In my last post on generally the same topic, Unschooling and the Digital Native, I talked about the concept of the digital native (DN), as it applies to my children, and how I relate to them as unschoolers. As I mentioned in that post, I work for a technology company, in the general field of technical communications, catering to software developers. And lately, there's been a lot of buzz about "the new developer," the next generation of young computer professionals coming up through the ranks, graduating from college or not, doing brilliant things with technology. Those New Developers are the up and coming Digital Natives I was talking about before. So businesspeople, as much as parents, who want to talk to those people are having to learn, and fast, how to communicate with Natives.
I'm having a range of fascinating conversations with my coworkers. By and large they're older than me, and they're poised at a different spot in their parenting paths, with generally just-barely-grown children. So the whole digital native thing catches them at a different spot than it catches me. But it is definitely worth examining again, here, because what I'm seeing at work is the result of the growing pains when older DNs intersect with DI or non-digital social structures. This is the kind of thing our own children are going to face, when they head out into the world beyond home/unschooling. This is the form, I think, of the cross-generational miscommunication of the future.
A major concern I'm hearing from my coworkers is that DNs have, like rampaging Visigoths, reduced the richness of culture into sound bites. One particular digital immigrant I work with, a man steeped daily in technology, mourns what he perceives as the loss of exposure to culture that his DN children (who are in their late teens) seem to have. He wails "They're reducing Shakespeare to a text message!"
In order to reduce Shakespeare to :-/, you first need to know the material you're reducing. It's actually far more respectful of the person you're talking to, because you assume they both know and are familiar with, the cultural touch point. If I refer to someone as "Yorick", I am assuming that the person I'm talking to is conversant enough with Shakespeare to spot a Hamlet reference, and attribute the correct meaning to my referent.
Interestingly, the DNs value depth even more than we do, I think, once they've determined independently that it has value. It's just that their tolerance for nonsense is far far far lower than ours, and they want you to communicate as fast and as directly as possible, so they can get on with the meat of what they're doing.
DNs don't tolerate textbooks well at all, for example, because they're boring, monolithic, and authoritarian. No hyperlinks. The opportunity cost of tracking down an author's credibility and veracity is far higher, and often not worth it, compared to the cost of getting the same information from a more quickly verified online source. But DNs tolerate literature and film beautifully, because in order to have linguistic shorthand function effectively, everyone has to have the same touch points, which is what culture provides. Example: I'm in a meeting, and someone who doesn't even have a blog is blathering on about using the online community as a vehicle for disseminating press releases (this is, incidentally, a form of towering heresy). The DN I'm sitting next to leans over, mutters "blue pill", and sits back up straight. He and I both know the film "The Matrix" by heart, and in two quick syllables, the DN has communicated to me the depth of his disdain, and his perception of this person's utter cluelessness.
I'm seeing an unconscious valuation of culture in some forms above exactly the same items in other forms. If you are attending a play or reading a manuscript, that's culture. If you're watching a video or reading an online discussion of precisely the same material, you're an uncultured, dissolute youth, despite the fact that you are most likely covering more territory in your exploration (where's Denmark on the map? Who were other princes of Denmark? How freaky was the royal family, anyway?). Referring to classical literature, and discussing the social perceptions of people centuries dead is worthy; incorporating the buzzphrases of the icons of your own time is intellectual cheapness. With such judgmentalism going on, it's no wonder the DNs are slowly withdrawing into a world of lingo, catchphrase, and abbreviation.
It's sad and weird and a little strange when different approaches to exposure, assimilation, and reconnecting to the same cultural touchpoints results in two groups of people assuming the other set just doesn't get it. Even more, going forward, being able to suspend value judgment of the delivery method of enculturation is going to be a critical survival skill.
Laureen is a writer, a professional editor, a scuba instructor, a beginning sailor, a traveler, and an obsessive researcher who's chiefly focused on, and delighted with, her husband Jason and her sons Rowan and Kestrel. She's a lifelong Californian, which lends a very distinctive spin to both her ideas and her politics, and she's discovered, in her peregrinations, that the world is far smaller yet far more fascinating than anyone gives it credit for being. She holds forth her opinions on that in her blog, The ElementalMom.