Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation
Publication:
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 5 Feb 1998, p. 308-319


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Tapscott, Don, Speaker
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Text
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Speeches
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Some comments from the speaker about his previous book "Paradigm Shift." The fundamental change in the nature and role of technology. Computers as a communications tool. Effects as this technology extends out into commerce, business and society. The new emerging infrastructure. A defining characteristic of the new generation. Coming of age in the digital age. Some figures to show the extent to which kids are using technology. How this is affecting kids. The effect of the web on television-watching habits. The generation lap as opposed to gap. A fundamental difference for this generation in relation to their parents. How these kids are going to affect the work force. The impact of these kids on how we learn. Examples of the use of technology in education at the K to 12 level in Ontario. The role of the teacher in this situation. The need to re-think the model of learning. Getting used to interactive learning. A discussion of blocking software. The digital divide. The suggestion that corporations should buy computers for their employees to take home, and why that is a good idea. Time for the new generation to take its rightful position in a new century.
Date of Original:
5 Feb 1998
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English
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text
Don Tapscott, Chairman, Alliance for Converging Technologies and Author
"GROWING UP DIGITAL: THE RISE OF THE NET GENERATION"
Chairman: Gareth S. Seltzer, President, The Empire Club of Canada

Head Table Guests

Logan Grant, Grade 12 Student, Toronto District Christian High School; Rev. Brian McVitty, Rector, St. Paul's on the Hill Anglican Church, Pickering; Derm Barrett, International Management Consultant, President, Management Concepts, a Corporate Director and also Author of "The Paradox Process"; Alan Hutton, President, Star Data Systems; Don Morrison, Group Vice-President, Consumer Markets, Bell Canada; Paul H. O'Donoghue, Chairman, Advisory Board, J and H Marsh & McLennan and Chairman, The Advisory Board of the School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Toronto; Steven Belchetz, Principal and Vice-President, Ernst & Young Investment Advisors; Bonnie Patterson, President, Council of Ontario Universities; and Anthony Van Straubenzee, President, Rockhaven Consulting, Partner, Insite Institute and a Past President, The Empire Club of Canada.

Introduction by Gareth Seltzer

Don Tapscott

Thank you very much for that kind introduction.

Some of you may have seen my previous book "Paradigm Shift" and I feel a little guilty. In fact I'd like to apologise for helping to create the buzzword "paradigm shift." I heard someone talking recently about how they were going to have a paradigm shift in the decoration of their living room.

Paradigm is a mental model. Paradigms set boundaries around what we think; they constrain our actions. They are often based on a set of assumptions that are so strong we don't know that they are there. For example, Europe is at the centre of the universe; the big problem in the world is communism; the purpose of computing in a large organisation is to automate existing business processes with the goal of reducing costs, specifically head count; a school is a place. Something can happen in our science, culture and technology that causes a shift to occur. That's what's happened with technology. There has been a fundamental change in the nature and role of technology. The computer is changing from being a tool for automation and managing information to becoming something much broader--a communications tool.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that we are in the early turbulent days of a revolution as significant as any other in human history. There is a new medium for human communication emerging and we need to go back to the invention of the printing press to find something similar. As this technology extends out into commerce, business and society there's a new infrastructure emerging. Just as the roads, electrical power grids and highways were the infrastructure for the old economy and industrial resource base that served Canada well for many decades, information highways delivered to you by companies like Bell Canada are becoming the infrastructure for a new kind of economy. What are they going to do? They are going to fundamentally change the nature of the firm, the way we trade wealth, the way we conduct learning and the way that we maintain social development as a society.

Those of you who have been following my work over the years know that I have been talking about the technology revolution for a couple of decades now. And then something happened. My wife and I had a couple of kids and we noticed how they seemed to be able to use computers effortlessly. At first we thought our children were prodigies and then we noticed their friends were like them. We thought how odd that all their friends were prodigies. It then occurred to us that something important was happening. A new generation was emerging. The baby boom has an echo but what the demographers have not yet said is that the echo is louder than the original; the children of the boom are the biggest generation ever.

What's a defining characteristic of this generation? We can call it the global-warming generation or the stock market-volatility generation or the post-glasnost generation but the really big thing that makes it different from our generation (the TV generation) is that these kids are the first to come of age in the digital age. They are growing up digital. Information technology is changing business, commerce, education, entertainment--every institution in society. A whole new kind of kid culture and psychology is being created, and these kids are going to dominate the 21st century. Combining this with their digital mastery I don't think there's a more powerful force for change.

To what extent are kids using technology? In Canadian homes with children, 80 per cent have video games; two-thirds of kids above the age of six growing up in Canada know how to use a computer. Almost half of Canadian homes with children have a computer and it's cool to be on-line. I worked with a company called Teenage Research Unlimited. It has researched what's "in" for children over the last couple of decades--and this is looking at teenagers. In the year 1994, 44 per cent of teenagers said it was "in" to be on-line and by last year, 1997, that had jumped up to 88 per cent. That makes being on-line in a three-way tie for what's "in" for teenagers. Do you know what the other two things are? Partying and dating. Being on-line is tied with partying and dating!

How is this affecting kids? Do you know the main victim of time spent on the Internet and the computer? I'll give you a hint. It is not playing soccer, practising the piano, doing homework or hanging out with friends. It's time spent watching television. The web is eating TV Television watching in families with children and an online access has cratered. When these kids are on-line, they are users not viewers. When they are on-line they are largely reading, they're analysing, they're evaluating, they're authenticating. When I was a kid when I saw a picture it was a picture. When these kids see a picture they have to authenticate. Who sent it to me? Is it really the person he or she said it was? Is it a software bod? Is it animation? It was sent to me by a 13-year-old cyber chick. Is that really a cyber chick or is it a 40-year-old cyber marketer? Or cyber pervert?

So this is developing a very critical generation of youngsters. In the sixties we had this generation gap where kids and parents had big differences over lifestyles and values, music and so on. It doesn't exist as much today as kids and parents get along pretty well. What we have today is not a generation gap. We have a generation lap where kids are lapping their parents on the info track. Of the 300 kids that I worked with when I was writing "Growing up Digital" 85 per cent of them knew more about computers and the Internet than both of their parents. This is creating a unique period in human history. For the first time ever children are an authority on a central innovation in society. (I was an authority on model trains when I was a kid.) Kids today are authorities on the central innovation transforming every institution in our world.

There's a youngster in Toronto whose name is Michael. He and several of his teenage colleagues from around the world created a web site called mydesktop.com. Michael and his colleagues get eight million hits a month. This makes Michael at 15 bigger than many Fortune 500 companies and many national governments. Imagine being Michael's parents. Imagine being Michael's teacher. Imagine being Michael's boss as he goes out into the work force. "Hi Michael. Welcome to the Humanic Control Enterprise. I'm your boss. A boss is someone who is an authority on everything." "Well hold it," says Michael. "I've been an authority since I was 11 ." "What we do around here Michael is we move up the corporate hierarchy, get more people reporting to us, because compensation goes up when that happens. And by the way I have some turf battles I'd like to solicit your support in fighting. I don't use a computer because we are interested in cost control and productivity." Michael is out of there. He's going to be an entrepreneur doing it himself, or else Michael and his generation are going to bring a whole new meaning to early retirement for the older generation in the work force.

These kids are going to affect the work force profoundly. They are going to affect consumption. They already have $150 billion in North America alone in direct purchasing power and another $500 billion in indirect power. There's a story in my book about an 11 and 12year-old brother and sister. They go on-line and decide the family really wants to buy a Volvo. They present all this data to their parents who don't know how to surf the net and the parents become convinced. They go on-line and they buy the car.

These kids are also going to affect everything that we know about advertising, and the brand. I personally think the brand, as an image, is in deep trouble. We won't be able to establish it just in mass communications. A brand will become much more of a relationship based on values. It is easy to say "a wash is whiter" but if it isn't these kids are going to find out. They are going on-line, they are going to be party to evaluations and discussion groups. Innovation will become central to Proctor and Gamble's success, not just marketing. And mass communication will be less effective as a way of advertising. Brand will become a relationship which is increasingly based on values.

How about the impact of these kids on how we learn? I think in Canada we have a very dumb debate underway on this issue. One extreme is people who say that there's no role for technology in the schools. At the other extreme we have people who say that technology is the answer to everything including the real challenge which is how do we get rid of teachers. Well my perspective is that both points of view are incorrect. There is a very different point of view: We have the emergence of the most powerful learning tool ever. It can change the role of the student and the teacher in the learning process. We can take teachers out of the business of lectures and broadcasting information and get them into the learning business.

Imagine someone who was frozen 400 years ago, came alive today and looked around at an engineering lab or a cockpit in a jumbo jet or a doctor in an operating theatre. He would think: "Wow has the world ever changed." Technology has been at the heart of very profound changes. If he went into a lecture hall of a typical university he'd say: "Finally something I recognise." Learning has essentially been unchanged for many years.

There are many great examples of the use of technology in education at the K to 12 level in Ontario. A school in Oakville is a wonderful example. Kids and computers there are inter-networked together. It's an alive and exciting environment. Kids are discussing things. They are very turned on to learning. Not far from there is a school where kids are learning how to clean points in cars in an auto shop. Cars don't have points any more. They have electronic ignition. At the other school shop is CAD CAM. The kids draw the class logo, they output it to an embroidery machine and output it onto a T-shirt or something like that. They are learning the new economy, the new technology and they are using the new technology for learning.

We could move to a new model, away from broadcast learning as I call it in the book, to interactive self-paced learning. One of the great educators said that the great tragedy of teaching is that every lesson taught denies a student the opportunity for discovery. Think about what you can remember from your schooldays. You remember what you discovered--a model of learning which is not one-size-fits-all but very much focused on the student as opposed to the needs of the teacher. We can move to this model if we are willing. It is a model which the research shows works.

What's the role of the teacher in this situation? Many teachers feel threatened by this, thinking that somehow this is a threat to their jobs. The irony of course is that it is the status quo that's a threat to teachers, not technology. If we don't re-invent learning for a knowledge economy and embrace these powerful new tools of learning then someone else is going to do it rather than the universities and the schools.

Now Queen's University is a good engineering school. What's the big threat to Queen's? Is it MIT? No. It's all these private-sector universities which will be delivering fabulous engineering courses any time any place on a network at one-tenth or one-hundredth of the cost and with full accreditation. They can grant degrees. The same is true for K to 12. There is a big growth in home schooling. I don't think this is the answer. Society's resources should be applied to learning, not left to the challenge of individual parents. The big problem with home schooling is that parents are not good teachers.

We need to re-think the model of learning and if we do so the role of the teacher becomes more important and more exciting. Think of your favourite teacher. What made him really wonderful was not that he was a great transmitter of information. What made him wonderful was that he inspired you, motivated you, challenged you, put things into context, and structured the learning experience. Only human beings can do that. That is a more exciting role for teachers I believe than just being in the data-transmission business.

These kids increasingly are used to interactive learning. They are not going to want to listen to a lecture. They are going to want to interact and as they go out into a knowledge economy they are going to need the critical thinking skills that come from experience in the interactive world. It is called life-long learning.

In the old economy there was a period in your life where you learned where you were. You graduated and you were set for life. These kids graduate; they won't be set for life. They'll be set for about 15 minutes and if they took a technical course half of what they learned in the first year will be obsolete by the time they get to the fourth year. They're going to have to re-invent a whole knowledge base multiple times as they go throughout life.

I personally believe that a liberal arts education is a fabulous way to equip oneself for life-long learning in a knowledge economy. Of course we need people with strong technical skills as well.

How about the family? Most parents don't even know what their kids are doing on-line. This is creating a source of conflict within many families and it needn't be. The net, rather than being a source of conflict, should be a wonderful new friend to create discussions, to negotiate a dream, to create what I call open families. Now you've got some youngsters on the net. Get to know what they are doing. Talk to them. "I hear that you can buy a car on the net." How would that work? What about planning a vacation to Whistler. "I hear you can plan a vacation and book tickets on the net." How would that work? What about pornography? "I've heard that there is smut on the net. What do we think about this? Can we negotiate an agreement in our family? I'll give you access and we can make an agreement as to what are appropriate places for you to go.

If you must you can implement blocking software on your computers. In our family we don't do this and so far it is working. We try to be good parents and just be closer to what our kids are doing. I was interviewed recently by a journalist who said: "Don, but there are always great blocking packages. Here is one that will prevent your kid from taking your credit cards and stealing $2000 from you to buy video games on the Internet." I thought about it for a second and I said: "If my kid was taking my credit card to steal $2000 from me I have a big problem and the solution is not software. The solution is I need to be a good parent. My kid needs some values. The two of us need a relationship." Use the net as an opportunity to reach out to your kids and build stronger open relationships with them.

This is a time of great opportunity but it is also a time of danger and for me one of the biggest problems is what I call in the book the "digital divide." There's a danger we'll create a world of haves and have-nots, knowers and know-nots-kids, adults eventually, who can communicate with the rest of the world and those who can't. There is a shocking graph in the book that I developed based on census data and it is a very depressing graph. It shows the United States but this is roughly true in Canada-the digital divide with kids is growing. It is not getting narrower. The top socio-economic one-third of kids has access to computers and the net in the home. The middle third are getting it over time and the bottom third is flat. Nothing is happening. By the time these kids ever get access to the net they won't be kids anymore. We can create some wounds in society that can be very hard to deal with.

