Here Come the Kids

At college in the late 1970s, I spent hours in the computer room, typing punch cards and then waiting for my "batch" to run. A confession of a dinosaur? Undoubtedly. But it shows just how much things have changed. We've had to adjust to all kinds of new technology in our work space, but the next generation of young adults has grown up with the PC and the Internet as comfortable companions.

As a result, the technologies now considered "advanced" for many meetings, such as high-speed networking, videoconferencing, and distance learning, are as commonplace to today's kids as dodgeball was to my generation. For example, Oklahoma school districts use Microsoft's Encarta Class server to deliver a Web-based math curriculum to all students. And on a personal level, my 11-year-old son is adept at using Excel to plot the results of his science project on magnetism.

Why should you care? Because if you think you don't have to learn much about technology to keep your career afloat, consider this: My son's older buddies will be sitting in your meeting rooms in less than eight years, expecting you to know more than they do.

Instant messaging (IM) is a stark example of technology that's moved from the adolescent world to the meetings world. Enabling users to exchange real-time messages, IM helps teens "chat" on the Internet.

A personal or corporate IM system lets you set up groups of contacts, and see whenever somebody on your list is online. You can then initiate an IM session with that person, or chat with the whole group. So the same technology that lets kids chat about 'NSync lets planners and their internal and external contacts instantly communicate. Likely fueled by an influx of 20-somethings comfortable with IM technology, the corporate IM market will grow from 5.5 million users worldwide in 2000 to 180 million in 2004, according to International Data Corp.

The National Center for Education Statistics finds that 98 percent of public schools are Internet-connected, with one computer for every five students. With young people using the Net not just for information but for interaction, that habit will surely come with them when they enter the workforce.

New survey findings from Xerox Connect show that knowledge sharing has become standard practice at work. And more than half of U.S. workers rank e-mail, intranets, and extranets as the most effective ways for communicating, outstripping the 18 percent who say face-to-face meetings work best.

So in setting up, marketing, running, and providing follow-up to your meetings, you will have to move your tech skills forward quickly. The kids are all right; are you?