Praising A 'Grown Up' Digital Generation A generation of young Americans has grown up with high-tech tools and toys — how will this "Net generation" shape the 21st century? Author and entrepreneur Don Tapscott investigates tech-savvy youth in Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World.
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Praising A 'Grown Up' Digital Generation

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Praising A 'Grown Up' Digital Generation

Praising A 'Grown Up' Digital Generation

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This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. They're called millennials or Generation Y or sometimes the Me Generation. The oldest turns 31 this year, the youngest 11, and on election eve they are the subjects of two quite different estimates. The first, that they're only interested in pop culture and their friends don't read newspapers or watch the network news, are more engaged with computer games than civil society, that they haven't turn out to vote in the past and will disappoint again tomorrow. Then there's Don Tapscott view, he calls this group the Net Generation. With their mastery of digital technology, they have already revolutionized electoral politics he argues and will go beyond that on Tuesday.

The N-gen will stay plugged in to revolutionized governance. The delivery of governmental services and dominate 21st century politics in America. Well, we want to hear from Net Gen today. How do you use the Internet to express your politics? 800-989-8255. Email us, You can join the conversation on our blog at And you can reach us on Twitter if you're a user of that online discussion tool, you find us at Later on on the program, we want to hear from those of you who have already waited in line to vote this year. What advice do you have for those of us who will be waiting in lines tomorrow. What did you do to past the time? What do you wish you'd brought with you? You can send us email now. The address is

But first, the Net Generation and politics, Don Tapscott is chairman of the nGenera Innovation Network. His new book is called "Grown Up Digital." He's with us today from the studios of the CBC in Toronto and nice to have you back on Talk of the Nation.

Mr. DON TAPSCOTT (Chairman, nGenera Innovation Network; Author, "Grown Up Digital"): Nice to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: And Don, every election we hear the same prediction that this is going to be the year that young people finally come out to vote in big numbers and every election thus far, the answer is, well, not so much.

Mr. TAPSCOTT: Well, there are two things that have changed. One is that the number of young people that are coming in to voting age has grown dramatically. The baby boom echo, kids born between 1978 and 1997 inclusive is actually 80 million youngsters and this year, upwards of 23 million of them will vote, which is three million more than in 2004. But the big thing that has changed is that this is not just a generation with huge demographic muscle, who will based on their demographic size alone will dominate a electoral politics in the 21st century. They're a generation that's different. They've grown up using the Internet - digital technologies. And this changes the way that they are; the way that they think, the way that they learn, the way that they collaborate, and they're a force to be reckoned with in every institution and society.

CONAN: You in fact, argued that their brain structures may have been altered by the way they use the Internet.

Mr. TAPSCOTT: Well, yeah. Working on "Grown Up Digital," I worked with a number of brain scientists, and I started studying these kids as generation about 15 years ago when I noticed that my own children were effortlessly able to use all these sophisticated technology. At first, I thought my kids are proteges then I noticed that all their friends were like them so that was kind of a bad theory. So I started working with a few hundred kids and it was a dozen years ago. I wrote the book "Growing Up Digital." Well flash forward to today, these kids, the eldest are 30 they are in the workforce, they're in the marketplace and tomorrow they're going to vote. And the big thing about their brains is that time online has not taken away from hanging out with your friends or learning the piano, that's taken away from television.

The babyboomers watched 24 hours a week of TV per kid and these kids watch a lot less TV, and they watch it differently. When they come home, they turn on their computer and they're in three different windows and chatting on their phones or texting more likely, and they're listening to mp3 files with three magazines open, and oh, yeah, they're doing their homework at the same time. And the television is sort of in the background, it's like (unintelligible) or an ambient media. And what's happening is that when they're online they're thinking and learning and collaborating and this actually affect your brain development.

CONAN: Well, they're also affecting the way our politics is organized and funded, and you argue later down the road, they're going to argue - they're going to change the way we in fact deliver governance to the people the way government makes decisions.

