Monday, December 10, 2007

The natives are restlessly texting

There has been some really interesting debate going back and forth on the subject of "Digital Natives" (see Vaidhyanathan's Googlization of Everything and Gomez's Print is Dead for commentary and comments from both on this)
I would like to add my two cents, such as it is, to this debate. I had the distinct pleasure of hitting up the Electric Factory in Phila on Friday, December 10th to catch MeWithoutYou, Thrice and BrandNew. (Side note: Good show overall; wasn't a big fan of Thrice when I got there and that didn't change watching their set. BrandNew and MeWithoutYou continue to prove their energy and musicianship) The age of crowd probably ranged from 15-27 with some exceptions. I am admittedly on the older end of the scale weighing in at 24 years of age. What was really interesting to me, and bears the point of the "Digital Natives" is that as soon as the current band was finished with a song, not the set but a song in that set, these neon glows started popping up all around the crowd. In the middle of a show, these individuals were texting like they were breaking the next Pulitzer Prize winning story.
Please know that I'm not against texting or technology. The word "technology" is in my job title and I regularly utilize the alpha-numeric keys on my mobile for non-verbal communication. What really astounded me and continues to do so is the seeming inability to stop "being native" that is participating in a digital world. Just from looking around where I was in the crowd most of the texts were responses to conversations. Obviously there's a level of "I'm here; you're not sucker" but at the same time that wasn't the content of every single conversation. This is not to say that all 15-27 year olds fall into some marketing dynamic or technology cliche but I believe there is definitive truth in the nomenclature of "digital native". The behavior demonstrated at this show is bound to be consistent with behavior outside of the show.
I understand that attempting to label an entire generation on the basis of a 5 hour experience is not exactly a Barnum poll but I think it sheds some light on the debate. Texting is how these kids stay connected and breaking that connection, even for a short amount of time was not even comprehensible. I believe that this constant interruption of outside forces calling for attention is a trend that is noticeable in other areas. Taking this scenario outside of a rock'n roll show, why are these kids texting their friends between songs? Just a wild guess but if you ask I'll bet they say they are bored. the current spectacle has paused, however briefly and the need for new entertainment/stimulation is required. This changes the scenario from a love/hate one to a scenario where the individual feels perfectly justified in expecting interactions to fight for his attention by being the most entertaining, the most enjoyable or the most _________. This is not to say that we need to change all current approaches to education or outreach to only include digital models but that we need to be aware, especially myself as a MLIS student, that this digital zeitgeist is going to affect perceptions, philosophies and worldviews in yet unforeseen ways. At best it will provide us with incredible tools and knowledge; at worst it will birth a culture of entertainment vampires.

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