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Web 2.0 Journal Book Review: Grown Up Digital by Don Tapscott

This book may offer policy makers in my part of the world a guide to how they can slowly change

If you have read the book "Wikinomics" by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, then you should not miss this new book "Grown Up Digital" by Don Tapscott.  Ten years ago, the same author wrote a book entitled "Growing Up Digital" - and, this book is a sequel and traces how the Net-Geners have evolved.

The book was inspired by a US$4M project "The Net Generation: a Strategic Investigation" started by the company "New Paradigm" founded by the author and funded by large companies. With a survey of 11,000 young people, this book looks at the new generation who have literally grown up digital, a cultural phenomenon characterized by a few things they do: (1) texting friends, (2) downloading music, (3) uploading videos, (4) watching shows on YouTube, and (5) communicating via social networking platforms such as MySpace and Facebook. If you are a practitioner of social media or a policy maker involved in crafting new policies for the net generation, this might just be the book to read to understand the trends and strategies in the realms of education, citizen activism and parenting.

So, here is my review of this interesting treatise.

The balance between the naysayers and the optimists

Tapscott started off the book with the dark side of the net generation which includes cynical, skeptical and negative observations from academics, journalists and pundits: (i) The net generation are dumber than we were at their age, (ii) They're screeagers, Net addicted losing their social skills and they have no time for sports or healthy activities, (iii) They have no shame - the Lolita effect, (iv) Because their parents have coddled them, they are adrift in the world and afraid to choose a path, (v) They steal - i.e. violate intellectual property rights, downloading music, swapping songs or sharing anything on a P2P network, (vi) They're bullying friends online, (vii) They're violent, (viii) They have no work ethic and will be bad employees, (ix) This is the latest narcissistic "me" generation and lastly, (x) they don't give a damn. Throughout the book, Tapscott tries to take each one of these issues head on at the end of the book with a more balanced perspective. What I believe, the author is not try to show a dichotomy but rather the spectrum of attributes (both positive and negative) for the Net generation. At the end of the book, Tapscott recommends some solutions to engage the Net Generation and one lesson does stood up: engagement with the young generation rather exerting authortiy and control.

Politics 2.0

One of the things that has not been documented very well in the mainstream media for the US Presidential elections 2008 is how the Obama campaign has utilised the internet for vote canvassing and fundraising. In this book, they documented how Chris Hughes, the co-founder of Facebook left and joined the Obama campaign as the director of online organizing. Instead of using tradition internet techniques such as email, Hughes adopted social networks and also built a social networking site known as my.barackobama.com to build support, hold ralllies and raise money and also allow supporters to post blogs and organize themselves into groups for canvassing votes and fundraising. In this book, Tapscott also narrated why the Obama campaign has succeeded what the Dean campaign did not do in 2004. One interesting takeaway is that it challenges how government will engage the citizens in the formulation of public policy, and they brought up the interesting E-Petitions platform which was done in the UK since 2006.

Characteristics of the Net Gen - 8 Net Gen Norms

Through the research data, the author characterize the norms of the net generation that may give some indication to how the family, workplace, markets, learning, education, politics and society will have to adapt and change with them. In the middle part of the book, he listed these 8 norms: (1) They want freedom in everything they do from freedom of choice to freedom of expression, (2) They love to customize and personalize, (3) They are the new scrutinizers, (4) They look for corporate integrity and openness when deciding what to buy and where to work, (5) The Net Gen wants entertainment and play in their work, education and social life, (6) They are the collaboration and relationship generation, (7) The Net Gen has a need for speed and not just in video games, (8) They are the innovators. From here to the rest of the book, the author tries to flash up more examples and numbers and discuss the trends emerging from this net-generation.

Of course, for a reader like myself in Asia, the first criticism I have is that the dataset is constructed based on a North America population. Even in one part of the book, where the author brought up an example based on Shenzhen in China, it will be interesting if their research extends to different parts of Asia, Europe and Middle East. Particularly in the politics and the workplace, the net generation in these countries that I observe from day to day don't really adhere to some of the examples. For example, in Asia, a lot of people gains knowledge via rote-learning, and hence that also translates to how they work and think in net generation. We see more copying rather than innovating in the process, and if you want examples, from the Back Dorm boys to the clones of Web 2.0 in China. However, this book may offer policy makers in my part of the world to how they can slowly change their attitudes with an emerging net generation.

All in all, it is an interesting read and provides some guidance to how e-engagement is done in the process. I do recommend the book to anyone looking to understand and engage those who have grown up digital.

More Stories By Bernard Leong

Bernard Leong is currently the chief operating officer for SENATUS Pte Ltd, focusing on online networking with offline relevancy. He also invests, seeds and incubates interactive digital media start-ups in Singapore as a partner of Thymos Capital.

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