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article imageHow the Net Generation is Redefining Work, Culture, Media

By David Silverberg     Sep 21, 2008 in Technology
Digital Journal — The wired generation of the 21st century thinks differently…literally. That is the premise of Don Tapscott’s upcoming book Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing the World, a sequel to his 1999 book Growing Up Digital. The new book looks at how the Net generation is redefining today’s workplace, marketplace, family dynamic and media culture.
As Tapscott defines it, the Net generation is between 11 and 30, the baby boom echo numbering 8 million people in Canada. Tapscott, based in Toronto, explains some of the more obvious characteristics of these connected consumers: they are less passive and more active when they interact with technology; they want freedom, choice and mobility; and they are the first generation surrounded by cellphones, computers and video games.
While the boomers came home to turn on TV, Tapscott says in an interview with, “the digital generation comes home to turn on their computers. They have three windows open in their browser, they’re listening to MP3s, texting on their cell, maybe playing video games. And they aren’t passive, but rather active initiators.”
Part of that engagement is due to how their brains are wired differently. The brains of the Net generation are better managers of non-textual information like graphics, Tapscott notes. The short term active working memory is also strong in these kids, he says, which allows them to multi-task with their various technologies.
But wouldn’t all the information on the Web and through their cellphones be overwhelmingly inundating? “Kids have developed better coping mechanisms to understand what’s true and what’s not,” Tapscott points out.
Grown Up Digital – due Nov. 14 – also focuses on how the digital generation is changing the workforce. These employees are “scrutinizers and authenticators,” Tapscott says, “and they love to collaborate. This generations loves speed because they are very impatient.” This trait should sound familiar to anyone who’s seen a teen throw a temper tantrum because the Internet connection has slowed to a crawl.
Tapscott previously wrote Wikinomics, a book well known to anyone following user-generated content and crowdsourcing. It was only natural for the author to touch on the collaborative efforts of the digital generation in his forthcoming book. “These young people want to share info more than any other generation,” he says. “The boomers viewed knowledge as power, so they hoarded it. The Net generation is open to sharing information.”
But with that openness comes concerns about information privacy. Tapscott says we are in a unique period of history where there is unprecedented access to another’s life, but also new issues about how to protect privacy. “This generation has to realize that spilling your guts online may come back to haunt you.”
Young people today have better bullshit detectors, Tapscott bluntly points out. “They are familiar with certain sources, and can tell what’s true or not,” he says. Just like familiar media brands like CBS and New York Times have been trusted, the digital generation is learning to trust respected bloggers and citizen journalists.
Speaking of citizen media, Tapscott mentions how this generation consumes news differently. They don’t read physical newspapers but scour news online. They read a Web page in a hypertext way, too, bouncing their eyes from link to link and finding the info that matters to them.
Almost in an opposite trajectory to Tapscott’s theories is the thesis found in a recent book titled The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. Tapscott says he is familiar with author Mark Bauerlein, and think the idea of kids being dumber than before is pure hogwash.
“His theory isn’t supported by data,” Tapscott says. “When people think about the word ‘dumb’, they think lacking intelligence. But IQ scores have risen every year, SAT scores are up and this generation is incredibly engaged politically. The author is pining for the days when everyone had a copy of Shakespeare’s complete works.”
More about Don tapscott, Grown digital, Net generation
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