Academic journal article Nebula

Why the Google Generation Will Not Speak: The Invention of Digital Natives

Academic journal article Nebula

Why the Google Generation Will Not Speak: The Invention of Digital Natives

Article excerpt

Searing social criticism is diverting, even ideologically titillating, but it frequently turns out to be sloppy social science, leaving us unprepared to reckon with some of the changes now upon us. (1)

Grant McCracken

Popular cultural intellectuals have not served us well in this decade of user-generated content, blogs, podcasts, citizen journalists and Google. Indeed, while Grant McCracken critiqued Neil Postman, doubting the efficacy of 'searing social criticism,' he validated the work of pseudo-intellectual-journalist-experts-commentators like Stephen Johnson and soundbite phrases like 'the long tail.' While social criticism may not always cause change in consciousness or culture, the chances are that it is more effectively theorized than the work of those commentators currently enthused by the supposedly enabling relationship between technology and democracy.

This paper is not framed by social science, sloppy or rigorous. Neither is it aimed at preparing corporations, schools or universities with 'managing change.' Instead this collaborative article is a snapshot, a dialogue, and an exploration of the perils and problems of summoning an authentic voice of 'youth,' the 'Google Generation' or the 'Digital Natives.'

The reason for this discussion hovers around this photograph.


The four writers of this article had the opportunity to speak at Gartner's Portals, Content and Collaboration Summit, held in September 2008. Tara Brabazon delivered a keynote address. Grantley Greene, Abigail Purdy and Zanna Dear were asked to 'represent' their age group and speak as 'Digital Natives.' In other words, Brabazon--as a 39 year old Generation Xer--was granted authority to speak as a scholar, representing more than her age. Greene, Purdy and Dear were selected to speak about their age. Certainly the event was positive and Gartner was correct to target this technological / generational issue as worthy of discussion; visions and sounds are proliferated through blogs, MySpace, YouTube and podcasts. A Daily Mail headline shrieks "Social websites harm a child's brain." (2) Yet such neo-Lombrosian arguments are presented as fact. There is a marginalization of information literacy.

This panel was important, and perhaps not for the reasons considered by Gartner. It captured the gaps in social science and research and development. The last ten years has seen one more generation of young people who have been taken to represent a wider societal fear. One problem is youth is an invention, a category that is empty of definitive meanings and interpretations. It can be filled with the required agendas and discourses of a time. There are many organizations and individuals who are empowered through either demonizing or celebrating 'young people.' There are also many organizations that either demonize or celebrate 'technology.' Combining these two dynamic social variables and sign systems for social change and agency creates confusion. Debates erupt about citizenship, education, knowledge and politics. As Douglas Kellner suggests,

   Modern education, in short, emphasizes submission to authority,
   rote memorization, and what Freire called the 'banking concept' of
   education, in which learned teachers deposit knowledge into passive
   students, inculcating conformity, subordination, and normalization.
   Today these traits are somewhat undercut in certain sections of the
   global postindustrial and networked society, with its demands for
   new skills for the workplace, participation in emergent social and
   political environs, and interaction within novel forms of culture
   and everyday life. (3)

Kellner entwines progress with technological advancement, overlaying social and political participation through this transformation. Such a stark passage between ideas and historical periods is part of what Gartner was hoping to trace in their panel with 'Digital Natives. …

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