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'Net generation prefers real world': Not so Web savvy after all?

German researchers believe that the term the 'net generation' is an "obvious, cheap metaphor", and argue that the Generation Y/Z are not as tech/web-savvy as the wider population believes.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor on

An interesting article came through the wires earlier on courtesy of colleague Dennis Howlett, where research by the Hans Bredow Institute indicates that not only are young people today more interested in their real world friends than Facebook, but that most of the Generation Y/Z are not so Web-savvy after all.

The one bit of the article jumped out to me the most:

Jetlir [a 17-year old German teenager] does not actually expect very much from the Internet. Jetlir is content if his friends are within reach, and if people keep uploading videos to YouTube. He'd never dream of keeping a blog. Nor does he know anybody else his age who would want to. And he's certainly never tweeted before. "What's the point?" he asks.

The Internet plays a paradoxical role in Jetlir's life. Although he uses it intensively, he isn't that interested in it. It's indispensable, but only if he has nothing else planned. "It isn't everything," he says.

Similarly, most young people in Germany ignore social bookmarking websites like Delicious and photo-sharing portals such as Flickr and Picasa. Apparently the 'netizens' of the future couldn't care less about the collaborative delights of Web 2.0 - that, at least, is the finding of a major study by the Hans Bredow Institute in Germany.

Now to a greater or lesser extent I agree with this. However this only works with the assumption that blogging, Twitter, uploading videos to YouTube, social bookmarking sites and Flickr are all designed and created with the Generation Y/Z in mind.

Surprise, surprise: they're not. They're designed for the greatest number of people possible. Everybody.

But interestingly, the researchers believe that the term the 'net generation' and those of a similar nature do not fully represent the younger demographic. Instead, they believe that only a minority is "really good at using [the Web]" and that the term is "an obvious, cheap metaphor".

Oh how very dare you?

The article write-up offers an interesting insight into the research, and some might find it rather controversial. I can understand and consider most of the points offered, but it's important not to band an entire generation into one, succinct category.

I agree that many people of the Generation Y/Z do not necessarily know "where Google came from" or "how the Internet began", but give us credit. The vast majority of us were not around when the Internet was concocted from a military-come-academic experiment, nor do most of us understand the underlying technologies or server infrastructure layout which powers Google.

We may not necessarily know how it works, but we know what to do with it. World leading brain surgeons only really know about what 15% of the brain does; the rest is a bit of a mystery. But they understand how to operate on it and not to accidentally pour coffee on it, or to let lettuce from their Subway sandwich fall into it.

Some users are more advanced than others. Not everybody will spend all day with Facebook open on a browser tab while they go around campus doing other things. To say that everybody does everything, as if we're all zombies with no minds of our own, is frankly untrue.

I think what is an underlying point to take from this is that the Web, but social network in particular simply enhances the communications we have today. It is not, nor should it be a replacement for real life.

Facebook exists on the fact that people have real lives. If we didn't, then it wouldn't work. What would there be? We communicate with each other easily and instantly, and this enhances our real life experiences. Whether this be a game of soccer, a road trip or a few drinks down the pub; it makes little difference.

In short, I appreciate the research done. I don't agree with most of it, however. I strongly suspect that the divide here is between academics who know the history, the context and the terminology of the Web, the Internet and the content on it - and the younger people who have grown up with these things but not experienced the development of such technologies, as they were not born or were at the pre-primary socialisation stage.

Once again, it appears in my eyes to boil down to an older generation trying to negate the young, and the young not being socially developed enough to consider the wider context to the technologies and ingrained skills they posses as a result of being born into and immersed into these next-generation technologies.

Do you agree?

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