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Hey, boomers: Gen Y thinks you don't get tech

July 25, 2008 |  4:24 pm

Boomer Guess what, boomers? Generation Y thinks you’re kinda inept. At tech-related things, that is. According to an Ernst and Young study coming out later today, while 45% of boomers say they’re comfortable using technology, only 9% of the young 'uns from Generation Y (born after 1980) think that boomers are adept at tech.

Maybe those little whippersnappers don't know a thing about your familiarity with the Interweb, but consider this: Dan Black, E&Y’s director of campus recruiting for the Americas, says these misperceptions can cause big problems in the workplace. About 84% of Gen Y'ers use technology to avoid difficult conversations (like answering boomers' queries about who the heck the Jonas Brothers are), while boomers prefer discussing difficult things in person or over the phone.

"It creates a gap in understanding," Black said. Like that time your new intern text-messaged you to respond to your query about the new Miley Cyrus photos, but you didn't get his text, so you think he ignored you? Yeah, gap in understanding. Younger people think that boomers' inefficiencies with tech create lost opportunities for their workplace, he said, while boomers think that members of Gen Y need to work on having more face-to-face interactions.

I decided to check in with a real live boomer to respond to the accusation that his generation is clueless about tech. Brian, born in 1946, runs the Savvy Boomer. He started the blog so he could help his friends understand how to use tech, and it evolved into a forum for his musings about his generation. The Savvy Boomer uses things like IM and computers and video players and iPhones (well, actually, he kinda hates the iPhone) with ease.

"My first comment to anybody who says something like that is, 'Don’t forget who invented technology,' " the Savvy Boomer said (he doesn't want his last name used because the last time he was quoted, he attracted an Internet stalker of sorts). Bill Gates (born 1955, started Microsoft 1975) is a boomer, after all. So is Steve Jobs, who was born the same year as Gates.

So if Boomers invented tech, why do they get such a bad rap? Well ...

... the Savvy Boomer says his generation uses technology as a means to an end. Younger folks use technology as the end. That means older people aren't always a'Twitter and online, which may make younger people think they don't like using tech. "Boomers just don’t find that much of a need to get those things and get out there right away," he says.

If the Savvy Boomer is right, the survey might be wrong: After all, some have argued that obsessing with tech has led Gen Y to become the Dumbest Generation.

Ernst and Young, ever helpful, has some tips for reconciling boomers and Gen Y on this subject: Boomers should invite younger folks to more meetings. Younger folks should teach boomers more about tech.

"We can all challenge ourselves to uncover issues, resolve misunderstandings, build relationships and improve team performance, even if a difficult conversation is required," the study says.

It doesn't specify whether this difficult conversation should be done in person or online.

-- Alana Semuels

Semuels, a Times staff writer, covers marketing and the L.A. tech scene.

Photo credit: Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times