As I was writing my first book, What Would Google Do?, I thought I knew what my second would be – about the profound changes in culture, worldview, attitude, aptitude, impact of young people today, a group I believe will prove to be an extraordinary generation – Generation G, I call them in the book. But almost as soon as I thought that, ambitious and important books on the topic came out from people I respect. So I’ll recommend them instead.
Don Tapscott, coauthor of Wikinomics, wrote Grown Up Digital, which I believe will be seen as the seminal work on the net generation. It is the product of $4 million worth of research including 10,000 interviews in many countries, producing a treasure trove of data about behavior and beliefs.
Importantly, Tapscott, like the other authors here, debunks the shallow assumptions made about this generation – that they are unsocial or antisocial, stupefied and stupid, exhibitionistic and narcissistic and uncaring. Instead, at the start, he writes:
The story the emerges from the research is an inspiring one, and it should bring us all great hope. As the first global generation ever, the Net Geners are smarter, quicker, and more tolerant of diversity than their predecessors. They care strongly about justice and the problems faced by their society and are typically engaged in some kind of civic activity at school, at work, or in their communities. Recently in the United States, hundreds of thousands of them have been inspired by Barack Obama’s run for the presidency and have gotten involved in politics for the first time. This generation is engaging politically and sees democracy and government as key tools for improving the world….
Eight characteristics, or norms, describe the typical Net Gener and differentiate them from their boomer parents. They prize freedom and freedom of choice. They want to customize things, make them their own. they’re natural collaborators, who enjoy a conversation, not a lecture. They’ll scrutinize you and your organization. They insist on integrity. They want to have fun, even at work and at school. Speed is mornal. Innovation is part of life.
Such insights continue regarding the generation and work, commerce, family, and democracy.
I believe – but won’t live to know – that this generation will prove to be as remarkable in its way – and for very different reasons – as the World War II generation was. This, too, could be a generation that builds through change and Tapscott’s book gives us a window into their culture and its impact.
I’m equally heartened by Mimi Ito’s Digital Youth Project report for the MacArthur Foundation. It, too, defends youth against common slanders. Youth, it says, “use online media to extend friendships and interests… and engage in peer-based, self-directed learning online.” In short: Digital is good and adults should encourage and enable youth to be digital and benefit from it.
Next I plan to dig into Born Digital by the amazing John Palfrey of Harvard’s Berkman Center and Urs Gasser. And then: The Pirate’s Dilemma – How youth culture is reinventing capitalism by Matt Mason.
At the end of my book, I say of this generation:
My generation, the children of the 1960s, prided itself on nonconformity but our nonconformity became conformist. I fear it was a fashion. Some worry that Generation G’s nonconformity and individualism will be entitled rather than empowered, alone more than social, entertained more than educated. Any of that and worse could be true. But I have faith in this generation because, far earlier than their elders—my peers—did in their lives, today’s young people have taken leadership, contributed to society and the economy, and created greatness: great technology, great companies, great thinking.