Magazine article Work & Family Life

What's Up with the Net Generation?

Magazine article Work & Family Life

What's Up with the Net Generation?

Article excerpt

Chances are that you know a young person between the ages of 11 and 31. You may be his or her parent, aunt, uncle, teacher or manager. These young people, born between 1977-1997, are what I call the Net Generation. The children of baby boomers, they are also called Gen Y or the Millennials, and, at 27 percent, they are now the largest segment of the U.S. population.

From an early age, this generation has grown up bathed in bits. They've been surrounded by digital media, which has had a profound impact on the way they think and function. You've seen how they juggle so many tasks at once, how they interact with media, use their mobile phones to text incessantly, surf the Web, find directions, take picture, make videos. Their natural affinity for technology seems uncanny. They instinctively turn first to the Net to communicate, understand, learn, find and do many things.

But it's not just about how they use technology. Net Geners have a different approach to life. As a manager, you might notice they are motivated in different ways. As a teacher, you may find that young people want to work more independently and make discoveries on their own. As a parent, you may be surprised to learn that your offspring want to live at home after they graduate.

Unfounded criticisms

Unfortunately, this generation has attracted relentless criticism from parents, scholars, journalists and employers. According to their critics, the Net Generation is a shallow, distracted group that can't focus, doesn't read and communicates poorly. They're "net-addicted,'' lack social skills and have no time for sports or healthy activities.

They have also been called narcissistic, a "me generation' obsessed with popular culture, celebrities and their friends. As if that weren't enough, many suggest Net Geners have been "coddled" by their parents and are now "adrift in the world,'' afraid to choose a future path. Employers express concerns about their work ethic and a perceived sense of entitlement.

Getting at the truth

Between 2006 and 2008, my colleagues and I conducted an investigation to find out the truth about this generation. As part of our research, we interviewed nearly 8,000 Net Geners from around the world. What we found was inspiring and should give us all cause for optimism about the young generation that will soon inherit this planet.

As the first global generation ever, the Net Geners are smarter, quicker and more tolerant of diversity than their predecessors. They care strongly about justice and the problems faced by their society - and are typically engaged in some kind of civic activity at school, at work or in their communities.

As we saw recently, hundreds of thousands of Net Geners were inspired by Barack Obama and became involved in politics for the first time. This generation is engaging politically and sees democracy and government as tools for improving the world.

Yes, there are important differences across cultures, nations, genders and class. But, on the whole, the data point toward an exceptionally positive generation with strong values. Not surprisingly, a majority (two-thirds in the U.S.) felt that young people were too negatively portrayed in the media.

What makes the Net Generation different?

Typical Net Geners can be described as having eight distinctive attitudinal and behavioral characteristics or "norms" that differentiate them from other generations. …

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