I was interviewed by 2 Net Geners for Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, one of Germany’s largest circulation dailies. I enjoyed the interview and below is a pretty good translation.

The original can be found: http://jetzt.sueddeutsche.de/texte/anzeigen/488882

“For you the internet is like breathing”

Those who are “Digital Natives” can no longer imagine a life without web access. That makes our parents afraid — but it puts Canadian professor Don Tapscott into a good mood.

The Canadian Don Tapscott, born in 1947, is probably one of those people that one can call an internet guru.  The adjunct professor from Toronto wrote a well-regarded book about how the knowledge of the masses can change the economy.  Then he published (only available in English so far) Grown Up Digital.  To write the book, he observed more than 11,000 youths and how they dealt with new media.  His conclusions contradict all those pessimists who think that the young can’t accomplish much, given all their texting and social networking.

Jetzt.de (JD): Mr. Tapscott, if I’ve been surfing the internet since I was 7, have a blog, use Twitter and am on several social networks — does that make me a digital native, in other words a native of the web?
DT: You’re a digital native because you’ve grown up with the internet. That makes the internet like breathing for you. Digital natives sit down in front of their computer and have three applications going. They’re reading three different blogs, telephoning, listening to music at the same time, and doing their homework.

JD: Lots of parents aren’t so great at multitasking, and believe that this jumping back and forth will make you crazy.
DT: I can’t do it either! But the brains of the young generation have developed much differently from ours.  I’m part of the baby boomer generation. When I was a child, television was going 24 hours a day. Today the young people are online. They aren’t sitting passively in front of the screen, but they’re reading, researching, absorbing information, telling their stories. Digital natives aren’t really multitasks, but they can switch faster back and forth between activities.

JD: Does that make us into people for whom you can have a lot of hope?
DT: Young people are better today at asking about what’s behind information. They’re good at checking it and juggling different sources. They’re faster, when something isn’t right: for example, when a photo has been altered.  They approach information much differently.  An example: I met a young student that I write about in my book.  He’s very engaged and now is studying in Oxford.  He says that he never reads books. But he knows what’s in them — through the internet.  Lots of older people get upset at that.

JD: Isn’t it a shame when someone doesn’t read books?
DT: In 50 years, no one will read books anymore. Books are ridiculous.

JD: But YOU write books!
DT: And it’s ridiculous!  This concept is completely old-fashioned. It’d be a lot better if the books had links and multimedia content that was constantly updated. But, what I’m saying applies only to non-fiction. With novels, it’s different.

JD: Is our generation addicted to the internet?
DT: You’ve gotten accustomed to the many advantages that the internet offers and you use them correspondingly often. Without the net, you couldn’t communicate with friends, couldn’t be productive, couldn’t get information. That’s why it’s so dangerous when people ban the internet at school and at work. You have the best tools that have ever existed.  You know a whole new culture of innovation, of interconnection, of speed.  And we?  We have this defensive reflex.  We try to control you and take away your tools!  It’s very normal today to block social networks in the workplace or in schools.

JD: That’s probably the “digital divide” between those who naturally use the web and those that still have to get to know it.
DT: I call that the “firewall between the generations.”

JD: Why do our parents have such reservations about the internet?
DT: We’re afraid of what we don’t know. That’s why we put the computer for a 14-year-old in the living room, where we can monitor him. But then he’s got a computer in his pocket! And in school! In Portugal, every 12-year-old gets a laptop with high-speed internet access in the classroom.

JD: We know that you’re for education reform. But honestly, since the schools are being outfitted with the most modern technology, aren’t students doing better today?
DT: It’s not a matter of technology. It’s a matter of working interactively and in groups, the way that youths have gotten used to since they were small.  Stand-up frontal teaching is supposed to work for every student; the teacher is in focus.  That may have worked in my youth.  I was always the receiver: as a television viewer, at school, at home, at church.  Today we need a model where both sides learn from each other.

JD: What do we have to do to break through this “firewall”?
DT: In the smallest institution, the family, the parents have to begin to work with the digital world.  They should sign up for social networks, use Twitter and iPhones, to bring the family together.  In the working world, it used to be normal that the young learn from their elders. Today that should be balanced, because the elders have a lot to learn from the young.

JD: You want to turn the mentorship principle around?
DT: I already have. I have three colleagues who are all in their mid-20s and they keep me current. They forced me to get a Twitter account. I didn’t want to at first, because I found it ridiculous.

JD: You probably asked yourself what good Twitter would be for you, right?
DT: Exactly! My generation always wants to see a cost/benefit analysis first.  The young, on the contrary, are digital natives. They just use it. It’s like air for them.

JD: You once said that with Barack Obama, the digital natives had elected their first president. In that sense, have the digital natives received the Nobel Prize? His grass roots campaign would have been unthinkable without this generation.
DT: Barack Obama is the first head of state worldwide who understands how powerful this young generation is.  So he gave them what they wanted: a platform where they could connect with each other.  I still get regular emails from him, asking me to “Donate! Participate! Organize a meeting!”  He has changed the connection between the people and government.

Don Tapscott