Chameleons Don't Get Web 2.0, But They Can Blend In

Last Updated Apr 14, 2009 10:17 AM EDT

Facebook and Twitter may be grateful to be drawing in 50-something users but has this "Chameleon" generation fundamentally misunderstood the way social networking should work?

Too old for to be part of Generation X and Y and not old enough to be baby boomers, Gen Chameleon's learned to survive technological and social change by adopting multiple personae.

They are adept at negotiating change by seeming to fit in. But, like chameleons, we're not exactly part of any new environment but adaptable enough to hide, as though part of it.

We can pass ourselves in after dinner conversation by having read the reviews even if we haven't read the book, seen the film or signed up to the Facebook account.

Now Chameleons are eying social networking technologies (Web 2.0) attracted by the potential to communicate with "digital natives" who embody the values of social networking -- they are collaborative communicators who challenge hierarchical authority.

But is Gen Chameleon genuinely inhabiting social networking or just aping its surface characteristics the better to impose conventional managerialism?

If that's all we're doing, the danger is that Management 2.0 will be rejected as those with an innate understanding of social networks coalesce around ever more current or arcane networking systems.

It's a race we can't win. By the time we get to hear of a new concept it's already out of date. By understanding it sufficiently to use for our purposes we contribute to its death through fossilisation.

Many younger users may already be starting to reject what they see as the commercial manipulation of social networks.

It seems the commitment and novelty of placing one's life online, never mind the drag of reading the 24/7 minutiae of other lives, may be starting to wear off. Whether this is an indication of boredom or revolt isn't clear and in any case, whatever is coming next, Gen Chameleon will probably be the last to find out.

There's a real difference between being able to understand sufficiently how something works in order to mimic it, and living it from the inside.

It's the difference between Eurovision and music-making that captures and reflects a shared identity.

To some extent though, this doesn't matter. Even if you are faking it, it is still worth becoming familiar with the mores of social networking, because it probably isn't going to go away.

Better to use it as best we can than try to pretend it hasn't happened.