Digital? Social? Are today’s Youth Different?

As faithful readers know, I have for the past few months now been contemplating (and yes, arguing against) this notion that today’s youth are “digital natives” in any sense that makes them fundamentally different from any other generation of youth. Including my generation. I don’t see how the access to electronic tools has changed their fundamental humanity, and their nature as humans. I was recently reminded of these thoughts when again reading Cole Camplese’s blog (and I HIGHLY recommend it!) with the entry “We Know This – Kids are Digital.” Even more to the point, the blog entry that encouraged him to write is found at GigaOM, with the entry “Facebook & Mobile: Teens Can’t Live Without ‘Em” nails the subject dead-on. Today’s youth are highly social, and they now rely significantly on their social tools du jour to stay connected.

As you may recall, I wrote that teens today are social animals, and not that different from the teens of the past that used ice cream parlours, soda counters, and the mall as their means of socializing. In fact,in his presentation at the Penn State Teaching and Learning with Technology 2007 Symposium, Lee Rainie mentioned that in fact most youth today don’t write, or network, or create, for the world to consume.  He believes most do it for their friends, and their small connected groups.

Unfortunately, many of today’s youth are engaged in translating their analog life pursuits into digital ones without necessarily understanding the potentially broad audience.  Many stories have been written in various business journals about companies “googling” prospective employees, or checking their facebook and pages.  And the young job-seekers  being surprised when they are confronted with what they themselves posted for the world!  This was made more clear to me in recent discussions over at the Community College Dean’s blog.  On his blog in his “ask an administrator” feature, he was specifically asked (among other things) about whether a Department Chair should reveal that they have found, and are reading, pseudonymous postings by several grad students.  The Chair was actually concerned that the students might feel they are being spied upon!  Is it spying if you write for all the world to read?

(SIDE QUESTION) Question:  Are today’s youth truly “tech saavy” if they don’t understand the world-wide nature of the World Wide Web?

So where do I take this post?  Is this simply a rehash of old thoughts?  No–that would be silly.  I ran across another blog entry over at “Own Your Own Brand!” In this post the author talks about how Mom was significantly networked in her own “social setting” of Small Town USA.  It’s a great story, and I don’t want to re-tell it here.  Honestly, I think you all will enjoy reading it, so go check it out.

There are great lessons the writer draws from this though–lessons that I think perhaps can be applied to our activities both in the “digital space” as well as in our “real” space.  To summarize the points:

  • Secrets don’t last long
  • Connected is better than disconnected
  • Truthful consistency is the best policy

Now imagine if we encouraged everyone in their personal “flesh and blood” activities, and their zero-and-one life, to remember these three things.

Mom is linked.  And so are we.