Currents: An E-Journal Don Tapscott. Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998. 

Currents in Electronic Literacy  Spring 2000(3), 

  1. Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation makes the claim that the "N-Gen"--those between 2 and 22 in 2000--is a group whose values are best represented by the dynamism and anarchy of the Internet, and that N-Gen values will dramatically affect the way we construct the hierarchies of work, school, and family. N-Gen characteristics, for author Don Tapscott, include acceptance of diversity, curiosity, assertiveness, self-reliance, contrarianism, high self-esteem, flexibility, and high intelligence, and Tapscott makes various predictions about how these traits will affect education (they'll weaken the teacher's control, in a good way), the workplace (they'll diminish the boss's authority, to the benefit of almost everyone), and relations between the generations (N-Geners will eat older folks alive). 
  2. Tapscott has aimed at a wide audience for Growing Up Digital, though for the most part, he seems to envision his readership as technologically inexperienced--he carefully defines terms such as "Netiquette," "bulletin board," and "real-time." The book contains nuggets of interest for teachers, parents, marketers, and social policy makers (mostly in the form of statistics and factoids), but its combination of broad focus and repetition is likely to leave each group a little dissatisfied. For example, Tapscott's chapters on education emphasize quite convincingly the need for teachers to integrate interactive forms of technology into their classrooms, but nowhere does he say where non-techie teachers might go to find out how to do this--instead, he spends more time reasserting the superiority of tech-heavy over tech-light learning environments. These chapters are likely to annoy the educators whom Tapscott perceives as most in need of his message: not only do they appear to highlight Tapscott's aspirations toward visionary status at the expense of providing concrete information to those trying to make their classrooms more technologically interactive, but they also ignore what many teachers know: that students sometimes like and benefit from hierarchy in classrooms and from what Tapscott vilifies as the "broadcast" mentality of traditional education, in which information is transmitted in a straight line from teacher to student. 
  3. Growing Up Digital's sanguinity about student-led learning is understandable in light of its composition. Though Tapscott does not limit the term "N-Gen" to those who are current users and builders of the Internet, his findings about N-Geners are based on surveys of 300 young people whom he and his assistants contacted on the Net. These N-Geners are rather amazing--most of them sound years more articulate, informed, and mature than their chronological ages would lead one to expect, and a surprising percentage of the pubescent and pre-pubescent sources Tapscott quotes do things like run their own Web-design firms. With a sample like this, it's no surprise that Tapscott is enthusiastic about the youngest generation. But Tapscott himself is clearly aware at some points in the book, if not at others, that this pool of contributors with regular Net access is not representative--the best chapter in Growing Up Digital focuses on the "digital divide" and the potential it has for further isolating the young economic underclass from its more privileged cohort members. It's too bad Tapscott doesn't pause to consider what implications the lack of universal Net access has for the statistical significance of the cheery conclusions he comes to earlier in the book, but Growing Up Digital is to be respected for the insistence with which it reminds us that governments and corporations can come together to remedy inequalities of information access, and for marshaling evidence to show why they should.
  4. Suzanne Penuel
    The University of Texas at Austin
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