"Say Everything"

New York magazine has a well-written and astute article about Gen Y and how this generation gap is the first really big one since the fifties:

"It's been a long time since there was a true generation gap, perhaps 50 years-you have to go back to the early years of rock and roll, when old people still talked about "jungle rhythms." Everything associated with that music and its greasy, shaggy culture felt baffling and divisive, from the crude slang to the dirty thoughts it was rumored to trigger in little girls. That musical divide has all but disappeared. But in the past ten years, a new set of values has sneaked in to take its place, erecting another barrier between young and old. And as it did in the fifties, the older generation has responded with a disgusted, dismissive squawk.

Kids today. They have no sense of shame. They have no sense of privacy. They are show-offs, fame whores, pornographic little loons who post their diaries, their phone numbers, their stupid poetry-for God's sake, their dirty photos!-online. They have virtual friends instead of real ones. They talk in illiterate instant messages. They are interested only in attention-and yet they have zero attention span, flitting like hummingbirds from one virtual stage to another."

In my daily interactions with Gen Y, I'm part tough-love drill sergeant, part mother hen, part BFF, part cheerleader, part shrink, and part anthropologist who translates Gen Y habits and vernaculars and weltanschauungen and talents for old fogies. There are great things and irritating things about Gen Y, and older generations absolutely have to understand how to bring out the best in Gen Y, particularly in academia and in the professional world. Are there some quirks that are just plain irritating to everyone else? Sure, but there are ways to take many of those habits and turn them into wonderfully creative and productive forces. (See more of my recent thoughts on bringing out the best in Gen Y at work.)

Which reminds me... I met a young woman at a networking event last week, a recent graduate from a top business school. She asked me what I thought about employers googling prospective employees and checking out entire archives of their MySpace Friendster Blogger Facebook FlickR Xanga LiveJournal existences. I give a lot of interviews on that subject, so I've thought about it a lot. She saw the question as one of unfairness: it's unfair for corporate America to snoop around online. I see things differently.

Whether as a matter of fairness or just practicality, you don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy when you post things online for anyone with a web browser to see. To employers, how you behave online says a lot about you: your judgment, your discretion, your maturity. When they are interviewing you for a job, they are evaluating, among other things, what kind of ambassador you're going to be for that organization to the outside world. If they find you, say, trash-talking your current employer, or posting embarrassing pictures about your employer, or making fun of your boss's behavior at the company Christmas party, or writing about your sexual exploits with Very Important People and Not So Important People (who can forget Peter Chung?), or threatening your colleagues, or sharing your provocative photos, they'd be crazy *not* to wonder whether they want you working for them.

That's where I disagree pretty strongly with the article, which claims that "[y]ounger people, one could point out, are the only ones for whom it seems to have sunk in that the idea of a truly private life is already an illusion." That just doesn't mesh with the conversations I have with twenty-somethings making their way in the professional world. Many of them are surprised to find out that employers would bother to investigate their online presence (or even stumble upon it accidentally), or that their online musings and photos are in any way damaging, or that their emails using the company's email address actually belong to -- and are often monitored by -- their employers. If anything, they assume a lot more privacy than actually exists.

(Note to applicants: as an admissions officer -- back in the early 00s -- I hopped onto a popular discussion board after an interview and discovered the applicant's rather preposterous and pompous account of our meeting. Ding!)

On the other hand, blogging can be a great way to get your foot in the door. Have strong opinions about product X or industry Y or company Z? If you write about the topic consistently in an intelligent, professional, and constructive way, you'll be much more likely to get noticed when you send your resume out. Blogs require sustained interest in a particular topic, so they prove to potential employers in the field that your interest isn't fly-by-night, and that your cover letter isn't just BS'ing them about your passion for the subject. (Be careful though about writing negative things about the company you work for or hope to work for.) I guess that's my mantra right now: for every potentially bad habit, channel it into something good.