Jay Cross
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Digital Natives (Probably Not You)
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Marc Prensky has a great article in Strategy + Business on why oldsters (i.e. >25) must listen to the newer generation.
    Why do I call these young computer enthusiasts and organizational activists “digital natives”? Think about the extraordinary cumulative digital experiences of each of these future leaders: an average of close to 10,000 hours playing video games; more than 200,000 e-mails and instant messages sent and received; nearly 10,000 hours of talking, playing games, and using data on cell phones; more than 20,000 hours spent watching TV; almost 500,000 commercials seen — all before they finished college. At most, they’ve logged only 5,000 hours of book reading.

    This generation is better than any before at absorbing information and making decisions quickly, as well as at multitasking and parallel processing. In contrast, people age 30 or older are “digital immigrants” because they can never be as fluent in technology as a native who was born into it. You can see it in the digital immigrants’ “accent” — whether it is printing out e-mails or typing with fingers rather than thumbs. Have you ever noticed that digital natives, unlike digital immigrants, don’t talk about “information overload”? Rather, they crave more information.

Marc doesn't call for top execs to hand over the reins to a generation with no business experience. (Marc and I went to the same b-school. At about the same time.) But he is compelling about the need to understand where the new generation is coming from and taking advantage of what they bring to us.


Blogger mindful learner said...

Hi Jay,

Marc's ideas are interesting, and I suspect there is truth in the idea that younger individuals will, to some degree, cope better in the IT/information world we now live in. However, the following conjecture seems to me to be totally unfounded:

"This generation is better than any before at absorbing information and making decisions quickly, as well as at multitasking and parallel processing. "

Sounds plausible. Might even be right (though I suspect not). But without any empirical evidence all I can say is humbug!

A mature response,

6:09 AM  
Blogger jay said...


I'm inclined to side with Marc on this one, tho' admittedly without proof.

For me, some activities feel easy to parallel process, e.g. driving the car and conducting a telephone conversation. Other activities take focus and dedication, e.g. writing a position paper.

I cannot imagine sitting in the seat of an aircraft traffic controller. My mind simply doesn't work that way.

Nor could I attend to a half-dozen simultaneous Instant Messenger sessions. I would simply lose it. But I have seen adolescents process numerous simultaneous feeds from friends, music, and study-buddies, while doing homework and eating a pizza.

9:59 PM  

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