Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Grown up digital

I read the book 'Grown up digital' by Don Tapscott. I was curious to understand more about the generational differences. I've definitely not grown up digital; I almost missed the introduction of digital technologies because I was living in a village in Mali that did not even have telephone or electricity...

Often when I mention generational differences, people start whiping the issue under the carpet by refering to their grandma who is 86 and skypes with her daughter in Australia. I have a mother who can't really learn how to handle her phone, let alone her email and a daughter of 7 who has profiles on various sites like webpet and hyves (and has won a price with a blogpost about a book :) and I'm somewhere in between. So I do think there are differences. What are the real generational differences and how will they influence collaboration at the workplace?

The book is based upon a research program which involved interviews with close to 10,000 people in 12 countries. Despite that good basis, I grew a little tired of the examples of the children of Tapscott, though they are great illustrations. The Tapscott kids are not examplary for a whole generation. I have the feeling there are more differences between the use of internet within the 'netgeneration' that could have been explained in more detail. The book is one big attempt to prove the point that the netgeneration is really different from other generations (like my own). OK, I agree, but how about differences within the netgeneration?

Nevertheless I enjoyed reading it and I gained some very useful insights from the book where it links to my own observations:

1. The social media technology is a given for the netgeneration.
A great phrase is "technology is technology only for people who are born before it was invented". and "Learning a new way of communicating is hard work.. established patterns of thinkng must change to accomodate the new technology". For the netgeneration (born between 1977-1997) new technologies are like air. They can't understand others are so obsessed with it. This is really funny and true. All the writing about the enormous shift in communication patterns are from the people who are not did not grow up with the new social media; they are still amazed at what's possible (including me!). Skyping with a webcam: I still think it's exciting. For a netgener it's normal. Like a washing machine is normal to me and I don't talk about it (till I went to Kenya and did my own hand washing...). That brings along a huge difference in perception. For netgeneration respondents email is a more formal method of communication. So we all know how to send mails, but use and perceive it differently. It's hard to be fully comfortable with a technology if you haven't grown up with it- it takes a personal change process. See the story about my grandma on the phone. I can learn to twitter, but may use it differently than netgeners- so there is a difference.

2. Brains get wired differently.
'listening to an audio book leaves a different set of memories than reading does'. It is hence clear that the netgeneration (and our?) brains get wired differently. More research is needed, but IQ scores are on the rise. Tapscott is convinced that you need similar skills as before the web, but you need more skills. A book guides you from beginning to the end, but on the internet, you have to click and make your own decisions. Online reading is hence more complex than offline reading. It's an area that needs research.

3. The netgeneration may shake up hierarchies.
Or is it social media that already shakes hierarchies? On page 158 the example of Chris Rasmussen is introduced, 33 years old. Through blogging, he got noticed and invited to panels where others are appointed by majors or governors. He gained a reputation on merit, not on age or rank or a preset careerflow. Social media is hence shaking up hierarchies. The netgeners themselves will do some shaking too. At home and at school, the netgeneration may have some knowledge (about the technology) that parents and teachers don't have. Changing power relations. My mother was taught to use her mobile by some secondary school students (after I had given up :). Parents and teachers don't automatically earn respect because they know everything the youngsters don't know.

4. And this leads to some netgenophobia.
Netgenophobia is the irrational and morbid fear of youth, especially with regards to their use of the internet. Part of the fear is because of the unknown, part is because of the shaking of hierarchies mentioned under point 3 I believe. During the period of read the book, I met so many people of my age that confirmed the fact that there is some phobia, I notice a lot of fear (cyberbullying, everything is open, everything is so fast, online pedophiles). Take the example of the schooldoctor telling my daughter not to add any new people to her online network that she may not know. (and what do I do??). I have the impression I think differently about participation online because I engage in it myself (unlike the majority of my age). Though I do understand that there are dangers, the dangers also exist in real life and I fully agree with Tapscott's advice that we'd help children more in dealing with these, rather than block or limit access to certain technologies. Though cyberbullying happens, we may help cultivate a positive behaviour. It may only worsen the situation when certain use of the internet is blocked- there are plenty of other ways to bully. But for this type coaching about online behaviour, we need to understand more about online interaction as parents and teachers first.

5. It's the first global generation and less prejudiced
An enormously optimistic last difference: this generation is very global and more tolerant about differences between people. Both as a result of technology and globalisation/immigration, they might be the most tolerant and least prejudiced generation. (Geert Wilders is probably not of the netgeneration :). The tolerance is supported by some figures. 91% of the netgen respondents agree that interracial dating is acceptable, compared to 50% of the GI generation that reached adulthood during world war II (pretty tolerant for that time by the way).


Simone Staiger said...

Dear Joitske,

I really enjoy your blog!
This post comes timely as I am preparing a presentation at CIAT next week on the potential of social media for the organization, projects and the staff individually. Talking about generational issues is part of the plan. I am particularly concerned that an organization closes the door to what younger people have grown up with and give them the feeling that "work is different" instead of encouraging them to use social media for professional purposes and spread out the process, results, and lessons of their work.

Joitske said...

Hi Simone, thanks for the compliment. Happy that you will talk about the generational differences. I think the trick is to stress that recognising the differences between generations does not mean that there are no individual differences within the generations. I fully agree with your point! I don't think organisations stimulate younger generations to bring along these skills.

Holger Nauheimer said...

Joitske, I also enjoy your posts a lot (I should update my blogroll ;-) ). I am currently preparing a webinar series on Web 2.0 for Business, and your posts help a lot.

Did you read the great post of @NancyBaym at Online Fandom? Quote: 'Can we just quit judging every new communication mode, finding it wanting in comparison to the last one'?

Jayace said...

I just thought I should share this regarding the trend, I found a website that has started at http://www.myggo.net …. seems like they’re trying to start a net generation movement!