Digital Natives @ Play – where online and offline merge

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I was recently doing some end of winter gardening. My Digital Native children aged 11 and 7 ½ were outside helping. They were soon bored and began to play instead.

Soon the game was a good old-fashioned Army game of “Bang! You’re dead!” played with sticks and pieces of garden detritus. Except that it wasn’t….

Instead of arguments about whether they were actually dead, or not, the discussions that needed parental mediation were:

  • “You can’t respawn here is it too close to my spawn point”
  • “That power-up can only be used once, not for the whole game”
  • “I’ve just leveled up, so you can only wound me with that gun not kill me, unless you get a headshot”

We often hear adults and parents saying that they miss their children playing outside (the way they used to), playing wholesome games (the type they used to play), interacting with each other (how they used to). The reality is that Digital is the new NORMAL, it isn’t just a phase that our children will move through and revert to the way things have always been (the way we are normal).

For Digital Natives [aged under-30] it is normal for everything to be digital. As the example of my kid’s outdoor play illustrates, even their offline play and interaction is now informed and influenced by their online activity.

For Gen X, and younger Baby Boomers, our online activity was a reflection of our offline persona. The games we played, the way we interacted with tech, the way we designed tech, and the way we integrated tech into work and life were all driven from the perspective of how we did things when the tech was turned off. For Digital Natives there has never been a time when their tech has been turned off.

  • They grew up in a world of putting phones on “Silent” not turning them off.
  • They grew up in a world of instant messaging, not email – where you have to fetch your mail like your post.
  • They grew up in a world of touch technology, so they didn’t have to learn to read or type before they could use tech.
  • With the introduction of Apple’s watch this week the “Always on” reality will become more normal than ever before.

The implications for those of us who work with these Digital Natives is that we cannot look at technology as an add-on for productivity or competitive advantage. It is also not just something we put into our business to make it a desirable destination for Digital Native talent. For most of us we can be functional and effective without tech, because it only enables things we are doing offline already anyway.

For Digital Natives that isn’t true. They don’t have an offline persona that informs their online digital activity. Rather, their online digital activity informs their offline interaction. Digital Natives are not able to function effectively in an environment that assumes they are okay without tech – they aren’t. They never have been, and they never will be.

Digital is not an optional extra, it is the new baseline normality.

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