Electronic Portfolio: Academic Writings


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 lists. It also led the author to discover Neil Postman's writings, which are of significant importance in understanding alternative points of view about technology.


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 interact.


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, self-reliant, 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 it permits.

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 and facilitators.

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 share knowledge 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 new generation's 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 States.

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 on technology 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 at http://www.educause.edu/pub/er/review/reviewArticles/33214.html.

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 September 21, 2000 from MdUSA database (ERIC) on the World Wide Web at http://mdusa.lib.umd.edu.