What is the biggest myth about teenagers

FOCUS SCHOOL | No. 5 (2011)
Young people and the Internet: Myth of the Net Generation

Technically, corded phones and smartphones are light years apart. But whether analog or digital, young people want the same thing as their parents: to communicate

When Catie comes home from school, she sits down at her laptop, checks emails and watches some videos on YouTube. A chat window pops up again and again in which her friends greet the lively 16-year-old with a "Hello" or something similar. Catie spends hour after hour in this virtual world.

The children just hang around on the Internet, many parents think they are watching. Various experts also share this opinion and go one step further: You can even see a whole new generation at work, the "network generation". First and foremost, the US author Marc Prensky describes the phenomenon and sees a digital divide growing: On the one hand there are the "digital natives", on the other the "digital immigrants" . For Prensky, digital natives are the first generation to grow up with the technologies of the digital age. Others also refer to them as the “network generation”, “cyberkids” or “Generation @”. These young people can use the internet, e-mail, mobile phone and chat intuitively; the use of these has manifested itself in the brain.

No rapid media change


The digital immigrants, who, as the two legal scholars John Palfrey and Urs Gasser add, were born before 1980, are completely different: They have no choice but to laboriously acquire digital innovations, although they actually prefer traditional media. Instead of chatting, they prefer a phone call, they prefer a face-to-face meeting. Parents often emphasize that 20 years ago they would have played a lot more outside, whereas nowadays children would rather spend their free time on the Internet and in front of game consoles.

Most people suppress the fact that the computer has existed for over 50 years, the Internet for 20 years and the first Gameboy came out in 1989. There can therefore actually be no talk of a rapid media change in the last ten years, as is often claimed. But the myth of a completely different, new youth persists. Wrongly: Children use media today as their parents once did. They often believe that the younger generation was born with computer know-how. However, the young people can turn on the PC and surf the Internet with a click of the mouse, but only with the help of the user interface. What technically happens when you press the on button on your computer is just as unclear to them as to their parents.

Cultural phenomenon


“The real pioneers of computer and media technology,” explains educational researcher Rolf Schulmeister, “are not meant by digital natives, although they understand a lot more about the digital”. A study by the Hans Bredow Institute from 2010 shows that young people use the Internet to search for information and, above all, to communicate. This does not require a digital language that they have to master - basically they practice an age-old form of culture that they have only adopted into virtual space.

As a reminder: TV was also viewed critically at the beginning. For the oldest generation in the 1950s, it was initially extremely strange to have someone in the living room who could be watched reading the news. “Can he see us too?” Was a question that the next generation smiled about even back then.

“The newer generation is always more familiar with the technical innovations than the previous one,” states media scientist Henry Jenkins. In the past it was the turntable, the television or the video recorder that was so easy to use when young, for today's youth it is the Internet, the computer and the mobile phone. Only the generation for whom it is new finds all of this exciting. It's a cultural phenomenon that has existed for centuries.

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