The Silicon Valley Voice

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Old and in the Way

You’ve spent years mastering your profession. You’ve honed your skills. You’ve burnished your reputation. You’ve faced challenges that would defeat any ordinary mortal, but which has left you with a wealth of experiences, guaranteed to help your current company succeed in any environment.

In other words, you’re the seasoned, experienced, industry veteran who every employer wants — to fire.

Why?

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Because you don’t tweet. And you don’t blog. In short, you simply don’t fit in a new world of social media, which just happens to have the slightly anti-social effect of turning older workers into unemployed workers.

If you haven’t noticed this phenomena, Sue Shellenbarger has. The work and family columnist for The Wall Street Journal recently published Don’t Be the Office Tech Dinosaur, and on this subject, she does not mince words.

“For many people in the back half of their careers,” Shellenbarger writes, “the meaning is all too clear: to keep from drifting, or being nudged into an early retirement, it’s time to add more high-tech arrows to their professional quiver.”

As an example of the type of old fogy you don’t want to become, Shellenbarger chronicles the work life of Doug Gould, “a 50-year old advertising veteran who began to suspect that he was in danger of becoming extinct when his co-workers started calling by the affectionate nickname of ‘Uncle Doug.'”

Now, you would probably be delighted if your co-workers would replace your affectionate nickname of “worthless wind-bag” with “Uncle Doug,” even if your name isn’t Doug. But what the real Uncle Doug realized was that the avuncular sobriquet should actually be translated as “old guy.” And in his business, like in your business, being the old guy is just one step away from being the laid-off guy.

In the past, it used to be sufficient for “old guys” and “old gals” to change their image by changing their clothes. And you could definitely update your wardrobe: shred your doubleknits and put studs on your power suit or your face. Or just start walking around the office carrying a skateboard. Unfortunately, groovy threads will only take you so far. And the only place that skateboard will take you is to the emergency room.

There’s only one way you can save yourself — You have to update your technology.

Getting in step with new tech may sound easy, but it will mean sacrifices. You will have to replace your Motorola DynaTac 8000X cell phone, even though a two-pound, 11-inch phone is so much cooler than the flimsy, modern phones of today. (Besides, it cost you $3,000 in 1973.)

It might also be wise to move to a computer for your business communications, though no machine will ever replace the personal touch of a quill pen on papyrus. (Don’t you dare sell off those crates of carbon paper you’re storing in your garage. It’s coming back!)

Once you’ve upgraded your tools, it’s time to start using some of the newfangled social media that the young people enjoy so much. There’s Facebook, an online site where you can let advertisers know your innermost secrets, so they can bombard you with ads for exactly the kind of items you most want to buy, such as a garden hose that you can fold up and carry in your pocket.

There’s Twitter, where you can count the number of your followers, and thus remind yourself on a daily basis exactly how inconsequential you are.

You’ll also have to start blogging. Remember the diary you kept all through grade school, in which you wrote down every detail of your miserable life. Now you can record those same whiny observations, and best of all, share your miserable moments with the billions of people in the blogosphere who are dying know your every thought about every subject every hour of every day. Or they would be, if they weren’t busy publishing their own blogs, which you’ll have to read.

If making the move to the new world of technology sounds like a lot of work, you can take comfort in the fact that there are lessons an old fogy like you can teach to the young, techy whippersnappers who want to take your job. As the former “Uncle Doug” says, “someone like me can teach people who are so ridiculously tech savvy how to handle themselves in a meeting when things go wrong.”

Lovely sentiment, but I’m afraid the “ridiculously tech savvy” already know what to do when things go wrong.

Blame it on the old guy.

Bob Goldman has been an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company in the San Francisco Bay Area. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@funnybusiness.com.

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