If you have not yet experienced "Digital Natives" in their natural habitat, come on over to my house on any weekend. When I wander down stairs on a Saturday or Sunday morning, the scene is always pretty much the same. The TV is on and yammering away. But my kids are far more engaged in their respective laptops than they are in the TV making noise in the foreground. My 6 year old is likely buying a new go kart for his Webkinz monkey. My 8 year old is busy shooting balloons on Addicting Games. My 11 year old is blogging about some great new Japanese rock band video he found on YouTube. My 13 year old is reading the latest news about his favorite performers on Broadway.com. And, amazingly, while "watching" TV and voraciously consuming the Web, my children are more than capable of fighting with each at the same time -- digital multitasking at its finest.
Digital Natives today may be a small group of non-voting, non-credit card holding kids. But soon Digital Natives will be the predominant consumers of media, goods, services. And as such, they will expect their experiences to be inherently digital. Analog experiences will be viewed as quaint -- perhaps they'll trigger nostalgia for the good old days of board games and books -- but, in the end, the expectations will be one hundred percent digital. Companies will need to think differently about how they market to Digital Natives. Governments will need to think differently about how they engage Digital Citizens. Doctors will need to think diffeerently about how they treat Digital Patients. It won't be an evolution -- it will need to be a revolution.
I already see this revolution when I'm pitched on businesses whose customers are kids. Businesses focused on children or Millennials (the next big group of consumers being chased by the advertising world) have no interest in the historically analog world. Their products are naturally digital. They acquire customers digitally. They interact digitally. Indeed, any analog byproduct of the digital experience (you know, like meet real humans in person) is just that, a byproduct. Kids want their media consumption, their shopping, their communications to be digital. Webkinz is a great example of this phenomenon -- who would have thought that stuffed animals could prove to be the gateway drug to a digital experience? Yet that is precisely what they have become.
In light of all that, it was great to read the timely new book by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser called "Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives." John and Urs look into the opportunities and challenges posed by this digital revolution. Those of us with kids are living in and among the Digital Natives and certainly can use all the help we can get to navigate this brave new world both for ourselves and for our kids.
I am a huge fan of John Palfrey's. John has spent the better part of the last decade running Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. On the side, he has been thrilling students in the classroom at Harvard Law School, doing interesting research, charming would be donors to the Center, and moonlighting as a Venture Capitalist at Highland Capital. He is truly a renaissance man. I have the great fortune of co-teaching a class on entrepreneurship and Venture Capital with John and he is a wonderfully understated speaker and thinker.
For those of you in the Bay Area next Monday, September 15th, I am co-sponsoring an event in the city to celebrate the release of John's "Born Digital" book. The reception is for friends of the Berkman Center and will include a talk by John about his book. It should be a great group of people and an interesting conversation. There is no need to RSVP to the event, just come on by. Here are the details:
Book Talk and Reception for Born Digital: Understanding The First Generation of Digital Natives by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser Monday, September 15th, 2008 6:00PM, to be followed by a cocktail reception.
8 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94105
Directions and map: http://www.hotelvitale.com/location/directions&map.html
More about the Event: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/node/4575
More about Born Digital and the Authors: http://www.borndigitalbook.com/
Born Digital in Seattle 9/17/08: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/node/4576
About the Berkman Center: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/about