Tomorrow belongs to them

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.

  • I have a lot of faith in Gen Y. More so than many of my contemporaries it seems. It’s good to hear some positive press about Gen Y for once.

  • One of the best books I read in college was “The Fourth Turning” which explained history through the ebb and flow of generational politics and conflicts. The idea was that you can explain a generations larger psychology by understanding the circumstances of their parents/grandparents and knowing that kids always like to rebel.

    According to the book I was born on the last year of Gen X and the first year of Gen Y. I am not sure what generation I identify with more, but I do know I hate the label “Gen Y.” I much prefer what you and Taspcott propose: Something that reflects the influence technology has had on our collective personality.

  • Keep writing – I have five kids (from 30 to 17), they are as good as their grandparents, certainly better than me:)

  • jackparsons

    This is completely asinine. You can no more make a generalization about an entire generation than you can about a race of people.

    Here’s a certainty: this generation will be no better than the ones that came before it, and no worse, either.

  • I’ve been meaning to read “The Fourth Turning” for a while now. Thanks for the additional endorsement of it Dave.

  • Mike Manitoba

    Ah, Jack, you mean Generation X, that maligned, forgotten demographic the Baby Boomers treated like shit?

  • jackparsons

    No idea if that’s sarcastic or not, but no, I wasn’t speaking of any generation in particular. Speaking in terms of generational characteristics is a shortcut to thinking — or, worse yet, a shortcut to mass-marketing. None of this really seemed to make much difference until the ’60s — the Beat Generation, Lost Generation and other epithets were coined to refer to groups of less than a hundred people, not millions.