October 6, 2000

The Net Generation

The New Teen Culture  

internetAre you 22 or younger? Have you ever had to help your parents with the computer? Then you belong to the Net Generation. How is technology changing the lives of people your age around the globe?

America currently contains about 88 million members of the Net Generation. These "N-Geners" are kids who have been manipulating mouses since an early age. While past generations made do with the telephone and television, today's generation has access to those devices and super-realistic video games, the Internet, e-mail, instant messaging, online communities, and videos and music that can be downloaded over a computer.

Thanks to e-mail, many kids communicate daily with pen pals around the globe. Some can download their homework if they miss a day of school. Others have even built their own Web sites. While it's easy to take these activities for granted, this high level of interactivity is shaping the Net Generation's culture, values, and world outlook.

After studying young people for his book, Growing Up Digital, author Don Tapscott says the following descriptions apply to most N-Geners.

  • Look at the checklist below. Make an "x" in the space below each category if a description fits you and your friends. Which adjectives would you add?


Characteristic Checklist

globally conscious
Going Global  

While many young Americans and Europeans are used to living in a high-tech world, their peers in developing countries are not. According to the World Bank, about 40% of the world's population have never made a phone call, and 1.2 billion people live on less than $1 a day. For these people, modern technology means very little.

  • Six billion people live worldwide. According to the statistic provided by the World Bank, how many of them have never made a phone call? What do you think are the consequences?

Despite the statistics, many companies interested in broadening business markets are working to connect developing countries to the Internet. Other organizations want children and adults in developing countries to have access to the information and resources available on the Web, especially sites that have scientific and educational value.

Currently, an American company called Africa ONE is building a $1.9 billion cable network to connect all 54 nations within the African continent to the Information Highway. About 19,883 miles (32,000 km) of fiber-optic cable will circle the continent beneath the ocean's surface. Laying of the undersea cable will begin in 2001, and the network should be ready for service by 2002.

Similar connective efforts are taking place in South America. Two companies, Telefónica de España of Spain and Global Crossing of the United States, are competing to ring the continent with undersea fiber-optic cable by next March or April.

  • Submarine cable capacity between the United States and Latin America will increase from 275.6 gigabits per second this year to 1,595.6 gigabits per second next year. Gigabits refers to the amount of data that can be transferred over the cables. Estimate how many times greater the connectivity between the United States and Latin America will be by next year. Why might better connectivity between the continents benefit you?

Pros & Cons of Connectivity  

Some critics are concerned that children of developing countries will be adversely affected by the technology invasion set to happen within their borders over the next several years. Much of the material on the Internet is oriented toward the Western values of North America and Europe. This can present a lopsided view of the world, one in which the values and traditions of other cultures become invisible.

Critics worry that as children from South America, Africa, and Asia get massive exposure to Western ideas and values, rifts may develop between them and their parents.

Despite the potential problems, some people take a middle ground, saying that the globalization that would be powered by the Internet is not the same thing as Americanization.

  • Read "One World: It's A State of Mind," an essay written by Andrew Lam, an American journalist born and raised in South Vietnam. He argues that while it is easy for Americans to recognize how their culture affects the world (by noting the success of McDonald's and mega-malls around the globe), we often don't realize how the world changes us.

  • Think of several ways that other countries have affected your life. For example, what foods or music do you enjoy that originated in different countries? What sports do you play that originated in other lands?

Of course there are many benefits of developing countries being linked to the larger world. Scientists and doctors from around the world meet online in "virtual laboratories," to quickly spread medical and scientific news and research.

But the benefits extend beyond the medical. Many developing countries are also marked by political unrest. Oftentimes, a government will try to censor the press so that no news can filter to its citizens and the world at large. Such is the case in Sierra Leone, an African nation undergoing a civil war. Citizens there have been "going to great means to get to the Internet," says Brian Herlihy of Africa ONE. "It's the best way to spread news."

  • Read Riverdeep's Teaching the News article, "Diamonds Are a Guerrilla's Best Friend," to learn more about the situation in Sierra Leone. Why could the spread of news help citizens there?

  • Overall, do you think better Internet connectivity will help or harm people your age in different countries? Why?

  • Imagine yourself in college. What skills have you gained by using the Web that you think might be valuable in higher education?

Learn More

  • Read the Riverdeep Today article, "Impolite Society," which examines how technological advances lead to rudeness.


More Links

  • Meet friends worldwide with ePALS.


Related Resources

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