Review: Grown Up Digital

I tried to like this book, I really did, but for the first time I’ve failed to finish a business / technology book.  I gave up – even skim reading some of the way to see if I would miss anything, I only just made it half way through.   If there is anything in the second half of the book that is life-changing then I’ve missed it and I doubt if I’m going back.

Don Tapscott’s last book was the great Wikinomics.  That was one of the books that made me start blogging again after a few years’ break.  I had high hopes for this new book even though I had heard that it was a lot “drier” than Wikinomics, with lots of figures and graphs. A mine of information about the “Net Gen” (those born between 1977 and 1997) – how they have benefitted from being the first generation to be “bathed in bits”.

What a disappointment.  The principal impression gained from reading this is that Tapscott has a mantra of “the kids are not lazy / spoilt – they are brilliant and will change the world through their ways of communication, interaction and engagement”, and it is repeated over and over.  The examples of young people he gives (and the basis of this book was a survey of 11,000 of them)  all seem to be highly educated, highly motivated and have quickly become rising stars in the large multinational companies they have been cherry-picked for.  The praise he lavishes on his seemingly perfect children is impressive from a fatherly point of view but otherwise repetitive and highly sickly sweet.  Not all young people are priviledged to the same degree as many that he quotes.

One big point that he makes is that companies are going to have to change the way they work and accept the new ways of the young, because competition for these young minds will be great.  In the long term I think he is right in so far as the young do bring new ways of working and that the rise of computing, technology and the internet has sped up this process.  His timing is unfortunate, however, as the global recession has put a dampener on this kind of optimism.  Many companies are struggling to survive.  Large numbers of the “Net Gen” – especially those between 16 and 25 – are facing the prospect of longer term unemployment and the possibility of not being able to secure a university place even if they do get the grades.  See, for example, The lost generation: surge in joblessness hits young.  Things have already changed, we already work differently to how we worked five years ago and there are may things coming in the next few years that will change not just the workplace and the young but everyone of every age in everything they (we) do.  But then I would say that, as one of the people who just missed out on being one of the fabled “Net Gen”.  Those of us who belong (apparently) to the arse end of “Generation X” can – and are already – changing the world.   We just don’t need anyone to stand up for us; we don’t need someone to explain to the “baby boomers” that we aren’t all a bunch of little shits.  Many of us aren’t little shits any more – we are responsible adults who have been working for a decade. In this sense, Tapscott’s book may even be a bit late.

Maybe this is why I don’t appreciate the book – I’m more of the subject than the target audience.


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