Time for corporate Ireland to wake up and smell the free trade coffee?

At least two estimable columnists picked up Ibec on what Richard Delevan describes as penning ‘the most perversely ignorant sentence’ of 2006. The import is that corporate Ireland is still not getting the net, and shows few signs of shaking itself out of its long term lethargy/complacency. Delevan reckons Ibec and Irish business is missing the point of online business:

Ask yourself the following questions.

Which podcasts do you sink? What did you think of geriatric1927 on YouTube this week or Un-pimp My Ride III? Is your WiFi good enough to Skype on my Treo? How many MySpace friends do you have? Have you got the workaround for the Bebo ban? Isn’t that, like, sooo Google in China? Will the blogosphere back Bertie?

If that paragraph was incomprehensible, you fall into one of the following categories: you’re over 35, you’ve been in a cave since 9/11, or you’re working for Ibec.

He refered to a quote from the Republic’s employer’s association’s faux pas, from last Thursday:

Greeting the Leaving Cert results of the “text generation”, the Indo warned they “have little interest in learning on the job, take no pride in their work’ and struggle to turn up on time”. My favourite quote of the article was from Caroline Nash, Ibec’s assistant director of policy: “Texting, online chat, Bebo . . . they all involve a style of interaction that is acceptable among young people, but which fails to make the grade in the working world.”

Yep, that last sentence is the one that has them well ahead of the field for Richard’s ‘Preventing the Future’ Award.

Now I am the first to admit that the Irish blogosphere has yet to demonstrate its considerable latent power, but social networking has already been dropping plenty deeply unsubtle hints. BeBo (Blog Early, Blog Often) is, after Google, the biggest website in the country. It was only launched 18 months ago!! It arose out of a clear idea of 1) how the net works best (ie linking individuals, building communities if you like) and 2) according to Professor Stephen Coleman the most important online demographic is the younger ones that Nash is inadvertently denegrating above.

It’s the companies, schools, political parties, churches and unions who can’t find a way to work with these kids that are in trouble. They’re Amazon. You’re Easons. They have a future. You do not.

Your organisation ought to be desperate to learn how to operate in their world, not break them into working in yours. Assembly-line, nine to five, must-touch-you-tobelieve-you’re-working cultures are dead or on life support. That doesn’t mean you can’t hold the kids accountable. But you’d better start by holding their attention, with work that doesn’t suck.

Official Ireland likes to pretend it’s techno-savvy and future-focused. Nonsense. The instinct of many is still to try and prevent the future. Unless that old fear is overcome, your kids could be beaten into submission by self-interested luddites and their useful idiots. Your kids will then make great drones at companies that will soon no longer exist.

Few of Ireland’s big institutions really ‘get’ this yet. The fact that a micro light US based company has sucked up the majority of online value without most Irish companies even noticing tells its own story. Futureologiest Alan Toffler perhaps offers one explanation:

While the revolutionary wealth system is all about decentralisation, niches, flexibility and devolution to networked and distributed power, Europe’s leaders are trying to build a megastate. Europeans have very slow-moving institutions and societies. And they are proud of that fact. This is fine, but there will be a price. The large states – France, Germany, Italy – are falling into relative decline behind the US and Asia.

The other columnist I mentioned had written on this yesterday was Eilis O’Hanlon. Her piece was rightly given a prime spot in the paper edition, but whoever ‘edits’ the online version of the Sunday Independent saw fit to exclude it from a wider net readership. Perhaps an unconcsious example of the ‘shortsighted stubborness’ she berates in Ibec’s Luddite attitude to new media.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty