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The problem with ‘digital generation’: A study of adult digital content creators (MeCCSA 2015)

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The problem with ‘digital generation’: A study of adult digital content creators
Karl Mannheim (1952 [1928]) wrote about problems associated with use of the term ‘generation’. He argued that generational consciousness within a generation is not necessarily homogeneous or coherent, as there will be divergent views and practices within any group. Indeed one of the main criticisms arising from comparisons and differentiation between people in pre-defined generational groups is that standardised assumptions and pre-conceptions are made about how they behave and their ability to learn. This is particularly problematic in the digital era when use of the terms ‘digital generation’ and ‘net generation’ (Tapscott, 2008) are used for the categorisation of age delineation (Buckingham, 2006).

This research investigates 36 UK adults using digital technology as they participate in the practices of content creation, distribution and sharing online as a form of vernacular creativity. It views participants not as members of a pre-defined generation, but as individuals within an age range. Consequently, generational preconceptions were suspended in favour of an approach linked to the modes of communication and technologies available and familiar to them in their early life and to their own personal circumstances and backgrounds. Research revealed that adopting digital technologies acted as enablers in facilitating the unlocking of suppressed behaviour and creative desires across the age spectrum. In addition the research findings offer a nuanced set of conclusions where both commonly held actions of purpose and age related circumstances are important. These are alternative to the over-simplistic and sometimes polemical perception that the so-called ‘digital generation’ are more digitally adept and literate than older internet users.

Bibliography

Buckingham, D. (2006), Is there a Digital Generation? In: David Buckingham & Willett, R. (eds.) Digital Generations: Children, Young People and New Media. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Mannheim, K. (1952 [1928]), The Problem of Generations. In: Kecskemeti, P. (ed.) Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Tapscott, D. (2008), Grown Up Digital, New York, NY, McGraw-Hill.

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The problem with ‘digital generation’: A study of adult digital content creators (MeCCSA 2015)

  1. 1. The problem with ‘digital generation’: A study of adult digital content creators Tim Riley Ravensbourne 1 MeCCSA 2015
  2. 2. 2 Background
  3. 3. 1. Terms such as ‘digital natives’ (Prensky, 2001) and the ‘digital’ and ‘net generation’ (Tapscott, 1999; 2008) appear too simplistic and ignore the diversity of all internet users. 1. People of all ages are introduced to digital technology in different ways, at different times and by different means – irrespective of age. 1. There is still an interdependence and convergence of both analogue and digital technologies. 2. There was no ‘year zero’ when digital technology ‘appeared’. Context
  4. 4. Quantel Paintbox Back in 1983
  5. 5. The ‘Digital Generation’ Generational polemicists • Marc Prensky: “digital natives” v “digital immigrants” • Don Tapscott: “net generation/N-Geners” v “baby boomers/generation x” or - “television generation” • Don Tapscott argues that the internet has enabled the ‘net generation’ to, “enhanced their intelligence” (Tapscott, 2009:30). Robin Fox calls this “ethnographic dazzle” where “difference overwhelms the equal fact of consistent central patterns”. www.csicop.org/si/show/human_nature_project
  6. 6. The ‘Digital Generation’ The Mail Online 9th April 2012 The Guardian 7th August 2015
  7. 7. Is there a ‘Digital Generation’ ? Siva Vaidhyanathan Not all young people are “tech-savvy” and talk of a “digital generation” or people who are “born digital” wilfully ignores the vast range of skills, knowledge, and experience of many segments of society (2008).
  8. 8. Generational Theory Karl Mannheim’s generational theory Generation location; generation as actuality; and generation unit, which express the different components of a generation. “[T]hose groups within the same actual generation which work up the material of their common experiences in different specific ways constitute different generational units” (1952 [1928]:314). Generational consciousness within a generation is not necessarily homogeneous or coherent, as there will be divergent views and practices within any group. He also believed that as the pace of social change accelerates, the boundaries between generations are likely to become blurred.
  9. 9. David Buckingham The notion of a digital generation – a generation defined through its relationship with a particular technology or medium – clearly runs the risk of attributing an all-powerful role to technology.” Technology “needs to be seen in the context of other social, economic and political developments (2006:11). To a greater or lesser extent, technological change affects us all, adults included. Yet the consequences of technology depends crucially on how we use technology and what we use it for, and these things are subjected to a considerable degree of social variation within age groups as between them (2006:11). Is there a ‘Digital Generation’ ?
  10. 10. Digital content creation and sharing in adults Focus of research
  11. 11. Unloading Self-created Content to Any Website & Shared 11 Source: Office for National Statistics – Internet Access 2012 UK Households and Individuals (2013)
  12. 12. Definition Content creation in the context of this research defined as: An arrangement of visual and/or audio material that requires some element of composition or editing that has been created outside of a professional framework. Digital text is not included in this definition, other than its association to the visual and/or audio content. The inclusion of digital text would make analysis of content too broad.
  13. 13. Methodology Age bands of this study 18–28, 40–50, +65 (retired) Sample 36 participants already participating in the practices of content creation, distribution and sharing online as a form of vernacular creativity. Qualitative methods Interviews: face-to-face, semi-structured, open-ended and conversational (2 conducted via Skype)
  14. 14. Methodology • Participants were not viewed as members of a pre-defined generation, but as individuals within an age range. • Generational preconceptions were suspended in favour of an approach linked to: • the modes of communication and technologies available and familiar to them during their life. • To their own personal circumstances and backgrounds.
  15. 15. 15 My research
  16. 16. 16 Research findings
  17. 17. http://phdcontentcreation.wordpress.com Content Creation and Sharing
  18. 18. www.youtube.com/user/geriatric1927 Content Creation and Sharing
  19. 19. Geriatric1927 First video – August 4th 2006 Final video on 12th February 2014 45,697 subscribers 9,343,755 video views 434 videos Peter passed away on 23rd March 2014. His last video has been viewed over 50,000 times. Content Creation and Sharing
  20. 20. A nuanced set of conclusions: 1. Life stage related 2. Commonalities Research findings
  21. 21. +65 • All were involved in some form of post-retirement re-education. • For several, learning the transfer from analogue to digital technology or adopting digital was a gradual and necessary requirement for them to pursue their hobbies. • Digital photography was a gateway technology. Introduced them to image manipulation software. • For some, introduction to the digital domain was an unintended consequence of education, where introduction to digital technology or software was necessary for successful completion and progression. • Displayed neither a model of tech-savvy ‘silver surfer’ or ‘digital dismissive’ Research findings
  22. 22. +65 Research findings
  23. 23. 40–50 • Digital technology had been gradually introduced into many participant’s lives with a comparatively lengthy transition period from analogue to digital. • Resulted in an almost unconscious domestication of both technologies. • Many learned to use digital technology in the workplace where they were introduced to the internet. • Experience of both digital and analogue domains helped them evaluate, assess, accept or reject the values and workings of digital culture. • ‘a double edged sword’ • Some experienced feelings of anxiety from the seeming enormity of people, content and information on the internet. • Some developed negative views of digital culture and ambivalence towards certain digital tools. Research findings
  24. 24. 18-28 • Varying levels of computer education and accessibility exist in secondary schools, which has both helped and hampered development of learning digital technology and to use computers. • Adopting learning by trial and error was the most common way for the participants in this age range to learn technology. This includes participants who struggled with or were apathetic to technology and the internet at school. • Several considered growing up during the transitional period of change from analogue to digital had given them greater understanding of digital technology. Research findings
  25. 25. Commonalities 1. Several participants from all age ranges expressed that they possessed ‘natural’ abilities to adopt digital technologies. 2. Participants with perceived lack of aptitude or skills for digital technology persevered, sometimes at a rudimentary level, because they were motivated to communicate and express themselves creatively. 3. Several participants from all age ranges expressed that they were initially timid, sceptical or disinterested with the affordances of digital technology, particularly in the 18–28 age range. 4. Adept at integrating digital and analogue technology (digilogues). Research findings
  26. 26. Commonalities 6. Practice of digital content creation was not necessarily technologically driven. 7. Motivation to create and share content was the intrinsic desire for creative self-expression. 8. Using digital technology was an enabler for a broader scope of affiliation with others and for receiving recognition and feedback. 9. Sharing self-created content online fulfilled participants’ need for validation and feedback of their content, and helped build confidence in their abilities. • Particularly those who were physically isolated or socially ostracised. Research findings
  27. 27. Provides an alternative to the over-simplistic and sometimes polemical perception that the ‘digital generation’ are more digitally adept and literate than other internet users. • While age and life stage are important, strict generalisations of generational groups are problematic. • In many cases, adopting digital technologies acted as enablers in facilitating the unlocking of suppressed behaviour and creative aspiration across the age spectrum. • Greater emphasis on digital literacy for all age ranges. Conclusion
  28. 28. tim@timrileydigital.com @timfrantic Thank you

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