The Social Implications of Technology for
the Net Generation
September 26, 2000
This review and analysis of Tapscott's Growing Up
Digital was prepared in conjunction with OMDE 603, Distance Education
Technologies. It was the first time the author had applied critical
thinking about technology to a book that had been on the best seller
also led the author to discover Neil Postman's writings, which are
of significant importance in understanding alternative points of
In Tapscott's Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation (1998),
he argues that digital media has radically altered the attitudes, values,
behaviors, development and methods of communication of the generation born
after 1976. While the Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964 were brought
up on television, the Net Generation's access to emerging communications
methods allows its members to go beyond being passive viewers to become
active participants in changing the way people, society, and institutions
In support of the importance of the digital media to the Net Generation,
Tapscott (1998) makes several important observations.
1. The Net Generation exhibits clear differences from the television
generation. Its members are highly flexible, curious, assertive, innovative,
and accepting of diversity. They thrive on collaboration and have a mindset
of immediacy. They think in more conceptual (as opposed to linear) ways.
2. The generation "lap" has replaced the generation gap. Children
are outpacing and overtaking adults on the technology track. For the first
time, children are the authorities on technology, which they see not in
terms of the mechanics of how it works but in terms of the communications
3. The Net Generation culture is one of interaction, based on communities
and relationships. For them, the Internet is an open communications system,
which allows them to develop social skills earlier in life and to become
more versatile in their ability to multi-task.
4. Learning for the Net Generation is interactive and participatory.
In contrast to the historical "broadcast" type of learning experienced
by Baby Boomers and previous generations, the Net Generation learns from
its interactions with others. Learning tends to be nonsequential, based
on multi-tasking in a hypermedia environment (Tapscott, 1999). Teachers
no longer share facts with their students, but serve instead as motivators
5. Playing on the Internet is productive and creative. While some have
expressed concerns about increased violence and Internet addiction, Tapscott
(1998) believes that gender games, mild flirtation, community-building
activities, and development of friendships across geographical boundaries
are positive signs for the Net Generation. They are "hungry for expression
and self-discovery" (Tapscott, 1999).
6. The Net Generation is increasingly driving commerce. Members of the
Net Generation want options, customization, and function. They want to
be able to try products out before they purchase and to be able to change
their minds if they make mistakes.
7. At work, members of the Net Generation will tend to be more open,
collaborative, innovative, and investigative. They will more willingly
with each other, serve as mentors, and judge others based on their contributions
to the enterprise rather than on traditional notions of authority.
In summary, Tapscott believes that the Net Generation's ideology will
transform the 21st century. Political changes will develop from the
need to interact and to control their own destinies, transforming the "broadcast" democracy
to the "interactive" democracy (Tapscott, 1998, p. 301).
Alternative Points of View
Legitimate concerns have been expressed about the Net Generation's involvement
with digital media and particularly with the Internet.
1. The digital divide is still long and deep. Despite the growth in Internet
usage, there are still Net "have-nots, know-nots, and do-nots" (Tapscott,
1998, p. 255). While the digital revolution has the potential to improve
everyone's lives, it could also tear society into two. Although the growth
in the percentage of homes that own personal computers has grown substantially
in recent years, this is much less true in countries outside the United
2. The Internet can be dangerous. Although America Online and other Internet
service providers have implemented controls over what children and teenagers
can find and see on the Internet, the faceless nature of the Net still
puts children at risk from predators and other types of violence. Some
have argued that by focusing on the more sensational aspects of children's
and teenagers' lives, we emphasize a small number of incidences at the
expense of the more positive aspects of the Internet (Tell, 1999). Nevertheless,
for many people even one example of a pedophile interacting with a child
is too many.
3. The value or usefulness of Internet information is not necessarily
obvious. Postman (1992) argues forcefully against our growing reliance
and the surrender of culture to technology, which he terms "technopoly" or
the "deification of technology" (Postman, 1992, p. 71). In a
technopoly, technology provides a lot of information, without controls
over that information.
While Postman (1992) and others have bemoaned the growing reliance on
electronic technology, the great majority of human interaction taking
place on the
Internet is in the form of the written word (Tapscott, 1998). Tapscott's
enthusiasm for the Net Generation's new values, interactions, and communications
may at times seem boundless. Yet for many children and teenagers, communicating
via the Internet has afforded them the opportunity to learn to communicate
with others across the globe in a text format. Even Postman admits that
the "best way to understand a culture is to examine its tools for
conversation" (1985, p. 8).
Brodsky, N. H. (1998, March/April). Learning from learners, Internet
style. Educom Review, 33 (2). Retrieved September 21, 2000 on the
World Wide Web
Postman, N. (1985). Amusing ourselves to death: public disclosure
in the age
of show business. New York: Penguin Books.
Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology.
Toronto: Random House of Canada.
Tapscott, D. (1998). Growing up digital: The rise of the net generation.
New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.
Tapscott, D. (1999, February). Educating the Net generation. Educational
Leadership, 56, (5), 6-11. Retrieved September 21, 2000 from MdUSA
database (ERIC) on the
World Wide Web at http://mdusa.lib.umd.edu [2000, September 21].
Tell, Carol (1999, December). Generation what? Connecting with
today's youth. Educational Leadership, 57 (4), 8-13. Retrieved
21, 2000 from MdUSA
database (ERIC) on the World Wide Web at http://mdusa.lib.umd.edu.