Mr. TAPSCOTT: Well, that's right. See on this election, lots of people talk about the Internet and for sure it's been used for fundraising and how results and activities were reported and how people follow elections with YouTube. You know you can go and see Obama's speech on race, or the Palin-Katie Couric interview. But, the really big story is that this is a platform whereby young people are organizing. They have created a movement by the millions of them, and they are organizing on Facebook, on social networks.

And the thing about Obama is that he understood this, that he created a platform whereby they could self-organize. So you go to and anyone there anyone there can create a community and there are communities of high school students in Cleveland and every university has a community. I even found there was a community for people who thinks the last book I wrote "Economics" is key to changing America. So this is a huge social movement that's happening, and we really have never seen anything like it before.

CONAN: We're talking with Don Tapscott about "Grown Up Digital," his new book. We want to hear from those of you in that younger generation. How are you using the Internet, the web, to make your political statement to the world? 800-989-8255; email us, Kelly's on the line. Kelly calling us from Myrtle Beach in Florida.

KELLY (Caller): Hi! How are you today?

CONAN: I'm well. Thank you, Kelly.

KELLY: I use Facebook and as well as reading some articles and some different message boards to talk to different people about politics. I rarely ever watch the politics shows on television. I get bored really easily with them.

CONAN: You're not the only one, Kelly. But how do you use Facebook?

KELLY: I post relevant articles that I think that are important for my friends to know about as well as read some of the ones that they post. There's a way you can share them and everyone who's your friend can see what you think is interesting. So you can read in that way.

CONAN: You can also probably pull up a map and realize that Myrtle Beach is in South Carolina and not in Florida as I said.

KELLY: It's on the Atlantic Coast. That's close enough.

CONAN: It's close enough. And when you share these materials with your friends, do they send you stuff back?

KELLY: Oh, yes. They comment usually on everything that I post, especially regarding politics. I have a wide, diverse you know friends list and some of my family are conservatives, a lot of my friends are liberal. You know I consider myself a non-affiliated voter and just anything that has any sort of relevant information from a credible source you know, it definitely sparks out debate.

CONAN: Credible source. I know there's an interesting phrase - the Internet not entirely credible in some respects.

KELLY: No, it's really not. I mean, you can go to any website and anybody we'll tell you anything about anyone. I mean I was at a website the other day who just blatantly you know has videos claiming that Barack Obama is the most lamented terrorist and things like that. The fact that people still believe these things is just amazing today.

Mr. TAPSCOTT: But what's really...

CONAN: Go ahead.

Mr. TAPSCOTT: Well, what's really interesting about that is that what I found in my research - and I've interviewed 11,000 young people - is that they've developed very sophisticated BS detectors basically because there's so much BS on the Internet. You know when I was a kid, I saw a picture. It was a picture. When these kids see a picture, what is it? An animation or a robot or a morph, and so they're a generation of scrutinizers.

Now, it's not perfect and for sure the BS that's coming out during this election is quite impressive. But overall, these kids have developed good filters and they are forming their own opinions in ways that are very different than the way that their parents do watching television or even watching the newspaper. I interviewed a youngster just a couple of days ago in front of an audience that she said she has 60 RSS feeds, and she likes to triangulate the news to get all kinds of differing perspectives. And someone would challenge her saying, you watch - you get your news from Jon Stewart in "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. And she said, well, that's not true. "The Daily Show" isn't funny unless you know the news.

CONAN: Interesting. Kelly, do you watch Jon Stewart?

KELLY: I do watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and I find it incredibly hilarious, you know. You'll catch little inside jokes that he'll make about, you know, some random article on the Internet. And if you happen to have seen it, you know, you can laugh along with it.

CONAN: All right, Kelly. Thanks very much for the call. I appreciate it.

KELLY: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

KELLY: Good day.

CONAN: Let's see now if we can go to - this is Chris. Chris is with us from Charlotte, in North Carolina.

CHRIS (Caller): Yes, hi. Another question about - another comment about Facebook. It has a feature called status messages where from your cellphone or the computer, you can write a little blurp what you're currently doing, if you're at the movies or studying for class or whatnot. What I've seen a lot lately is people putting little political messages in that saying, vote for Obama or whatnot, in your actual - what you're currently doing instead of going to the movies or whatnot.

CONAN: And so, you're on Facebook a lot of times, Chris.

CHRIS: Yeah, actually it's really cool. It's a little function on your cellphone. If you're driving down the street, you can just pick up your phone and put currently what you're doing there or anything else from anywhere.

CONAN: And Don Tapscott, a lot of people would take this, you know, sort of self referential, but you say this is an aspect of a new way of organizing things.

Mr. TAPSCOTT: Well, yes, the so-called Generation Me. There's no evidence actually to support the idea that this is a little army of Narcissists, as one book said. Basically, they're using this technology to self-organize and to do good things. Consider, This basically invites people from all over the world to upload their pictures and you got pictures from every country in the world, people celebrate in public places all around the world. Now again, this is in support of Obama. Or how about Video of the Vote where you can take video cameras to voting stations to make sure that there are no improper activities.

You know, self-organization has been around throughout human history. Language was developed through self-organization. I'm holding a coffee cup right now and there is no central committee in English language that said this will be called a cup. But what used to take place over a millennium or centuries can now happen very quickly, and people are using this global communication medium to communicate with each other, to form communities, to collaborate and to self-organize.

CONAN: Even to fact check because if you can check to see whether Hillary Clinton did in fact land under sniper fire in Bosnia.

Mr. TAPSCOTT: Well, that's a good point.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Chris, appreciate it. I think Chris has left us. But in any case, we hope you will join us. We want to talk to you young people in the audience today. How are you using the Internet to make your political opinions and interests known? Give us a call at 800-989-8255. Email us, And we're particularly interested if you think you're going to be interested in politics after tomorrow, and how you're going to watch your government and help your government change and develop and grow. Again, 800-989-8255. Email us, I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The Net Generation has arrived. Don Tapscott writes in his new book titled "Grown Up Digital", and he argues this generation is beginning to transform every institution of modern life from the workplace to the marketplace, from politics to education, they're replacing a culture of control with a culture of enablement. Today we're focused on the Net Generation's effect on electoral politics and government in general. If you're part of this generation, how have you used the Internet to express your politics? We got these two replies on Twitter from Dr. Grades(ph). The Facebook group is the new bumper sticker. And Erin Ellenburgh twittered I posted about the need to be an educated citizen on my blog.

Well, if you're a part of the Net Generation, how would you use the Internet to express your politics? 800-989-8255, Email us, You could comment on our blog at And again, if you'd like to be with us by Twitter, you can find us at And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And let's go to Rebecca. Rebecca with us from Kalamazoo in Michigan.

REBECCA (Caller): Hi. I'm calling because I have observed over the past year or so that Facebook has really changed kind of the dynamic of how we interact with our friends. I'm 30 and my husband is 31, and we just post on Facebook regularly and most of our friends are on Facebook. And it's just really racketed up the intensity of this election season for us, because most of our friends are very conservative, and my husband has been posting very publicly his support for Obama. So, it's just become a much more public thing than it would've been four years ago.

CONAN: And has this been persuasive, do you think?

REBECCA: I don't know that it's been persuasive, but it's definitely brought about some - a lot more interaction around the issues than we would've had previously.

CONAN: And I wonder, do these conversations, these interchanges, do they get angry sometimes or are people civil?

REBECCA: They're generally civil, although there has been more exchange of kind of biting thumbs down one liners, and I would simply like to see it. I think it's easier to do that in writing than it is to do face-to-face.

CONAN: I think it is, yeah, there's a little friction that gets at it when you do it by remote control.


CONAN: Thanks very much, Rebecca. I appreciate it.

REBECCA: Thank you.

CONAN: And Don Tapscott, one of the things you argue in your book is that in fact this new generation, this younger generation, this Net Generation is not going to tolerate things like, well, attack ads and wants things to be more civil and doesn't want things to be argued from the extreme left or the extreme right.

