business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

An ongoing subject here on MNB over the years has been the necessity for business leaders to adapt to the changing needs of younger generations, which have different priorities, different skill sets, and different ways of absorbing information and acting on it.

This became clear this weekend when two stories presented themselves.

One was in the Wall Street Journal - a piece about how "more viewers, especially younger ones, are using tools that transcribe dialogue in the content they’re watching online."  They're not doing so because of hearing loss, which is traditionally why older viewers have used closed captioning to understand what is being said;  rather, they're being used for "helping them better understand the audio or allowing them to multitask."

The Journal writes:  "In a May survey of about 1,200 Americans, 70% of adult Gen Z respondents (ages 18 to 25) and 53% of millennial respondents (up to age 41) said they watch content with text most of the time. That’s compared with slightly more than a third of older respondents, according to the report commissioned by language-teaching app Preply."

Tech companies are aware of the shift, which companies ranging from Apple to Netflix improving their captioning game, making them more accessible and easier to read.

The other story about how information is taken in by young people was in The Atlantic, which has a piece about how many young people have no idea how to read or write cursive - a fact that the author became aware of when he was teaching a college course in which two-thirds of his students couldn't read cursive, and even more couldn't write it.

Some context:

"In 2010, cursive was omitted from the new national Common Core standards for K–12 education. The students in my class, and their peers, were then somewhere in elementary school. Handwriting instruction had already been declining as laptops and tablets and lessons in 'keyboarding' assumed an ever more prominent place in the classroom. Most of my students remembered getting no more than a year or so of somewhat desultory cursive training, which was often pushed aside by a growing emphasis on 'teaching to the test.' Now in college, they represent the vanguard of a cursiveless world."

Which led the writer/teacher to ask his class:

"What did they do about signatures? They had invented them by combining vestiges of whatever cursive instruction they may have had with creative squiggles and flourishes.

"Amused by my astonishment, the students offered reflections about the place - or absence - of handwriting in their lives … we found ourselves exploring a different set of historical changes. In my ignorance, I became their pupil as well as a kind of historical artifact, a Rip van Winkle confronting a transformed world."

The decline of cursive has happened in fits and starts, with society moving away from requiring it and then mandating it, often in fits and starts;  Mrs. Content Guy, who was an elementary school teacher for 20 years, saw these shifts in her own classrooms, as curricula changed, sometimes from year to year.  (For the record, she thought it was incredibly important for kids to be able to read and write cursive.)

However, as The Atlantic points out, "the decline in cursive seems inevitable. Writing is, after all, a technology, and most technologies are sooner or later surpassed and replaced."

To me, these stories are a necessary reminder to businesses about how they communicate to both customers and employees.  Especially now, when shoppers have a plethora of choices and labor is increasingly hard to come by, business leaders have to understand that they need to adapt their communication tools to make them relevant you younger people.

On the one hand, they can't read cursive.  On the other, they want to use subtitles so they don't need to listen quite so closely.  Eye-Opening trends, and business leaders ignore them at their own peril.