Google Generation

For the record, I think it’s awesome that Stephen Abram, the President of the SLA is as plugged into my life as he is. I subscribe to his blog, we follow each other on Twitter. Sometimes when he’s in town, he calls me up for drink- wait no. No, that never happened. But still. I feel like I know the guy. Social software really is social!

At any rate, he recently shared a story on his blog, Stephen’s Lighthouse, that I found interesting. You can see the full post here, and the Times Online article it discusses here.

The gist of the article is that the Google generation thinks and works very differently than the 40+ crowd. The Googlers – or “Digital Natives” – can multi-task between their i-pods, Facebook, their research for a school project, and a youtube video. The parents – “Digital Immigrants” – use technologies like e-mail and Google for their professional work, but don’t plug into web 2.0 technologies in their personal lives. I wonder then, where that leaves people like me: 25, so I remember very clearly the days of dial-up, but can only vaguely recall the days without Internet at all. I found a project from Grade 6 that alludes to a website on poverty in Africa (Ever was I a soldier for social justice), but I wasn’t reared on web2.0. Am I an immigrant or a native? Maybe a naturalize citizen of the ‘net? Or, heaven forbid, an immigrant trying to fake is at a native, like those Moms you see at the mall in hip huggers and Guess heels, thinking they have everyone convinced they’re 16 years old. Yikes.

I think though, that people my age have the best of both worlds. We remember when the Internet used to be hard, and you really had to dig deep to find what you were looking for. It fostered a need to approach a website critically, and to be wearing of its content. We learned how to use paper-based resources because we remember when their online counterparts didn’t even exist. But we lived through the radical transformations of Internet into highly usable tools that were simple to use, attractive and empowering, and we were on board.

Even as I write this, I’m clicking between Facebook, my blog feeds and chat. My habits “look” like that of the Google generation – a practice that can sometimes appear to those of my parent’s generation like more goofing around than doing productive work. But I know the merits of printing off a good journal article and reading it meticulously, poised with a highlighter to mark those concepts that are particularly salient. As a librarian, I like that I understand both sides of the coin, and mediate between the old folks with their well-crafted e-mails (void of any LOLs, WTFs, or OMGs), as well as the young whipper snappers, who have 14 tabs open on their web-browsers, perhaps 5 of which are directly related to their work. My advice at the reference desk will certainly depend on whether my user is a Digital Native or a Digital Immigrant (or neither), but I can speak clearly to both worlds.

Which brings me to my last, important point: The Google Generation aren’t just in middle- or high-school anymore… They’re also in graduate school. Which means they’ve already started working alongside older librarians, but don’t talk, work, or process information in the same way. The next time that junior librarian appears to be mucking around on Facebook instead of doing real “work”, remember that Times Online article, and the lessons of an exasperated British mother.

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