Here's two books I'd love to see duke it out in a cage match. One seems to take an essentially positive view of the effects of the new multimedia landscape on the current generations and the other...doesn't.
First, the optimists.
Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives by John Palfrey, Urs Gasser
The most enduring change wrought by the digital revolution is neither the new business models nor the new search algorithms, but rather the massive generation gap between those who were born digital and those who were not. The first generation of "digital natives"--children who were born into and raised in the digital world--is now coming of age, and soon our world will be reshaped in their image. Our economy, our cultural life, even the shape of our family life will be forever transformed.
But who are these digital natives? How are they different from older generations, and what is the world they're creating going to look like? In Born Digital, leading Internet and technology experts John Palfrey and Urs Gasser offer a sociological portrait of this exotic tribe of young people who can seem, even to those merely a generation older, both extraordinarily sophisticated and strangely narrow.
Based on original research and advancing new theories, Born Digital explores a broad range of issues, from the highly philosophical to the purely practical: What does identity mean for young people who have dozens of online profiles and avatars? Should we worry about privacy issues? Or is privacy even a relevant value for digital natives? How does the concept of safety translate into an increasingly virtual world? Is "stranger-danger" a real problem, or a red herring?
And now, the pessimist.
The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30) by Mark Bauerlein
Can a nation continue to enjoy political and economic predominance if its citizens refuse to grow up?
For decades, concern has been brewing about the dumbed-down popular culture available to young people and the impact it has on their futures. At the dawn of the digital age, many believed they saw a hopeful answer: The Internet, e-mail, blogs, and interactive and hyper-realistic video games promised to yield a generation of sharper, more aware, and intellectually sophisticated children. The terms “information superhighway” and “knowledge economy” entered the lexicon, and we assumed that teens would use their knowledge and understanding of technology to set themselves apart as the vanguards of this new digital era.
That was the promise. But the enlightenment didn’t happen. The technology that was supposed to make young adults more astute, diversify their tastes, and improve their verbal skills has had the opposite effect. According to recent reports, most young people in the United States do not read literature, visit museums, or vote. They cannot explain basic scientific methods, recount basic American history, name their local political representatives, or locate Iraq or Israel on a map. The Dumbest Generation is a startling examination of the intellectual life of young adults and a timely warning of its consequences for American culture and democracy.
In fact, I think the books may be a bit closer than at first glance. Afterall, the summary for the first does have an interesting quote, refering to this "exotic tribe of young people who can seem ... both extraordinarily sophisticated and strangely narrow." And I think that's more or less what the second book is getting at -- the strangely narrow part. Now don't get me wrong. Old fogies have always complained about the youth of the day being lazy, dumb, ignorant, disrespectful and lacking in intestinal fortitude. And it's always been true, to a certain extent. When we get old ourselves, we forget how we really were when we were young and how we thought that our elders were clueless and irrelevant. Pretending these generational disconnects are new is wrong, as is underestimating the uniqueness of the one were currently experiencing.
I think that these two books, taken together, probably make up one very important book. After all, the students that fill our libraries everyday are these millennials and we have to deal with them in all their extraordinary sophistication and strange narrowness.
(For a deliciously mean take on the narrowness part, check this out.)