posted 4 Mar 2009 in Volume 12 Issue 5
Book review: How the net generation is changing the world
Author: Don Tapscott
On a bright, cold winter day – the one offering the shortest daylight hours – I sat down to take a close look at Don Tapscott’s latest book: grown up digital, with the sub-head: how the net generation is changing your world (note all lower case).
Having been schooled years ago on how to handle a new book, I opened it at a midpoint and gently pushed the pages back from the centerfold. Immediately a sketch by a 22-year-old Canadian captioned “A net gener’s perfect work space” caught my attention. As the artist described, “My ideal environment. In the middle of nowhere doing everything via satellite… ” In this drawing, several small buildings sit behind a row of pine trees and in front of towering mountains. A ragged line connects a satellite dish to a crude representation of an orbiting satellite.
I couldn’t help but lift my eyes off the page and look out of the window in front of me, across the fields to the high barn with the mountains rising behind, and sigh. My partner is in his 70s and I am in my 60s, yet this net gener’s “perfect work space” was where we choose to live and work. I then read the pages around the photo that described net generation norms and the transformation of work. Concepts like freedom (to work when and where you want, to enjoy work and family life, to try new jobs); customisation (my job, my life); scrutiny (no secrets anymore) [the transparency forwarded by Obama?]; integrity; collaboration; entertainment (work should be fun); speed (let’s make things happen, now); and innovation. Hmmm.
The idea began to form that all the changes Tapscott identifies aren’t as much about the new generation as they are about co-evolving with a changing environment, regardless of age. Perhaps these shifts are not a phenomenon of their age, but of the age. There are those of us who immerse ourselves in interactive digital technologies, whether that is scanning the internet or challenging our children and grandchildren in the latest video game. And yes, there are those of us baby boomers who ache when we can’t check our e-mails or favourite blogs a dozen times a day.
Oh, my! I just read, “The boomers typically go from beginning to end… reading the instructions before working the remote control… ” Sure can’t identify with this, and for this review didn’t read Tapscott’s book sequentially either. Still, having now scanned the book –catching all the visuals, heads and subheads, and reading sections that engaged my interest, then going back and repeating that process to see what was missed – I’ve pretty much caught the essence of this material. Yes, grown up digital is an impressive book and builds well on Tapscott’s earlier work. It is worth the read and keeping on your bookshelf, whether your learning approach is front-to-back or scanning those parts pertinent to your interest.
Tapscott has done an august job of surveying more than 11,000 young people globally to discover how the brain of the net generation processes information (who I contend are representative of the way any individual co-evolving with this environment processes information). Just as impressive is Tapscott’s willingness to learn from his own kids, modeling his passionate call for business leaders to learn from them and act. David and I agree with Tapscott that this is how we can prepare our world for a better future.
Tapscott’s description of the net generation brain is certainly consistent with what we are learning from neuroscience research. Several pertinent points come to mind. We now know that the brain’s plasticity allows it to change throughout life, and from epigenetics we’ve discovered we can significantly influence our learning and adaptive capability. We also know that genes are not destiny, but rather the way genes are expressed and guide what we become, what we are capable of doing.
Through aging research we know that learning can continue throughout life, as long as we exercise our minds and bodies. This means that anyone (or everyone) can learn, grow and adapt to the changes and potentialities of our world regardless of age.
There is substantial reference material in this text for leaders and managers as Tapscott focuses on the net generation as learners, as members of the workforce, as consumers and as family members. And each chapter throughout the book ends with pragmatic 2.0 tips and guidelines. Tapscott clearly taps into the shift of focus from what he calls rigid hierarchy (what I call bureaucracy to differentiate it from the social learning platform of hierarchy) to collaboration, with the individual as part of a self-organising social network (often global in nature) bringing together diverse experiences, beliefs and ideas.
Part Three of this text brings us to the present and future, focusing on the social networks and citizen engagement of Obama’s rise to the US Presidency. Then there is a focus on making the world a better place – at ground level, with lots of real, short examples presented with enough context to make sense out of them.
In his final pages Tapscott confirms the assertion in his earlier book that this generation will change the world. “Not only are the kids alright, but as a generation they are poised to transform every institution of society – for the better.”
Even if we’re optimistic and have had a gut feel that this is the case, surfacing from the rigor of Tapscott’s study, these are powerful words to hear. Thank you, Don Tapscott. The proof is there. The net generation is a generation learning together, unified like no other, and seeking to protect the planet, as are all of us who choose to co-evolve with our world.
Alex and David Bennet are proprietors of Mountain Quest Institute, US. Contact: email@example.com