Critics slam the Net Generation, ranging in age from 11 to 30, saying they are hopelessly lost in their laptops and cell phones, and are chronically restless — spoilt by the glut of stimuli on the Internet. Are they the dumbest generation?
“In my view, this is the smartest generation ever,” says New York Times bestselling author Don Tapscott, who has written Grown up Digital which drills down into the thinking and behaviour of the Net Generation.
Tapscott, who has written 10 books on business and technology, says it is a misnomer that Net Gen is disinterested in politics; no longer reads and is only interested in games and blogs. He says they are collaborative and adaptable. “What do we do with this collaboration-geared generation? We stick them in a cubicle, supervise them like they’re Dilbert, and take away their tools (blocking sites like Facebook and Youtube).”
Tapscott calls this creating a generational firewall. Tapscott, a professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, talked to DNA in New York about how India would benefit greatly from its Net Generation. His book was inspired by a $4 million private research study.
Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein bemoans the decline of intellectual habits in anyone under 30 in his book The Dumbest Generation. Will Generation Y become the dumbest or the next great generation?
There is a lot of cynicism about this generation. They are net-addicted, glued to the screen, losing their social skills. The only problem with this negative view of young people is that there is little data to support it. In my view, this is the smartest generation ever.
Volunteering amongst high school and university students is at an all-time high and civic action became political which helped achieve the Obama presidency. In the US the percentage of kids that don’t do drugs or alcohol is up year over year for 15 years, IQ is up year over year for many years, university entrance exam scores are at an all-time high and it has never been tougher to get into the best universities. This is a generation we can be enormously hopeful about.
Growing up digital has changed the way this generation’s minds work in a manner that helps them cope with the challenges of the digital age. They’re used to multi-tasking, and have learned to handle the information overload. They expect a two-way conversation. What’s more, growing up digital has encouraged this generation to be active enquirers. Rather than waiting for a trusted professor to tell them what’s going on, they find out on their own on everything from Google to Wikipedia.
How does the Net Generation approach work?
Digital natives are no longer satisfied with the old corporate model of recruiting, training, supervising and retaining. Companies should adopt a new model in retaining them that is, initiate, engage, collaborate and evolve.
Net Generation employees are savvy, confident, upbeat, open-minded, creative and independent, which makes them a challenge to manage. To meet their demands for more learning opportunities and responsibility ownership, instant feedback, greater work-life balance and stronger workplace relationships, companies must alter their management approaches. Properly cultivated, this generation’s attributes will be a source of
innovation to the organisation.
Employers can refuse to adapt to the Net Geners, stick to their old hierarchies, and reinforce the generational firewall that separates the managers from the newly hired. But if they do, they will forfeit the chance to learn from the Net Geners — to absorb both their mindset and their tools of collaboration. Instead, I think the winners will be those companies that choose to embrace the Net Geners’ collaborative ways.
Net Geners can help companies to win, period. Our research shows that companies that selectively and effectively embrace Net Gen norms perform better than those who don’t. I am convinced that the Net Gen culture is the new culture of work.
Let me also say that companies shouldn’t ban Facebook or other social networks. Figure out how to harness them. New tools like wikis, blogs, social networks, jams, telepresence, tags, collaborative filtering, and RSS feeds can be the heart of the new high-performance workplace. Rethink management processes and design jobs and work for collaboration. Give the Net Geners a
chance to put collaborative tools to good use — for example by joining one of the company’s volunteering efforts.
Do Net Geners watch less television that their parents? How will their preference for New Media affect print media companies and TV networks?
Today’s youth are the first generation to grow up “bathed in bits,” and as a result their brains are actually different. How young people spend their time during extended adolescence 8-18 is the number one predictor what their brains will be like. This is the time when the human brain gets built. Wiring and synaptic connections of the brain, and if you spend 24 hours a week watching television, like my generation did, you get a certain kind of brain. If you, on the other hand, spend an equivalent amount of time with digital technologies being the user, the actor, the collaborator, the initiator, the organiser, that gives you a different kind of brain as well.
When I was a kid growing up in a small town, there were three television stations, a small-town library, one newspaper and a couple of magazines that interested me. Today’s youth in the US have access to 200-plus cable TV networks, 5,500 magazines, 10,500 radio stations, and 40 billion Web pages. In addition, there are 22,000 books published every year; 240 million television sets in operation, and there are even two million TV sets in bathrooms.
This generation has been flooded with information and learning to access, sort, categorise, and remember it all has enhanced their intelligence. They customise their media. Most kids watch their
favourite TV shows when they want to rather than at the time of broadcast. With YouTube, television networks run the risk of becoming quaint relics. The industry will still produce programming, but where and when the programming is watched will be up to the viewer.
You have pointed out that there are twice as many Indian Net Geners as there are Indian boomers. How will this impact India?
The impact will be enormous. Around the world this generation is flooding into the workplace, marketplace, and every niche of society. These youth are bringing their demographic muscle, media smarts, purchasing power, new models of collaborating and parenting, entrepreneurship, and political power into the world. This will be particularly true of India, and I would encourage leaders of government, businesses and educational institutions to strive to understand this generation as best they can. They should a) read the book, and b) talk to young people.