Thursday, May 29, 2008

Let's Do the Time Warp Again

Reason #456 we need to hire the next generation of administrators, from an actual conversation I had this week with somebody very highly placed:

Bigwig: “Of course, there'll be golf. You do play golf, don't you?”

DD (horrified): “Oh, God, no.”


Bigwig: “Oh.”

Apparently, I didn't get the memo saying that it's still 1973. It must have been posted by the water cooler, which I've also never actually seen in an office. It's probably next to the typing pool.

In cross-generational conversations, as in so many things, it's the unspoken assumptions that get you. And when you're the first bearer of – not to put too fine a point on it – assumptions valid in this millennium, you're the oddball. Who doesn't play golf?

Obviously, I should have responded differently. No argument there. But, to my mind, the question came so clearly from left field that it simply caught me off guard, so I reacted before I could edit it. (That's always dangerous in this line of work.) The whole concept of 'deals struck on golf courses' seems to me of a piece with Moose lodges, three-martini lunches, and 'banker's hours.' Fascinating from a historical perspective, maybe, but over. The world moved on some time ago.

The catch is that awareness that the world has moved on is distributed asymmetrically. And if you walk into a new situation unaware that its denizens have been frozen in amber, you're the bad guy, even if you're right.

Since peer groups are self-reinforcing, it's relatively easy for a stable group to get stuck at a particular historical moment. (See “Rolling Stones, The”) The best way around that, of course, is to keep the group from getting too stable. If change is an expected part of the process, rather than an episodic shock, then there's a chance that the response to it will be more inclusive. (“Of course, there'll be golf.” Of course?)

If there were a critical mass of Gen X'ers, I imagine the conversation would be different. “Of course you have a blog, don't you?” “Of course you try to balance home and work, right?” “Where were you when you heard Kurt Cobain shot himself?” It would be refreshing, frankly. Then, once the point was made, we could stop the exclusionary crap and actually get to work. But it won't happen for an inexcusably long time, during which time I'll keep trying to keep a straight face during impassioned discussions of drunken office parties, John Lennon's death (during which I was in, I believe, seventh grade), and how to play the sixteenth hole, while not losing points in the elusive category of 'fit.'

Until then, I'll continue to be just a little bit suspect, regardless of the improvements I bring to the college. I just get tired of doing the time warp again, and again, and again.