Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ The Net Gen Myth

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Aug 15, 2006

Responding to Norm Friesen, E-Learning Myth #1: The "Net Gen" Myth

The major case againt the 'Net Gen Myth' is stated in Livingstone, Bober & Helsper, 2005. However, while the authors (such as Tapscott) describe the 'Net Gen' in terms of behaviours (as you say, "personal, multifunctional, wireless, multimedia, [and] communication-centric") the Livingstone, Bober & Helsper study responds to skills or capacities. These are two very different things.

Additionally, the Livingstone, Bober & Helsper methodologically suspect, dividing internet skills into two categories, embracing 'opportunities' and avoiding 'risks'. It is not clear (and not argued) that the opportunities listed are in fact opportunities, nor is it clear that the dangers are dangers. The latter category, in fact, is made up exclusively of access to pornography, revealing information, and having friends.

This does not undermine the main argument of the section, which is to suggest that the net generation is not defined by age group alone. It is in fact defined by access, and hence, will not line up exactly with age.

But is this the myth, that the net generation is not defined exclusively by age? I cannot think of any proponent of the theory who would explicitly say so, nor certainly would they when pressed with questions about, say, net gen behaviours in the developing world.

That said, the definitions used in the Livingstone, Bober & Helsper study mask what constitutes net gen behaviour, even among those classified as being on the wrong side of the digital divide in this section. Access to mobile phones, for example, is near ubiquitous, even in the developing world, and therefore it is reasonable to suggest that associated net gen behaviours - such as 'thumbing' and 'txting' - would be found worldwide, as would related attitudes - such as 'connectivity' and 'self organization'.

Does it therefore that the conclusion is false, that we should not believe that "It is important to address significant inequalities in use, understanding, and facility associated with these new technologies, rather than simply painting all students with the same brush."

Of course not. This remains true. It has probably always been seen as true, save among the most pedagogically naive.

I would be more interested in seeing whether access to technology increases or decreases the differences between children of the privileged and children of the poor.

Compare, for example, the life of the child of a New York doctor with the life of, say, a Colombian orphan. If any such studies were conducted prior to the use of the internet, we can then compare those results with results from today, in the internet age (and for fun, with what the results look like when free interenet access is provided to both children).

My belief is that these children would be less dissimilar today, and that this dissimilarity can be traced to the permeation of 'net gen culture' into their two lives respectively.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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