Digital Natives Have Nothing on Gen X

Digital Natives are better at multitasking than older generations? Please.  My generation (Gen X) practically perfected multi-tasking.  Let’s take a look back to the 80s for a second:

  • Our multitasking was in the form of listening to a Walkman while sitting in front of the TV and doing homework – none of which were made for multitasking. So you can do_______ and ______ and _________ with a computer and iPhone and all that. Yawn. Computers and iPhones and all that are practically designed for multi-tasking. Next I guess you want a cookie for learning to drive a car on a road.
  • Social networking happened online back then too – it was just over a telephone party line instead of an Internet line.
  • We always had to have a phone with us back then, too – but for us it meant a pocket full of quarters to hit every available pay phone there was. Which was hard to do in public because of the crowds of teenagers standing around them.
  • Texting happened all the time in the 80s. Back then, it was done with a piece of paper (we probably went through a tree a day sending short pointless messages back and forth).
  • In fact, we pretty much did everything you can now do on a cell phone just using a pencil and piece of paper.
  • Twitter? Please. We could get short updates about life to an entire school in the span of two class periods just using paper and no electricity. And that still worked even if your cell battery went dead.
  • Writing on FaceBook walls? Too temporary for us. We had this thing called a bathroom wall. Much more interesting and permanent. Well, at least until the school budget allowed for a new can of paint.

Still think I am wrong? Still convinced that digital natives are totally different than older generations? Then here you go: a recent report from Forrester has been tearing down a few stereotypes about the so-called “digital natives.” Turns out, they aren’t necessarily as different from past generations as some would make them seem:

The results, published this month, portray a generation that, in some ways, is more traditional than some media executives might fear. And it seems that Morgan Stanley’s intern, Matthew Robson, is out of sync with the mainstream of European teenagers in a few of his media preferences.

Who is Matthew Robson? Well, he is 15-year old intern for Morgan Stanley that created a stir recently by publishing a report that some said proved the stereotypes about digital natives are true.  Like, for example, digital natives watch less traditional television because they are watching online video sites like YouTube.  Not true, according to actual research: they still spend more time watching television than they spend online.  Wow – what a novel concept. Research people’s statements, rather than take them as Gospel truth.

And this statement is really going to rock your boat if you blindly listen to the Marc Prensky‘s of the world:

Instead, wrote Nick Thomas, an analyst at Forrester, “real-world social interaction with friends remains important for online teens.”

Of course, none of this is any surprise to those of us that know any real teenagers.

You can read the New York Times summary of this story here.

I’ve told this story before, but this report reminds me of the time I went up to actual teenager and told them that I heard that “email is for old people.”  That person’s response? “What idiot said that? I hate it when people my age just say stupid things to get attention, and then old people run with it like it is the truth or something.”

It is about time that someone did some actual research.

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

2 thoughts on “Digital Natives Have Nothing on Gen X

  1. Matt Crosslin

    Thanks Janet! I wasn’t aware of that site – but it is in my reader now! :)

    Another way Gen Xer’s kick butt… we can cross from online to real life without getting lost. Here is an example.

    If I start a conversation with a Gen Xer on FaceBook, I can pick it up at any time when we are face-to-face with out ever giving context. The Gen Xer will not get lost, and just continue the conversation like it had been on pause.

    Millenials will freak if you do that. Or get really confused.

    Recently, I finally decided to figure out just what on earth Ozzy was sying in his song “Crazy Train.” Must have been a crazy day at work:) I thought the first few lines were kind of cool, so I posted them as a status update on FB. The teen-age daughter of some friends asked what song it was, and I replied and told her.

    I was at a Christmas potluck a few days later, and she was there baby-sitting. So i went up to her and told her I was shocked she didn’t know her Ozzy songs. She looked so lost, pointed at her Lennon shirt, and said “no… this is John Lennon…” and walk off with a confused look on her face.

    A few minutes later, she darted back in the room “OH!!! FaceBook?!?”

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