, “Don’t Call Me, I Won’t Call You.”  My guess is a lot of grown up kids are sending it to their parents to prove that they’re not the only ones who don’t always answer the phone or respond to voice mail messages. The article describes how phone habits have changed over the past five years as people shift to text messaging, email and Facebook to communicate with their friends, families and colleagues. Nielsen Research notes that spending on cellular voice traffic is trending downward and that text traffic spending will exceed voice in the next three years.

I thought about this article last night when I was in a conversation with some old and new friends at a conference I’m attending. Somehow we got into a debate about whether the way people learn new skills and behaviors is changing as a result of the internet and virtual communications technology. On one side of the debate were the folks who were saying that the only real learning is that which comes from a live person teaching one other person or a group of other people in person. I was on the other side of the argument.  We spent a good bit of time and energy going back and forth about how quickly the learning styles of the human species can adapt. My point was that disruptive technologies like the phone or the internet cause people to change their learning and working styles pretty quickly. Of course, the great trump card in a discussion like this is to ask, “What research have you read that backs up your point of view?”  Darn, I just couldn’t come up with any academic citations on the spot.  (Perhaps if I hadn’t had that second glass of wine.)

A guy I’m sitting with this morning just told me that his son is in a good medical school where attending lectures is optional. They’re all online and the students can watch them when they want.

Here’s the thing…

You can argue that learning and working and socializing together is more effective when it’s held in person and you might be right.  The reality, though, is that people and organizations have other options and they’re using them.

A few years ago I was talking with a client who has a background in what the Army calls information operations. His job is to influence the thinking of allies and enemies. He told me about attending a briefing at the Pentagon on how Al Qaeda was using one of the new social media technologies. My client said that going into the briefing, he wasn’t that interested because he didn’t “get” the technology.  By the time he left the briefing, he realized that it didn’t matter whether or not he “got” it.  The enemy was using it and he had to figure out how to deal with that whether he got it or not.

What are you ignoring or arguing against because you don’t get it? What are you doing to challenge your assumptions about how things should be or will always be?