Following the lead of Generations X, Y, and Z and “liking” it

Not long ago here at Generous Matters, I chided churches for being late to the technology revolution, citing my congregation as a case in point. That the article was one of my most viewed to date suggests I touched a nerve – as did the push back I received from some readers.

But truth be told, congregations aren’t the only luddites out there. Colleges, universities, and theological schools, and other assorted nonprofits have their own love-hate relationships with technology and social media. In fact, wherever Boomers (my generation) remain in control (e.g. just about everywhere), you’ll find foot-dragging, nay-saying, and excuse making.

I hear it all the time. You can’t teach violin, encourage spiritual formation, build community, etc. etc. etc. Fill in the blank with your pet “can’t do.” But while some folks throw up roadblocks, others are busy doing with technology what’s been said they can’t — if not today, then tomorrow.


The world has turned in the direction of technology and there’s no going back. To act or wish otherwise dooms organizations to irrelevance, or worse, obsolescence – holy purposes or not.

That’s the word from Brian Solis, principal at Altimeter Group, a research firm focused on disruptive technology. A Gen Xer, Solis is almost an old man by social media standards, but not so aged as to be out of touch with the Yers (Millennials) and their little sibs, Generation Z. It’s his observation that

Gen Y and Z were born with digital in their DNA. While that may seem like a given, it is the very detail that separates them from their parents, teachers, businesses, governments, and any organization other than those already run by Gen Y and Z. As a result, our society splits into two camps, those who ‘get’ these connected generations and those who do not or will not.

Here’s what Boomers (the “we” in the statements below) need to “get.”

Some of us can multitask, but we say our ability to do so diminishes each of the tasks we simultaneously perform. This is not true for younger generations as their brains are wired differently.

We complain about privacy in social networks. They’ve mastered it.

We don’t get why people share as much as they do online. They’ve created incredible filters to sort through the noise.

We use to find relevant information but younger Generations go to trusted networks or rely on YouTube videos to make decisions.

We watch TV on televisions. They watch TV on tablets and smartphones.

We listen to radios on radios. They listen to music on Pandora, Spotify and the like.

We can eat dinner or sit in the same room with loved ones without looking at our phones and we get angry when others don’t return the favor.

We trust family and friends and younger generations trust people “like” them whether they know them or not.

Whether the “we” group likes it or not, to succeed and thrive in the years ahead requires adapting and adopting.  Fortunately, as Solis tells us,

Getting older doesn’t mean we have to become irrelevant. Assuming that the way we live is the only way to live is incredibly presumptuous. Young adults started life differently than us. What they know is what they know. You and I had to learn how to evolve from analog to digital and we’re still learning. But the gap that separates us and them is bridged only by our ability to take the first step toward understanding their behavior, expectations, and preferences. Then and only then can we build a more connected world and chart a better course for the future of education, commerce, government, art, and everything that keeps society and humanity moving forward in positive and productive ways.

So take heart all ye (me) late-comers to the revolution. Embrace change and seek to make the most of new tools and technologies for advancing Kingdom causes. Generations X, Y, and Z are ready, eager, and willing to show us the way.

For more on this topic, see:

Ride the social media bandwagon to fundraising success

Tales of donations almost derailed by technology

Five timely resources for social media challenged nonprofits


  1. So Rebekah, maybe you should add a tweet button to your blog so I could retweet this (and I’m a Boomer!) Good topic, great blog!

  2. Thanks, Rose, for the suggestion. I’ve added a Twitter button to my blog. Retweet away.

  3. I don’t know if I completely agree with Solis’ passive acceptance of all things Gen X, Y, and Z. Do you know of any studies which compare Gens X/Y/Z to Boomers in terms of ability to multi-task? I’ve heard of studies (but conveniently can’t find any right now…sorry) that show how multi-tasking diminishes productivity. I’m also not sure my generation (and younger) truly understands privacy and social media. I constantly talk to college students who think Facebook is a private forum…it’s not, and if they don’t figure it out, they might have a difficult time getting a job. His point about phone, iPad, etc. usage at dinner also concerns me. To me (a 26 year old Gen Yer), I’m concerned that we are trading in the art of personal interaction for more superficial online relationships (settling for breadth over depth).

    I might just be out of touch with my own generation, but I’m not completely “sold” that Solis’ list is filled with positive attributes of Gen X, Y, Z…or even attributes that we should sit by idly and accept. Social media can be a powerful and meaningful tool for society, but it seems like Solis is blindly accepting reality instead of questioning whether or not all of these changes are good. Am I misunderstanding his point?

    I completely agree with you that if we are to be successful fundraisers, we need to engage in communication strategies which actually meet our constituents where they are. As a society, however, we need to get better at educating younger generations about properly using social media.

    Great post! It really made me reflect on even my own use of social media!

  4. It’s great to hear from a real life member of the Y Generation and to be reminded that sweeping generalizations aren’t a good idea. Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Dan.

    I wish Brian Solis would weigh in with a response to your critique, since I’m a mere parrot of his ideas. It would be interesting to see how Solis would defend his description of Gens X, Y, and Z.

    I’m glad you do agree with what I had to say about fundraising and communication strategies.

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