Who says NetGeners are dumb and disconnected?

I’ve been reading Don Tapscott’s book, Grown up digital, about how the Net Generation is changing our world. He describes the current 11 to 30-year-old generation as smart, innovative, collaborative, and full of integrity.  Because he refers to several critics of NetGeners, I’ve also taken a look at Marc Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation in which he essentially calls that same group disconnected, video-crazy kids who can’t spell or read a book. Being an educator, I find both these views fascinating.

This weekend, my NetGen son, Kennedy, came home with his college friends to celebrate his 22nd birthday. After spending three days with them, I have to agree with Tapscott much more than Bauerlein. This group of kids has grown up digital. They love video games and cell phones, computers and social networking. But they also love each other and the world they live in, and they are creative, smart, and full of life. They brought computers and cell phones with them which they used to connect to other friends who met them for dinners and movies and hiking and to let friends back at school know what they were doing.  But they also went hiking, played cards, built towers out of blocks, read books, invented games to play, talked about their courses and careers and their hopes of getting jobs, and my son’s roommate even challenged my husband to a cooking throwdown.

As part of the birthday fun, my husband and I set up a Photo-Safari competition for them. They got to choose a local park/preserve to go to to take photos in 10 categories (Disturbed, Good eats, Out-of-place, Creation vs. Evolution, 1000 words, Wings, Life & death, That’s not right, What’s (s)he doing here?, and Purple). They used their cell phone cameras and digital cameras to capture their own interpretation of each category. The results were funny, creative, even stunning, like this dragonfly photo taken by my son, Kennedy.

ksh purple

These young adults are not dumb and disconnected. This is a generation who embraces technology and uses it to make good. They are politically aware and active, conscious of the world they live in, and determined to use technology to make it a better place – whether through art or activism.

What struck me most was realizing that they are continuous learners who manage their learning on their own terms. When they want to know something and have the freedom to learn it, they collaborate, share, locate, and customize information at amazing speeds. And it’s all done at the tip of their fingers – cell phones in hand.

So, what does this mean for educators and parents and all of us Boomers? I think it means we better start learning from the NetGeners. The way they learn and process information and use it to create and solve problems is FAR different from the way we are teaching them to get and process information in our educational institutions today. As Tapscott suggests in Grown Up Digital, we need to design educational systems with what he calls the NetGeners eight norms: “choice, customization, transparency, integrity, collaboration, fun, speed, and innovation in their learning experiences”.

That said…how do we begin?


  1. Marc Bauerlein should not be listened to because he’s a dogmatic extremist. I have a post though that talks about the dangers of technology and networking children titled ‘Digital Danger’.

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