Recently, my middle niece has taken to reading – to be clear, reading bestsellers, modern and classic literature rather than the fan fiction she used to read. We’ve been bonding over books, and even having impromptu mini-book reviews on Hong Kong’s double decker buses on our way to yet another bookstore. Given how new she is to this genre, she is surprisingly knowledgeable about literature. Curious about how quickly she has grown in this space, I asked her where she is learning about books.
“TikTok,” she said, beaming. “Sometimes Insta and YouTube.” I actually laughed out loud when I heard this, but she was indignant. “There is valuable information available on these sites if you would just give them a chance!” I dismissed her, saying she needed to seek ‘legitimate’ sources to be taken seriously as a reader.
It turns out my nieces and nephews get all their information on books – and other topics – from these platforms. Previously, my niece used Tumblr to find out about the latest in fan fiction. My nephew even decided to read Crime and Punishment because the main character on the Netflix drama ‘You’ is obsessed with the book (and to my nephew’s credit, he got through one chapter which is one more than I’ve read). It is through social media they keep up with what’s going on in the world, learn new skills, discover and cultivate hobbies, and so much more.
So, what does this have to do with bias? Recently, there’s been a lot of interest in unconscious bias, and as a corporate trainer I’ve delivered some workshops on it myself. Most people would like to think that they have no biases when it comes to the big ones such as race, gender and sexual orientation, some are even right to think that. It’s the lesser talked about biases that creep up for so many of us, becoming a part of our everyday lives without our knowledge. And thankfully, as a coach and trainer, I’ve been able to challenge myself in this space and reflect on my approach when interacting with the younger generation. What filters do I have on when I communicate with them? And at what point does harmless teasing transform into judgment?
I’m embarrassed to share that my generational bias shows up in conversations with my nieces and nephews. Whether it’s their source of news, their slang (which is lit) or even priorities, I admit that I make assumptions that their choices are perhaps inferior to the ones made by my generation. And while this may be true at times, it is my hubris to dismiss their approach entirely. I may not understand why one would look up ‘best books of this century’ on TikTok, but I admit that my niece is learning. Quickly. And she’s doing it her way, and the way of a generation. So, regardless of how she’s getting there, I am grateful that I finally have a family member who likes the same books I do, and rather than deride her for her proclivity towards social media, I’d rather nurture what is now a hobby, and hopefully will transform into a lifelong passion.