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Digital Natives

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Digital natives. No doubt you have heard the term.

I kind of imagine pixelated caricatures dressed in feathers and palm fronds -- who were downloaded rather than born and who were recharged rather than nursed. Or worse, the Natives, as seen in Gangs of New York, and we know what they did to the immigrants...

Seems, though, that many digital natives take themselves very seriously -- very, very seriously indeed. In their minds nothing existed before digital -- meaning themselves. In fact, I had one such denizen recently tell me that music in any other form really isn't music... so it goes. Tell it to Beethoven or the Beatles or any YouTube band trying to be a phenomena group, not to mention the savvy digital natives who crave vinyl records -- not for the Luddite factor -- but rather because the music sounds more authentic, real, warm.

Here is what I find astounding and ridiculous in the whole notion of digital natives -- worse, here is what I fear and loath -- not to mention what I believe is antithetical to the entire age we live in:
To begin with, there is more than a hint of Lord of the Flies here -- and the ignorance that often attaches itself to those who believe themselves "natives" -- of anything -- frankly frightens me.

Far from this being a world of digital natives, we live in a world where age compression on one end and longevity on the other have created -- for the first time that I know -- a continuum of purpose and value between the oldest and the youngest. Both my two-year-old grandson and my 85-year-old father-in-law have iPads, both are proficient in its use and frankly, both use it the same way -- if not for the same things.

We live in a time defined not by digital natives and immigrants but by Generation World. A universe where age, borders and demographics mean less than shared values. An epoch where traditional segmentation means little as communities and interest groups form and coalesce in a multi-hued tapestry never before seen -- generation gaps are being eliminated in social movements and culture -- unlike the 1960s when being over 30 was considered traitorous and there was little if no age or other heterogeneity in anything.

We share, we shop, we read, we watch, we listen -- sometimes digitally but almost always with some digital enhancement that links our flesh-and-blood world to the digital enablement we now have -- Digital Exponential -- our ability to bridge all our worlds: to shop in an Apple Store in person or buy online 24/7, to go to a movie theater or download or stream our favorite shows or movies. Buy the book, cover and all, or just buy its content; go to the concert live or watch it online (well, that really predates the Natives... see The Last Waltz for one).

And we still go to new restaurants -- proliferating by the way -- and use Pinterest to share our favorite dishes, we crowd the aisles of UNIQLO, and help sell out concert after concert around the world.

I have written much about the Waldorf Schools, but one thought stuck in my mind when one of the digital elite said that his kid would learn to use a computer in minutes.

From The New York Times:

"It's supereasy. It's like learning to use toothpaste," Mr. Eagle said. "At Google and all these places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible. There's no reason why kids can't figure it out when they get older."

We have made it that simple. Catch this experiment as detailed in Wired's print edition: Researchers from Tufts University and the MIT Media Lab this Spring dropped off a few solar-powered tablets to kids in a small Ethiopian village, where there is no electricity and essentially zero literacy. With no instruction, the 20 children ages four to 12 began using the devices within 18 minutes. After the first week, the kids were using 47 apps. Being a digital native doesn't make that a slam dunk -- not even close.

So rather than basking in the pride of being born into a digital age that was, by the way, created by immigrants (sound familiar?), digital natives should be leading the way in taking the best of what we know and turning it into the best of what the next generation will need to develop the next big thing.

And then, my dear digital natives, you will be mere immigrants as well, unless, Windows emulates Mac, Amazon emulates the old Sears Catalog, Facebook emulates our DNA- driven behavior, YouTube and whatever else emulates TV, Pandora and Spotify emulate radio, all try to emulate (old-fashioned LOL) advertising in order to exist and we should all try to emulate Steve Jobs... listen:

"A lot of people in our industry haven't had very diverse experiences. So they don't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one's understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have."

Don't get me wrong -- before all the emails come pouring in -- I love digital natives -- my children, my grandchildren, and in truth all the people I learn from...

But I want to learn from people who are not unidimensional -- who define themselves by today's technology -- I want to learn from people who can teach me about today's technology but who can also share and teach me about values, and who themselves want broad and diverse experiences so that they can -- in fact -- create the next big thing.

What do you think?

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