Turing the Pages

Well, it’s certainly been a week, all right! I have been doing some outside reading for my due-any-day-now Communications 321 (Computers and Human Experience) paper about the Information Revolution. I have to tell you, reading what some “?experts’ thought was going to happen, and what some of them still think is going to happen, makes for some interesting reading. Interesting as in “May you live in interesting times” kind of interesting.

The first book I read was very easy-to-read. It was approachable in tone, rather positive and upbeat. Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation, by Don Tapscott (1999) apparently is an international bestseller of which I’d never heard of. It is a 300-odd-page work of futurism. The author questions, “What will today’s [American] children bring unto the world?”

One of the strengths of this book is that it is not written in a vacuum. Sometimes I get the feeling that authors sequester themselves in a shed out back to begin a book, and don’t surface until the first copies are rolling off the presses. Tapscott did a great deal of research (via the Internet, of course) and interviewed a great number of people, most of them being children and teenagers. This is important, not only because his book addresses the new generation that is growing up connected to the Internet, but also because the reader gets the impression that Tapscott bases some of his ideas on actually listening to young people, which could be the best way to predict their future behaviour.

One thing Tapscott predicts really hit home for me. Education, he believes, will have to change radically in order to keep up with the new reality of Internet access, cell phones, and kids capable of multi-tasking from a very young age. The industrial revolution model of education that we currently have in our bricks-and-mortar schools will go the way of the dodo bird. Tapscott thinks, among other things, that distance education (as we know it at AU) and home schooling (as most of society calls it when the students are elementary-school aged) is the low-frequency rumble that will become a sweeping avalanche. Major reforms, according to Tapscott, are coming “?- and sooner, rather than later.

Tapscott delves into many other aspects of the Net generation (he calls them the N-gen for short), their work, play, communications, learning, shopping and creating. He even discusses how the digital divide (the disparity between those with the economic wherewithal to have computers with Internet access constantly available, and those without such access) will affect the N-gen.

Perhaps especially, the N-gen differs from their Gen-X or Gen-Y parents in terms of their culture. Exposed to interactive media (as opposed to passive broadcast media, like radio and TV) for most, if not all of their lives, the N-gen needs to participate in the generation of its entertainment. No couch potatoes, these! If the N-genners are watching TV, then they’re also on their cell phones, and chatting online with friends, usually while listening to music and doing their homework. An experience, to the N-gen, isn’t an experience until it’s been shared.

Growing Up Digital is not all roses and sunshine. There are some problems coming for all of us as the world adjusts to the N-gen and their way of doing things. Tapscott, however, offers solutions to some of these problems. He is not afraid to carefully construct his arguments, show his reasoning, and address some of his opponents’ probable arguments. This book is definitely worth a look, especially if you have children you’re having trouble relating to. You may find out why, exactly.

Tapscott, D. (1999). Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies.