Generations online in 2009

A recent report published by PEW Internet suggests that, contrary to the image of Generation Y as the “Net Generation,” internet users in their 20s do not dominate every aspect of online life. Titled Generations online in 2009, the report is based on data from a series of telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International primarily between August 2006 and August 2008.

The report confirms what most of us know in our “gut”, that the distinction made between so-called “digital natives and digital immigrants” is an over simplification of what is really a more complex picture. The assumptions I have in this regard can be summarised as follows…

  1. young people in our school system today have been born into a world immersed in digital technologies.
  2. they take the use of these technologies for granted, but
  3. their personal use of and familiarity with them will vary greatly.
  4. these young people have not had the experience of what existed before these technologies, so don’t work from the same points of reference that their parents do.
  5. technology adoption and use, on the whole, is linked to authentic need. This may involve using new technologies to do old tasks, or the development of new tasks enabled by new technologies – either way, if it meets an authentic need in our lives it will more likely be adopted – particularly if this results in increased efficiencies, ease of use, reduced cost etc.
  6. younger people may (as a generalisation) be more prepared to experiment and use new technologies as a result of their lack of exposure to anything else, while older people (as a generalisation) may take a little longer as it will mean changing from something they are already familiar with.
  7. technology adoption and use, based on this premise, is not likely to be confined to a single “generation”, nor imply that there is a difference between those who can and those who can’t based on a line in the generational sand. (eg natives/immigrants)

The PEW report adds substance to this thinking with some useful graphs and charts that summarise their findings. There’s a useful breakdown in terms of the kind of use (email, social networks, banking, etc) which suggests some generational differences. The report concludes with some interesting data on broadband access that shows that since 2005, broadband access has increased dramatically in the United States across all age groups, but older groups are still largely unconnected to high-speed internet.

4 thoughts on “Generations online in 2009

  1. I too have always thought that the ‘digital natives’ stuff was a good strapline for provoking discussion, but actually a vast over-simplification of what is a complex reality. Our challenge is to adapt our learning methodologies to motivate all learners – ‘natives’ or ‘immigrants’.

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