A digital generation?

Much has been said, often in this space, about the Net Generation, and how their digital upbringing has instilled in them a different set of values and norms. That’s all well and good (ok, maybe not… see below), except, for the possibility that – perhaps – the “Net Gen” isn’t quite as “Net” as we often think. Or so go the findings of a just released study by Ipsos Reid. Entitled “Inter@ctive Teens: The Impact of the Internet on Canada’s Next Generation,” the report highlights some rather interesting findings that may in fact dispell the belief that N-Geners are “Internet-savvy, constantly-wired early adopter(s).”

Fun books.

The report notes that:

  • “12 to 17 year olds spend, on average, only 13 hours per week on the Internet (compared to a weekly average of 19 hours for online adults), and that number has not increased since Ipsos last measured online teen behaviour in 2004.”

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  • “Slightly more than one-quarter (28%) of online teens consider themselves to be very skilled or expert. Another one-quarter (24%) admit to not being skilled in the use of the Internet, with the remaining teens identifying themselves as fairly skilled”.
  • “While adults are going to a multitude of different websites for a variety of online activities, teens are focused mainly on websites that allow them to socialize, download music, or play games.”

So what does this leave us to believe about this generation? Are they really the digital captains of today’s world?

Over the past couple of months I’ve increasingly questioned this assumption, in large part because nearly every one I talk to who is leading activities in the Web 2.0 space is, alas, not a N-Gener but rather a Gen Xr. I’m not alone in thinking this either. Author Jeff Gordinier agrees, having penned “X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking.” In it he points out that today’s networked era has in large part been shaped and developed by Gen Xrs, perhaps allowing them to “trump boomer narcissism and millenial entitlement.”

We’re thus left to wonder how accurate the generational segments we’ve created really are. Gen Xrs were lazy but are now leaders. N-Geners were digital natives and bathed in bits but are now kind of like Gen Xrs were, but with the Internet… kind of makes you wonder about all the hype we throw on today’s youth. Sure they’re voting and using viral campaigns to make change but is that really that different than the late 60’s/early 70’s anti-war movement? It too was led by students who wanted change but they didn’t have the Net, nor mobile phones, nor Facebook.

And so I’m left to conclude that this type of generational segmentation is in fact completely incorrect and what we should be doing is looking at how we operate at different life stages. And while it’s likely true that thanks to technology today’s youth are wired differently then their predecessors, I’m of the opinion that what matters more is the confluence of specific life stages with specific events that galvanize action.