Mr. TAPSCOTT: Well, I think that's true that - first of all, they're the most diverse generation ever and there are all kinds of measures at that. You know that 90 percent say it's OK for blacks and whites to date, and that's up from 56 percent in 1988, and 60 percent of them support the idea of a gay marriage compared to 37 percent of the general public. So, they're much more open, and they want to have real conversations. And I went out on a limb, you know, with books, you have to put these things in the can a few months earlier. And, I said attack ads are a big mistake. And I think that turned out to be true. I mean, they want to talk about the real issues and...

CONAN: And yet we see both candidates launching attack ad after attack ad.

Mr. TAPSCOTT: Well, it's a funny culture that we have, and it's a whole political culture that needs to change, like, consider after the election, you know, if - and assuming the polls are right and Obama wins - if he says to the some 15 million young people who brought him to power, gee, that was really great. Now, you just go be quiet and passive for four years and then four years from now, we'll do it all over again. That's not going to work. And so, he's going to need to engage these young people in all kinds of new ways.

For example, we can now have a digital brainstorm or a discussion of millions of people over a three-day period on the Internet. And we need a political culture whereby he could just say, well, I don't know about that, or, here's a crazy idea I'm thinking about. And a culture whereby the media and other people won't get all over him, but where we can start to open things up and have a more intelligent conversation about the real issues, because Lord knows there are some big problems in the world.

CONAN: A digital brainstorm to say, look we've got this situation with, you know, the economic crisis. So, starting Monday at 12:00, send me your ideas good, bad and different. The good ones will rise to the top. I'll post every day. I'll be reading all this stuff, and let's see what develops.

Mr. TAPSCOTT: Well, these things have been done on a lower scale, smaller scale. IBM, for example, held a discussion of 400,000 employees over a three-day period. But I'm now in discussions with government leaders in several countries that are very serious about doing this, and this is not direct democracy, don't get me wrong, you know, Ross Perot and the electronic town hall, you get the vote every night on evening news. That's a.k.a. the electronic mob. The democracy is a lot more than majority rule on a nightly basis. But what we're talking about here is engaging citizens, especially these young kids who've grown up interacting rather than watching TV, engaging them in political life, and when you do that, good things happen from my experience. Initiatives get catalyzed. People start to learn more. They become more open as Rebecca was alluding to. They become more open to having real conversations. This is going to be a big change. And I'm hopeful that we're in the early days of something significant.

CONAN: Let's get Brian on the line. Brian is calling us from York in South Carolina.

BRIAN: Hey, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Go ahead please.

BRIAN (Caller): You guys have kind of alluded to the conversation aspects of it. So, I'll just throw in one other thing. The dissemination of information. I'm active on several political blogs, and I have been so up to date and kept in the know about what's been going on in both campaigns through these blogs because through the use of digital media, if somebody said something, an hour later it's up on the net. And, thousands of people see it and then hundreds of thousands and it spreads across. And, I think that is one of the things that the net has really brought in. It's this expansion of conversation and dissemination of information.

CONAN: And how is it different do you think, Brian, than the way your parents' generation would've?

BRIAN: Well, in my parents' generation, you know, it was - you got your information from the newspaper and you got your information for maybe half an hour of nightly news. There wasn't, you know, there wasn't CNN, there wasn't MSNBC, (unintelligible) Fox. And now, where you've got so many different media outlets and so many different places to talk and such ease at spreading this information. You guys were talking about "The Daily Show." And last month, they did this side by side comparison - you may have seen it - of two of McCain's speeches.

CONAN: Right.

BRIAN: That were absolutely identical.

CONAN: Yeah, John McCain versus John McCain.

BRIAN: Exactly. And the next day, that little snippet of video was posted in three different blogs that I go to. All of which have combined, I'd say, you know, 10 - 15,000 members.

CONAN: So, it really gets out and of course once it's on YouTube, millions of people can see it.

BRIAN: Exactly. And each person, you know, each of these people who's on this political blog, they have their own private blog. And so, they'll see that. I did it myself, you know, I saw that nabbed the embed code, put it on my blog, and then everybody who was on my friend's list who isn't on the same blog, they got to see it.

CONAN: Don Tapscott, what he's describing, I guess, is the word we use as a viral though, I can hear a copyright lawyer shuttering even as we speak.

Mr. TAPSCOTT: Well, it's viral, but it's also real time. I guess, that's the other adjective. I was interviewing a young woman in front of a panel recently and I sort of challenged her. I said, aren't you part of the dumbest generation? Neal, as you know, there's a book of that title, that says how the digital age stupefies young Americans and jeopardizes our future. I said, you don't know anything. You don't read the newspaper. You don't watch the evening news. What hope is there? She puts it back to me. She says, well, it's true I don't read the newspaper. She says, but have you ever seen one of things like they come once a day and they don't have hot links and they're not multimedia and you get this weird black stuff all over your fingers. And she explains...

CONAN: That's the stuff of life. Go ahead.

Mr. TAPSCOTT: She explains how she likes to, you know, to triangulate the news. And she says, and I'd like to know what's happening all the time. I'd like to know what the candidates are doing right now. I said, well, what are the candidates doing right now? And she pulls out a PDA and in 10 seconds she said, so and so. And I see, I just noticed here I got a Twitter, Obama is in Jacksonville, Florida. And he said this and if I click on it, I can go over to a live feed of the video and watch him giving his speech. So, an obvious crawler, if this is not the dumbest generation. This mean-spirited attack on young people today is completely without foundation or fact.

CONAN: We got this on Twitter, Zeek(ph) says so. The net allows people to get news and opinions outside of mainstream media. We're skipping the filter that our parents had. So, Brian, punching it right on your point. Thanks very much for the call, Brian.

BRIAN: Thanks a lot. I'm actually on my way to the Obama rally in Charlotte, and I'll be live blogging it there.

CONAN: Thanks very much. And we got this from Cathy. My son called last week and said that he was voting while talking to me on the phone. He was looking up information on the Internet about the various Arizona propositions and then making his decisions. One, he was multi-tasking. Two, he was using the Internet for information, not the newspaper or TV. Both typify his generation and of course using the Internet with a mobile device, not the big computer that dinosaurs like me lug around. Let's see if we can get Hasan(ph) in the air. Hasan is calling us from Saudi Arabia.

HASAN (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hello. How are you?

HASAN: I am well. How are you doing?

CONAN: And are you considered part of generation net?

HASAN: I'd say so. I'd say so. The main point that I actually wanted to make while I'm calling in today was that the Internet is so easily accessible over here in Saudi. Much more than that, I mean we have wi-fi coming here and optical cables to the homes so we should be expecting you know speeds over 12 megabits per second anytime soon. But the young community here...

CONAN: Well, let me ask you.

HASAN: Sure, sure.

CONAN: Well, we're talking about how this young generation has helped revolutionize politics in the United States. Do you think it's going to change politics in Saudi Arabia?

HASAN: Do I think it's going to change politics here? I don't know. But do I think it's changing political awareness in terms of what's going on in the world? Absolutely.

CONAN: Because people no longer have a monopoly. I was there many years ago when there was just a couple of newspapers and there was state television and state radio and that was pretty much it.

HASAN: There was air abuse in Saudi Gazette (unintelligible). But the thing is I mean there is a huge subculture here for forums on line, forums where people can post everything they want and they almost always have a political section.

CONAN: Interesting.

HASAN: In fact, we have a - this is going to sound a little interesting. We have a post election barbecue on Thursday. Yeah, yeah.

CONAN: So after the American election. Do people...

HASAN: After the American election. I mean it's a mixed gathering of locals and people from abroad and we figured it's a Thursday which is a weekend here and we would get together and you know.

CONAN: Well, tune in to this show. We're going to be doing Talk of the World on Thursday, so getting opinions from around the world. So if you can hear us today, you can definitely hear us then. But I also have to ask you, do people feel safe exchanging political opinions on the net?

HASAN: Yeah. They're people from all avenues that are exchanging information. I mean you have to understand that you have your - you know you can write what you want but it doesn't mean that necessarily people are going to agree with you all of the time.