The gap between the developed countries and the under-developed countries is huge and is growing. One half of the children in the world have never used telephones, let alone been on the Internet. We've launched a new campaign. Our goal is that every child five years old and older has access to the net. This can contribute to getting kids access to health care and access to proper learning and access to safety and any of the other requirements for children. As many of you are business people I'd like to make a modest proposal if I could because this is not just government's problem; it is business's problem. These are not just social or ethical issues. These are business issues. Why don't we launch a campaign in Canada to get every kid wired; get the technology into the schools? Why don't we launch a campaign to get community computer centres like the Dovercourt boys and girls club which is wonderful organisation? Do you know that in a very poor ghetto in the United States kids are laying down their weapons and quitting their gangs to join the community computer centre? But you have to do your homework first before you can surf the net.

How about this as a proposal? All of your corporations should buy computers for your employees to take home. Before you throw a bun at me think about the cost of a computer capitalised over several years compared to the cost of an employee. When the employee takes a computer home the kids will learn how to use it, the kids will teach the parents, and the fluency of your work force will go up. Now that sounds like a joke. I told that to an audience and one CEO of quite a significant company stood up and he said: "We did exactly that and the fluency did go up. Immeasurably. Not only that but we are now a really hip desirable place in which to work." So corporate America knows it and Canada just do it. Buy a computer for your employees to take home. There is a good harddollar business case to do it.

So just to wrap up. We're being lapped by our kids. When I first went on-line with the kids who helped me write my book, the "Growing Up Digital" chat moderator, a young woman of 22, said: "Please welcome Mr. Tapscott," and one of the kids typed in: "Hi dude." The moderator said: "Please don't call Mr. Tapscott 'dude."' And I said: "It's okay, my kid's call me dude." Another kid typed in: "Do you have a home page?" And I typed back: "Yes I have a home page." Before I could finish, another kid typed in: "You should check out my home page." And the words "My Home Page" were dark blue and underlined on the screened. Now those of you who have been on the web, know this kid had created a hot link, so all I had to do was take my mouse and click on My Home Page and it went to her home page. It turned out she was an 11-year-old girl. Her home page was in Seattle. She was talking to me in HTML and then it happened. She typed back in: "What's your home page?" I thought: "Oh no. I don't know how to do this." So I called the director: "Quick how do we do this?" I finally typed in: "My home page is www..." Forty-five seconds into the conversation all these kids knew that they knew more about technology than I did.

I told that story to a group of executives in the U.S. and at the end of the session the president of Coke said: "Generation lap resonates with me. Here is my story. I was home one night at seven o'clock and the phone rang. There was an adult on the line. The adult said: 'Is Sam there?"' (Sam is Jack's 13-year-old son.) Jack said: "No he's not here." And the adult said: "He is not there; well where is he?" And Jack said: "He is playing soccer. May I ask who this is?" And the adult said: "He's playing soccer; he's supposed to be at work." Jack said: "Work? Who is this?" It turned out that Sam, 13 years old, has been posing as a 28-year-old on America On-Line and he's got a job at $25 an hour monitoring chat groups. The boss was phoning up to see where Sam was. "So Sam is playing soccer. I didn't know Sam played soccer." Jack said: "Generation lap. I was wondering why he had all this disposable income."

For the first time ever children are an authority and if we listen to them we can learn. In this digital world they're creating the knowledge, the psychology and the ways of interacting, which will transform society. If we do the right thing, if we give them access to the tools of their generation, I'm confident that they will develop into the kind of leaders who can solve many of the problems that we have created or have been unable to solve.

"There's nothing so powerful as an idea that the time has come." The time has come for new kinds of economies and new ways of creating wealth and sustaining social development. The time has come for the new generation that has access to the tools of its time to take its rightful position in a new century. The time has come for each of you to find that responsible and ethical and wise person within you to be able to listen to children and do the right thing so that this smaller world that they inherit will be a better one and that they have the tools to shape the 21st century in the right direction. I will tell you one thing for sure: the next period is not going to be boring. Thank you very much.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Anthony Van Straubenzee, President, Rockhaven Consulting, Partner, Insite Institute and a Past President, The Empire Club of Canada.

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Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation


Some comments from the speaker about his previous book "Paradigm Shift." The fundamental change in the nature and role of technology. Computers as a communications tool. Effects as this technology extends out into commerce, business and society. The new emerging infrastructure. A defining characteristic of the new generation. Coming of age in the digital age. Some figures to show the extent to which kids are using technology. How this is affecting kids. The effect of the web on television-watching habits. The generation lap as opposed to gap. A fundamental difference for this generation in relation to their parents. How these kids are going to affect the work force. The impact of these kids on how we learn. Examples of the use of technology in education at the K to 12 level in Ontario. The role of the teacher in this situation. The need to re-think the model of learning. Getting used to interactive learning. A discussion of blocking software. The digital divide. The suggestion that corporations should buy computers for their employees to take home, and why that is a good idea. Time for the new generation to take its rightful position in a new century.