by Don Tapscott (McGraw Hill, 2009)
This book follows up on Growing Up Digital, which I never read, and is by the author of Wikinomics, which I did read and found a bit dated (at least, I wanted to know whether all those predictions had come to pass). In Grown Up Digital, Tapscott examines the many ways Net Geners, as he calls the folks who were between 11 and 31 when he was writing the book, are different from the Baby Boomers (his generation, and mine) in particular, and also the Gen Xers and Millennials. He lists eight characteristics common to the Net Generation (devotion to freedom as opposed to chaining oneself to the first job one gets; customization (individualizing everything), scrutiny (of marketing ploys, political promises, etc.), integrity (demanding it of people, corporations, and politicians), collaboration, entertainment (wanting products and jobs to have an element of fun), speed (insistence on efficiency and instant responses), and innovation. Then he proceeds to look at how this super-connected generation has changed/is changing/will change education, the workplace, the marketplace (Net Geners as consumers/prosumers, cf. Wikinomics), the family, and politics (Barack Obama had just beaten Hillary Clinton in the presidential primaries leading up to the 2008 election but had not yet been elected President when Tapscott was writing the book).
For me, the most interesting chapter may have been the one on family. Here, the realities of the Baby Boom generation (extreme conflict with their parents over politics, music, fashion, and sex resulting in impatience to break free of family ties and move out of the family home as soon as possible) are contrasted with the friendlier, less hierarchical relationships between Net Geners and their Baby Boom parents, who democratized the family but are now having second thoughts when their kids don’t want to move out–because, as Tapscott points out several times in the book, they don’t need to leave home to find freedom; they have freedom at home. Boomers think there must be something wrong with young adults who are not anxious to move out of their parents’ house; Tapscott finds this reluctance to leave rather charming, and in part a response to the more democratic family structure initiated by the Boomers who did not want to boss their children around the way they had been bossed around. They just assumed their kids would move out on schedule, but in many cases, it isn’t happening. Net Geners are not embarrassed about liking their parents, who in many cases have hovered over them all their lives. It’s a whole different dynamic, but as Tapscott points out, not necessarily a bad one. He made me reconsider my unexamined opinion that living at home after college is bad.
My complaints are (again) poor editing (I sometimes found more than one mistake in the same paragraph!) and unnecessary length due to a lot of repetition. Maybe publishers just want a book to be at least a certain length (I heard this somewhere about TED eBooks, which are not afraid to be short). I could have done without all the repetition, but then again, it probably helps me to remember what I read. The text contains little snippets (like pop-ups on a web page) and longer snippets that relate vaguely to the content on the page, which were distracting to my linear Baby Boomer brain; Tapscott mentions how Net Geners may not read a lot of books but are expert at gleaning what they need by jumping through a book without reading everything, as you often have to do when reading a webpage. I must admit I could not do this with a book! I feel constrained to read the whole thing; otherwise, I wouldn’t feel I had actually read it. But this book made me realize that this might just be silly.
Like Wikinomics, the book (already five years old) probably needs updating, but in this case I felt like it opened my mind to see this cohort (including my students and my daughter’s contemporaries) in a whole new light. Tapscott believes Net Geners really can change the world for the better if we accept them with an open mind and grant them the opportunity to do so. After reading the book, I can see how this may be so.