Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: Permission to Engage

Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: Permission to Engage

Article excerpt

The web has imbued younger generations with a strong political and entrepreneurial vigour.

As he wandered around the grounds in Evelyn Waugh's Scoop, William Boot's uncle, Theodore, would sing: 'Change and decay in all around I see.' It set the tone for thousands of newspaper articles, 'but decay, rather than change, was characteristic of the immediate prospect'.

Readers of the Daily Mail (for whom Waugh wrote) are used to this 'things aren't what they used to be' mantra, as well as features on the new portents of the barbarian future - single mothers, economic migrants and bendy buses. But the paper has been joined by The Independent, whose columnist Andrew Keen wrote a piece under the headline: 'Digitally addicted kids threaten to return civilisation to the dark ages.'

He quotes journalists and academics who believe that attention spans are shortening, that this skimming generation is becoming more mentally superficial and that the poor cognitive skills of today's multi-tasking, digitally addicted kids spell the end of progress.

The way children learn is changing, and there is mounting evidence that those who have grown up as digital natives think differently from digital immigrants and non-digital folk - that is to say, they are non-linear and multi-tasking. But does this make them stupid? Will they become, as the article suggests, the dumbest generation in history?

Young people are engaged politically in a way they haven't been since the 60s, with the internet giving them a voice that has been lacking Recent graduate Farouk Olu Aregbe set up the 'One Million Strong for Obama' Facebook group. It already has 820,000 members, and there can be few US colleges without a similar group on the site.

They are more active consumers, using blogs, forums and social networks to share their views on brands and companies. Unlike their predecessors, they expect their voice to be heard. HSBC, for example, was forced to stop charging interest on graduates' overdrafts this year after pressure from a 5000-strong Facebook group.

They're serious about worthy issues, but are also participants in, rather than mere receivers of, entertainment. They don't just listen to music - they make it, mash it up and distribute it online. MySpace lists more than 8m bands, from stadium rockers to local folk groups, and with YouTube, has opened up an avenue for performance only previously open to the famous. …

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