Can you be too old to “get” social media? (Or too young to “get” wine?)
Cathryn Sloane has written a strong, passionate and incisive column on her belief “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25.”
Published in nextgen journal, an online pub that describes itself as “the website for the ‘next generation’- our generation,” Sloane’s argument is as controversial as it is compelling. In my comment on it, I want to emphasize, first and foremost, that I accept much of what Cathryn says. She points out, for instance, that her generation (she seems to be in her early or mid-twenties) “spent our adolescence growing up with social media” in such a way as “to make the best/correct use of it [come] most naturally to us.” Because of this, she concludes, “The mere fact that my generation has been up close and personal with all these developments over the years should make clear enough that we are the ones who can best predict, execute, and utilize the finest developments to come.”
What partiquely piques Sloane, she writes, is when she sees “a job posting for a Social Media Manager/Associate/etc. and find the employer is looking for five to ten years of direct experience…”. Which makes her wonder, she adds, “why they don’t realize the candidates who are in fact best suited for the position actually aren’t old enough to have that much experience.”
She has a point. In mathematics it’s a truism that if you haven’t done your best work by age 30, you probably never will. The history of Silicon Valley is one of extraordinary invention by teenagers and twenty-something geniuses. Kids can pick up second and third languages almost overnight; the older you get, the harder it is. In many fields of creative thinking, youth is, indeed, a factor. The aging human brain may increase its powers of subtlety, power and talent in particular fields [visual artists, for example, frequently do their best work in later age], but in doing so, it often loses that brilliant burst of creative insight that may characterize the young mind.
Sloan’s essay reminds me of the trepidation I often feel regarding my own use of social media. I still find it intimidating and confusing, even though I blog, tweet and Facebook everyday. I don’t necessarily wish I were 23 again, but when it comes to social media, if I were, I would understand its intricacies a lot better than I do now. But then, I never claimed to have the qualifications to be a social media manager, or to want to be one, for that matter.
Still, I wonder why facility in the use of social media isn’t something that can’t be learned. It doesn’t seem to me to be equatable with, say, learning a foreign language. On a scale of one to ten, learning how to boil water is a 1; learning Mandarin is a 10; learning social media adequately enough to be a winery social media director is probably a 6. To put it another way, one doesn’t have to grow up in China speaking Mandarin to learn it well enough to go to work for an investment bank in Hong Kong, as an acquaintance of mine did. He mastered it enough (and Japanese, before that, when he was stationed in Tokyo) to now run his bank’s Asia division.
If social media directors should only be under 25, then why isn’t it fair to say that professional wine critics should only be over 35 or 40? After all, to do this job really well demands extensive knowledge, not only of the wines you review but the history of the regions, terroir, and winemakers (not to mention the development of a sound writing style). A 22-year old can set up a blog and start “reviewing” wine, but why would it be wrong for me to use Sloane’s argument, in reverse, and say that person simply is too young to tackle a job that requires so much experience if it is to be done right?