Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Upspeak, Facebook, and the Blue-Ribbon-for-Everyone Generation

I was listening to a co-worker from the home office today as he practiced his spiel to demonstrate the company’s flagship product at a major trade show next week. He’s good: he’s smart, experienced, and well-trained. So why did he sound perpetually confused while he was practicing his demonstration? I’ll tell you why: upspeak. He’s a Gen-Xer, and every second or third sentence ends on a rising inflection, as if he were asking his listener a question. He’ll be competently mousing and clicking around the screen to demonstrate a $65K software package – he’d better be competent, he’s the product manager – and yet he sounds perpetually confused, something like:
“Now you click on the FILE menu? And choose the 3D survey you want to display? You can display it in either 2D or 3D, and we give you control over the size of the symbol. You can control the color, too?”
He’s not asking questions – he’s adopted a speech pattern called “upspeak,” which one consultant says “gives the impression of a weak, indecisive and immature person.” No duh, as the kids say. Or perhaps I should say, “No duh?” But try to tell them they sound “weak, indecisive [or] immature” and you get a blank look. Wonder why…

Cognitive leap time: Unless I miss my guess, this is the same generation that has made Facebook the phenomenon that it is – and Facebook is the very essence of something that is near and dear to this generation. I’m talking about endless, unbalanced positive reinforcement. Ever notice that Facebook doesn’t have a “Don’t Like” button? Ever wonder why?

Easy: it was created by and for a generation we old farts call the “A Blue Ribbon for Everyone” generation. Sometime in the ‘90s I realized that every person I talked to had a child on a championship soccer team, all of which endlessly toured the region going to tournaments from which they brought home piles of trophies. I must be dumb; it took months for me to tumble to the fact that every team was a winner at every tournament. Yes, the unearned self-esteem virus had taken hold, and every one of those kids had to feel like he or she was a champion - at everything. Those kids are now adults (chronologically, at least), and they've brought that huge sense of entitlement with them like a giant chip on their collective shoulder.

The Gen-Xers and their offspring, the Millennials, are the most self-absorbed generation ever to hit the face of the Earth. They’ve been told from day one that every one of them is a champion, every one is the best at what she does, every one is the smartest or most talented. They have never learned how to rebound from adversity, never learned how to use criticism to improve.

Their entire lives are governed by the “Like” button, and woe betide anyone who has the balls to suggest that they’re not the best – because they’ll take their business somewhere where everyone does suck up to them, no matter how inept they actually are. Something tells me that the “Idiocracy” is coming sooner than we’d predicted?

I hope not?