Friday, April 17, 2009

An Informed Review of Grown Up Digital

In an earlier post, I took a somewhat skeptical view of Don Tapscott's latest book, Grown Up Digital. I said I was put off by the techno-utopic language but encouraged by the amount of data he had collected. At least one reader took me to task for appearing to pass judgment without having read the book. Fair enough.

Well I"m now making my way through the book so I'm in a positon to make a more informed review. Over the next few days I will post my observations beginning with the following:

According to Tapscott, there are eight "norms" that distinguish the Net Generation from other generations. One of them is what he calls "Scrutiny": "Net Geners are the new scrutinzers. Given the large number of information sources on the Web, not to mention unreliable information - spam, phishers, inaccuracies, hoaxes, scams, and misrepresentations - today's youth have the ability to distinguish fact from fiction...The Net Generation knows to be skeptical whenever they're online." (p. 80)

But he goes even further: "On the Net, children have to search for, rather than simply look at, information. This forces them to develop thinking and investigative skills – and much more. They must become critics. Which Web sites are good? How can I tell what is real and what is fictitious – whether in a data source or in the teenage movie star in a chat session.” (p. 21)

How do we reconcile these claims with the results of a substantial study conducted in the UK that found exactly the opposite:
  • the information literacy of young people, has not improved with the widening access to technology: in fact, their apparent facility with computers disguises some worrying problems
  • internet research shows that the speed of young people’s web searching means that little time is spent in evaluating information, either for relevance, accuracy or authority
  • young people have a poor understanding of their information needs and thus find it difficult to develop effective search strategies as a result, they exhibit a strong preference for expressing themselves in natural language rather than analysing which key words might be more effective
  • faced with a long list of search hits, young people find it difficult to assess the relevance of the materials presented and often print off pages with no more than a perfunctory glance at them
The problem is Tapscott's conclusion is not based on the right evidence. The evidence he uses is the Net Gen respondents self-reported online behavior when searching for product information: "Almost two-thirds of Net Geners tell us they search for information about products that interest them before purchase. They compare and contrast product information online; they read blogs, forums and reviews; and they consult friends." (p. 323). But this is hardly evidence of critical thinking skills and highly developed information literacy skills.

More in the coming days.

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