In my nuclear family we never talked about controversial stuff. Basically, we handled conflict either by my mother saying "shhh" or my grandmother saying "shhh."
If a fight broke out, we simply didn't talk to one another. Three days was the minimum, a few months was the max. It was never clear how we would start talking again, because nobody believed in apologizing. But just as it began, it would be over and talking about whatever the fight was about was simply not allowed.
Joining the government more than a decade ago, I rapidly felt right at home.
"There is a problem with this program that the public should know about."
"Someone is selling a service we provide for free, and charging $250."
"Our technology is on eBay."
"I have a Tweet I would like you to consider for your approval."
"I don't know what that is. Let me see the briefing book."
Once, a boss once even warned me that "they might question your loyalty if you continue to push them to talk."
I programmed the electronic newsletter so that readers could give articles 1-5 star ratings. They made me take it down.
Another time, I said to the boss: "I still have no idea how your business model works, and if you can't explain it to me how can I possibly explain it to the world?"
Maybe it's me. Maybe Gen Xers make everything into too big of a deal. Millennials and Generation Z are totally online, all the time. In fact they don't seem to have any concept of personal privacy or taboo topics. For them, it's all part of the same newsfeed. So I have to believe that for those who seek information from the government going forward, there will be an attitude of expectation: "Of course you owe me all the information."
It won't be deferential as in the past. The public won't be saying, “Oh, it's okay, I heard you before when you said ‘shhh.’"
Information is expected. The kids, and increasingly their parents, demand nothing less.
This is nothing short of a revolution.
We will see the public insist that government provide the highest levels of customer service, transparency, and yes, return on investment based on metrics.
It will be common for us to answer questions by Tweet, text, chat, email, telephone call, and even those little avatars that jump around the screen and anticipate what is wanted.
Times have changed. There is no such thing as avoiding the public because we don't like the questions or the expectations they are bringing us.
In a world where Google is a verb and not a noun, "shhh" just doesn't work anymore as a default answer from the government.
Copyright 2016 by Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of her employer or any other organization or entity.