Exchanging ideas with future generations

April 1, 2011

Johnson’s World by Steve Johnson

When Durango, Mexico, native Patty Linden was a high school senior, she lived with us as an exchange student. Youth Exchange is a wonderful program whereby teens from around the world spend a year in another country, living in the homes of native families, attending local schools and speaking the native language.

Youth Exchange is a life-changing program for both the students and their host families. I have hosted a dozen exchange students from such diverse lands as Japan, Norway, Mexico, Germany, Finland, Brazil,Ghana and Colombia.

The program provides a window not only into the culture of other countries, but into those of unique localities and demographics. Teenage culture is always interesting, always exciting, and it provides a window to the future.

Any parent can tell you that some basic teen traits never change. Others change constantly.

Glued to the screen

When Patty came to live with us, in 2004, she was 18 years old. We had computers in our house, but because we live in a semirural area, we did not yet have broadband service. We relied on dialup modems, which were having trouble, even back then, keeping up with an increasingly graphic web.

We had heard of the social sites MySpace and Facebook, but we didn't use them ourselves. Patty sure did. We were both fascinated and appalled by the time she spent online chatting with friends, posting pictures and updating the status of her adventures in the United States.

Facebook still was the unique domain of students, closed to the general public. A few printers had pages on MySpace (mostly silkscreeners, for some reason), but it was dominated by musicians and teenagers. All interaction was on workstations; neither WiFi nor smart mobile devices were in common usage.

We thought Patty was wasting her time. A few instant messages to stay in touch with folks back home were fine, but spending hours staring at a computer screen? It just didn't seem healthy.

Now a media mogul

Patty is now 24 and a college graduate. Still active on Facebook, she has more than 4,200 photos posted in 45 albums, plus 13 videos. It just keeps growing.

In many ways, Patty has not changed much. She still is a social animal, with her postings featuring formal parties, fancy dresses and family events.

Ah, but some things about Patty have changed. She is now Coordinadora del Departamento de Contenidos in Imagen Institucional del Gobierno del Estado de Durango. Loosely translated, she is a big cheese in charge of media content for the State of Durango, coordinating design and handling television production for a large government agency.

Would you like to contact her? I know direct mail will work. When she receives my Christmas card, she promptly scans it, posts it and tags me.

If I want to contact her quickly, I send her a message via Facebook. She and I are carrying on an animated, realtime exchange even as I write this piece.

I could send her email, but who knows when she would reply? The same is true of a phone call. Those just aren't the ways in which a 24-year-old executive interacts.

Last month, I wrote about the awesome power of social media to encourage everyone to be more forward thinking about client communications. We must adapt our methods to match those of our new clients and prospects.

I'm proud to have all these fine young people such as Patty as exchange “sons and daughters.” Wouldn't you be proud to land them as customers?