A few months ago, I posted a short review of Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation, a provocatively titled tirade about his profound disappointment with the so-called digital natives – those born with the advantage of information at their fingertips – and their seemingly narcissistic, celebrity-obsessed, self-indulgent ways.
Now comes the antidote: Grown Up Digital: How the net generation is changing your world by Don Tapscott, author of Wikinomics, and adjunct professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Where Bauerlein sees unhealthy addiction to gaming, Tapscott sees new forms of global collaboration. While Bauerlein laments the loss of literature as a popular pastime, Tapscott revels in the development of new reading skills – non-linear reading that requires sorting and synthesis. In other words, where one sees the end of civilization as we know it, the other sees salvation.
Chances are, if you work in student affairs, you’re predisposed to liking young people. You probably don’t need Tapscott to tell you that young people hold the potential to rid our planet of many of its most pernicious problems. But you have probably also wondered whether the Internet, and particularly social media, are hindering or helping in realizing the potential of youth.
Blaming the Internet for problems like disengagement in traditional democracy, disaffected learners, overconfident employees or teenage bullying is, according to Tapscott, like blaming the library for ignorance. The Internet is becoming an easy target, a scapegoat when we don’t know what else to do.
Drawing on a massive (proprietary) research project involving interviews with almost 10,000 people, most of them members of the “net generation” – those born from 1977-1997 – Tapscott finds almost no reason to fear youth or the Internet. Quite the opposite: “Not only are the kids alright, but as a generation they are poised to transform every institution of society – for the better,” he concludes.
He reserves some of his only words of caution for issues of privacy. “Net geners are giving up their privacy,” he writes, “without realizing it.”
But the rest of the book is dedicated to his relentless optimism. Written post-Obama, Grown Up Digital has the advantage of hindsight in its analysis of the campaign’s use of social media to engage young Americans. The book also includes very current and useful chapters on how education, the workplace and civic society are all being transformed by the new norms of the net generation: freedom, customization, scrutiny, integrity, play, collaboration, speed and innovation.
Grown Up Digital is so unremittingly positive in its outlook, it grows tedious. Whatever the issue at hand, Tapscott has an anecdote – often involving one of his own (now young adult) children – to turn conventional wisdom on its head. Why are kids moving back home with their parents in the mid-20’s? They’re not slackers, they just have better relationships with their folks than we did in our day. Sure, they steal music, but 70 per cent of them also volunteer! And so on.
A balanced view, the book is not. It is a full-on counterattack on naysayers like Bauerlein and others. In the final write-off of anyone over 30 who is still skeptical, Tapscott coins a new term: “NGenophobia: the irrational and morbid fear of youth, especially with regards to their use of the Internet.” Ouch.
— Deanne Fisher.