Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Natives have landed

This is a momentous month in Tertiary education, but it will be another five years before people notice exactly how, and what it means.
This month, in campuses all over the world, the first cohort of true digital natives are arriving, children who never lived in a world without web. The web became a publicly available service on August 6th 1991, and this is the first year where a substantial proportion of the new cohort were born after that date. They were four when eBay and Amazon was born, nine when the dotcom boom crashed, and ten when Wikipedia was born. When they turned to adolescence, Facebook and Bebo were waiting for them.
They are the first generation who always went online first when looking for information. Facts, for them, are things to be retrieved in seconds, not memorized or held in a revered old head. The limits of geography are to them a fading anachronism of the old days, slain by Ryanair and Skype. Their social networks connect them into an extended collective mind. New ideas flash across it, flower and die in hours. It's long term implications are unknown.
Much has been written about this generation web, generally by older academics, who don't hold with That Sort Of Thing, (whatever it is this year) or starry eyed prophets who see revolution on the wires, any minute now. Both will be shown to be wrong as this new generation transition to adulthood and find their own voices. They will be a generation like no other before them. Handle with care, and expect to be surprised.

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