CONAN: OK. But it doesn't mean necessarily that you'd get a knock on the door the next day either.

HASAN: Oh, yeah. Well, I haven't experienced that yet. Thank you.

CONAN: All right. Hasan, good luck to you. I appreciate it.

HASAN: Thank you.

Mr. TAPSCOTT: Well, it raises such a good point, Neal, that the old media that was at the center of elections, print and broadcast was one way, and it was one size fits all and the owners control the message. And now we have the antithesis of that. We have this global communications medium that's highly decentralized, it's distributed and it will sort of be what we want it to be. It has this awesome neutrality and hopefully there are more good people in the world than bad people. But for sure, this is transforming politics profoundly. I think about the Mid East.

If you look at demographically at a country like Iran, it has a huge population explosion in terms of teenagers and young people in their 20s. And you have a very sort of restrictive society, but all these kids have got access to secular information because the penetration of the Internet is very high. So this is going to create all kinds of disruptive forces as people can find out what's really going on in the world.

CONAN: We're talking with Don Tapscott about "Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World." You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

CONAN: Let's talk with Heather. Heather is with us from Jacksonville in Virginia.

HEATHER (Caller): I'm in actually Jacksonville, Florida.

CONAN: Florida.

HEATHER: Yeah. And yes, I was calling because - I guess what they would consider the top part of that Net Generation on 30 and I've done - I've never been - I've voted in every election since I turned 18. But, I've never been politically active before until this election ,and there's an amendment on our ballot here in Florida for the quote unquote "The Marriage Protection Act" and I've got really involved in the campaign to vote 'no' on that just because I think it's misleading, and I've done all of my - all of my actions have been done through email. I've gone online to find out the information. That's actually how I joined the group because they are based out of South Florida.

So I never even actually met the people that I work with everyday. I've sent everything through my email of my address book. I use MySpace and my husband has a Facebook, so I post up on his and pretty much just you know - you know I've even written into the editors of the newspapers which I don't really read on the Internet. So I don't even - you know back when I was 18, the newspaper was all I had to go and look at the issues and now I feel like I've been able to do a lot more especially when I'm juggling young kids and life and work. The Internet is just much easier, and I feel like it's much more empowering.

CONAN: And Don Tapscott, she speaks to another thing you write about in your book and it's the decentralization of this. She is there in Jacksonville working with people she's never met in South Florida on an issue that matters to them and this is happening in all kinds of different combinations, on all kinds of different issues all over the country.

Mr. TAPSCOTT: Well, indeed. And people can self-organize to create communities on any topic and these communities typically involve people that they don't even know who they are. The other thing of course is that the organizers of these campaigns. And I use Obama here because it's just a better example. They have an iPhone application. It's like a whole campaign in your pocket. It scans all your friend list to find out who you called, who you haven't called.

It uses your location to pinpoint activities and events near you and if someone asks you a question about say Obama's position on civil rights, it links you to all of the policies, gives you talking points that you want. There's a media page that connects you to all photos and videos of the campaign. You can watch him in Colorado real time. This is like in the pocket of hundreds of thousands of organizers.

HEATHER: That's my next buy, too. That's what I really want - it's that actual iPhone he's talking about. Just because I have my work and everything that's happened in this election. I'm a person who is just never at home and pretty much I only listen to the radio which is NPR and then I'm on the computer. So the one thing I wanted to ask your...

CONAN: We're going to have to put it off for another day, Heather. I'm afraid we're out of time.

HEATHER: OK, no problem. Hey, but thank you, and I hope everybody votes.

CONAN: All right. Heather, thanks very much for the call. We did get this twitter from Antonio Campo. The Net Generation chips away the top down power culture with a borderlessness and enabled community - Borderless and enable community. If I could I'd be dangerous. Don Tapscott, thank you very much for your time today.

Mr. TAPSCOTT: OK, my pleasure.

CONAN: Don Tapscott's new book is "Grown Up Digital" and he joined us from the CBC in Toronto. Stay with us. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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