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Book Review: grown up digital

By Julie King |

Book Details:
Title:   grown up digital: how the net generation is changing your world
Author:   Don Tapscott
Publisher:   McGraw Hill
ISBN:   978-0-07-150863-6

Call them Gen Y or call them the Net Generation, as author Don Tapscott would prefer. Either way, this newest generation of workers to enter the workforce are changing the way that we live and work. Grown up digital describes the unique nature of people born between 1977 and 1997 and is presented as a field guide to baby boomers and Gen Xers who want to understand the future.

Grown up digital launched with many positive reviews, which was why I was surprised when I finally sat down to review the book to find it to be a very frustrating read.

While extremely enthusiastic in his presentation of this generation, my first impression of Tapscott's book was that it was scattered. Rather than presenting his research findings in a clear manner, Tapscott leaps from idea to idea. The end result is an upbeat yet fragmented book that needs an investment of careful reading to provide value.

My biggest criticism of this book is its organization, or more correctly its lack thereof.

What's more, I was alarmed to discover that Tapscott seemed to be guessing in some places as he built a picture of Gen Y. This jumped out at me in the "The Net Generation Brain" chapter with Tapscott's statement that Gen Y literally look at things like webpages differently than older workers.

Tapscott's argument that boomers would look at a webpage screenshot differently than a younger Gen Y viewer was contrary to my own experience on many web design projects. Out of curiousity I decided to test his theory by conducting an informal, highly unscientific survey of both my co-workers, who are a mix of Gen Y, Gen X and Baby Boomers, as well as my two children who fall at the younger end of Gen Y.

All but three people viewed the page in exactly the same way design studies predict, looking first to the logo, then the largest visual element followed by the smaller visual element. Only two people, both from Gen Y, looked at the large image first as Tapscott predicted. (The third co-worker looked at it in a totally unique way, wanting to scroll to form an impression of the entire image before looking at anything specific on the page.)

The end result of my informal survey was a strong sense of doubt. I had found one flaw. This left me questioning which of Tapscott's assertions I could trust and which were just guesses about the nature of Gen Y.

Nonetheless, there are good ideas here. There is also an extremely hopeful message about the opportunity for Gen Yers to positively influence the future.

For those who want to better understand Gen Y as marketers and employers, grown up digital provides insights into a number of trends. Tapscott successfully argues that the incredible access to communication technologies has caused a fundamental transformation in the way Gen Y shop, work and interact. For example, these younger consumers look for customization and personalization with an emphasis on aesthetics. They also place more value on the quality of their own lives, which will make flexible work schedules important to employers looking to attract the top talent.

My conclusion: if you are seriously interested in better understanding Gen Y, this text is a must read regardless of its weak points. Be prepared to spend time extracting the gems from a clutter of enthusiastic yet distracting anecdotes and ideas.

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