By Shana Rosenberg

    Donald Tapscott, in his book Growing up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation, discusses how the generation born in the years 1977-1997 are of a markedly different type than any of the generations born before it. He attributes much of these differences to the effects of rapid computerization. It is a wonderfully optimistic book that on first glance makes one feel very good about these youth which will soon be in positions of societal leadership.

    More than ever before, households with children have computers sitting on desktops for everyone to use. Tapscott claims that in 1997, over 60% of households with children had a computer. These children are using computers for everything from schoolwork to games to communicating with others. And in using these computers they are being changed in ways that will make them better workers, leaders, and members of the world society.

    So what are these kids like? Apparently they have a greater acceptance of diversity, whether this be cultural, physical, or simply in differences of opinion. They are a very curious generation and like to seek out new bits of knowledge to add to their "collection" of things to know and talk about. These kids show a great deal of assertiveness and self-reliance. All of these put together allow them to be more critical of the information that is fed to them through static mediums such as television or print. They will go out and verify information and determine its accuracy themselves and not automatically trust the adults or other kids around them. They have high self-esteem because of their reliance on themselves and their own abilities. In general, Tapscott describes these kids as being everything that adults would like themselves to be as they go through life in their relationships and careers.

    It is apparently because of how these kids are using computers, and specifically the internet, that these kids have these incredibly positive traits. Through their use of the internet, with its pervasive web pages, chat lines, email, and games, they are able to communicate with each other and with adults in ways that have never before been possible. How does their experience with internet interaction change them?

  • People meet without seeing each other's physical appearances, so this is one aspect that can not be used to judge a person. Therefore, usually, on the internet you only have someone else's words and ideas to judge someone on. This is exactly how we would all like it to be in the "real" world, and it seems these kids are carrying this away from the net into their everyday lives.
  • Adults on the net communicating with these kids often do not know they are speaking to someone traditionally lower than them in the power structure and so treat them with the respect they would treat another adult. This serves to have the kids treated solely on their own merit by adults, something which raises their self esteem and confidence level.
  • So much information is immediately available, especially to these kids because of their experience with searching out specific information on the net. In this way they are able to find out what sources information is coming from and critically judge it for accuracy. They are developing problem solving and critical thinking skills in this way that the public schools can only dream of helping to develop on their own.
  • Much of the internet (email, chat lines, MUDS) is about interacting with other people. The experience these kids get in successfully communicating with others, without the worry that they will come to physical harm, is invaluable practice for social interaction in their everyday world.

    Certainly these and other aspects of internet usage are helping to shape these kids into a very positive soon to be adult. Already many of these kids have placed themselves into the adult world as consumers, workers, and teachers.

    Indeed it is as teachers that these kids are shining so brightly right from the start. Often they find themselves in situations where the adults around them, such as parents and teachers, must rely on them for the information they hold about the new computer technology such as the internet. Occasionally this causes conflict when an adult feels threatened by a switch in the power dynamic: to be the student instead of the teacher. For the most part, however, these kids are showing how valuable their assets already are to the adults around them.

    Already these children are presenting themselves as a consumer force. Purchasing on the internet has led them to expect products to be customized and sold directly to them. The world of the future may see manufacturing of a product be made to order, such as Dell Computers has already based their inventory and selling model on. More and more companies will most likely develop this model since consumers of the future, the N-Generation, will only expect this as standard operating procedure for items such as computers, cars, clothes, and other high priced goods.

  :  And what about these kids as workers? Many are already in their own businesses as web designers, programmers, and other technically related positions. They are hard working because they gain inner satisfaction from the tasks they have been put to (often put to these tasks by themselves). They will not put up with the traditional corporate structure of management having full decision power over their actions, since they are used to collaborating now in teams over the net for schoolwork and community projects. In fact, many of these kids will be entrpreneurs simply because the move to flatter organizations will be too slow for them, and they will be bursting with their own ideas.

    These kids are also showing themselves to be concerned about the world around them. They get together on and off the net to help with social issues such as keeping the environment clean and to be active in their communities. They make web pages to advertise their viewpoints or to start petitions. They use email to organize meeting times for their activism. And what is most exciting is simply that they really care about someone besides themselves. They have an understanding like very few generations before them that they need to take care of each other and the world, and not just themselves.

    Hard working, bursting with positive traits of curiosity, self-reliance, and independence, full of ideas...and all because of the use they make of computers and the affect computers have had on society as a whole. But does Tapscott have anything to say about the problem of gender conflict, or the poverty that prevents many from being a part of a wired world?

    It does seem that in the book he glosses over gender differences to focus on how well kids communicate due to their use of the net. In a 300+ page book there are a total of perhaps 5 pages on gender differences and conflict, and the majority of this is on how boys are more likely to play video games than girls. This is an important issue in society that has not gone away, and from our personal experience with children, is one that is not going away in the near future either. How men and women will interact is often based on how boys and girls interact, and this interaction is happening on the net as well as in everyday life.

    On a related note, the book also did not adequately address how these kids are going to deal with the conflict created by them as they teach adults that are going to not wish those traditionally inferior to them in the power structure to be telling them what to do. This also extends to the management/worker struggle sure to ensue in the future since these types of corporate structures are not going to disappear over night. Instead of being a transforming enthusiastic hard-working force in the workplace, these kids could find themselves labelled as difficult to work with and put in the unemployment line. That is the worst case scenario of course, but it did seem this issue was glossed over, and the solution was placed solely in the hands of today's society. In effect, we as a whole must change for these kids.

    However Tapscott had a great deal to say about those children in our country and others who are not able to be a part of the N-Generation due to the "digital divide", as he put it. He is quite concerned that these kids will not be able to compete with those who are wired because they will not have developed the skills that will be neccessary for an increasingly technological world. Also these kids simply won't have what it takes to compete even if they were to later develop these skills because their minds won't be able to grasp certain types of activity that will come naturally to the N-Gen adults.

    Therefore, Tapscott claims, it is important to bring together communities to give these children that are too poor access to computers and the internet. Everyone should learn these skills in order to be able to function effectively in the coming wired planet.

    In general we thought that Tapscott's ideas about the N-Generation were right on target. As you will read in our criticisms however, some touched upon slightly here, we are not sure if these are due solely to the massive computerization that has taken place. We also are concerned that the problems that will certainly crop up due to these kids having a different way of thinking was not fully addressed. And finally, to so completely gloss over one of the most pervasive issues on the planet, our difficulties with the differences between men and women, is not doing this generation justice. However, it is pleasing to read that it is not just the kids we come into contact with that seem to have a more concerned, independent outlook on life, but indeed it may be an entire generation of children. Such positive traits grouped together, even among the natural human frailities that exist, are sure to be a transforming force in some way.

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All images used on these pages were either created by the group or are licensed Clipart.
This project was produced for Psy 380, Social Psychology of Cyberspace, Spring 1999,  at Miami University.

Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA). Last revised: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 17:34:51.   This document has been accessed 1  times since 1 May 1999. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman