Here Comes Gen Net

Teenagers are as familiar with the web as they are with television. When someone asks for their address, they think e—mail first. Computers without the Internet are useless to them and the frustration on their face shows it.

When they finally come of age, "Generation Net" will bring very marketable tech savvy skills to the workforce. Still, a society powered with Gen Net Inside might look more like Lord of the Flies than that of the high—tech Jetsons.

Unlike Gen Xers, today's generation definitely has something to define itself by: the Internet. "Generation Net" or Gen Net lives online. They have clever away messages to describe each portion of the day they are disconnected from the Internet. They blog about travels or relationships. Most importantly, many younger members of Generation Net hardly remember life without the web.

Gen Net's understanding of the World Wide Web is quite unlike that of their Baby Boomer parents. Baby Boomers and even Generation X to a certain extent was largely first introduced to the Internet as a business tool. E—mail presented a new paradigm to communicate with colleagues and clients. Storing files online meant teams could work remotely or even be distributed around the world.

Not so for Generation Net. Their cognizance of the Internet has always been directly related to its social implications. Instant messaging with friends, downloading and sharing music for "free", and multi—player games online — these are just a few of the ways the Internet functions as an extension of their social interaction.

Of course Baby Boomers and others outside Generation Net are obviously now using the Internet for activities other than work. The difference, however, is that these users mainly see the web as a means to save time and make their lives more efficient. Buying a present online prevents the frustrations of dealing with screaming kids and traffic (well, at least the latter is true). Looking up directions for a weekend trip prevents Aunt Edna from providing wrong directions... again.

For Generation Net, however, that sort of efficiency is taken for granted. It has been incorporated into how they live and operate in society.

It is ironic that high—speed connections have propelled Gen Net—ers to all—time lows. They are not just innocently Googling the name of that actor who stars in their favorite movie. The Internet has fostered a psychology of instantaneous satisfaction. Students can now 'outsource' their school projects for rather reasonable costs. And why not do so? If the web can alleviate the frustration of trying to remember the name of that darn actor, then it could obviously help with responses to difficult questions on a take home test.

Generation Net's widespread failure to distinguish acceptable use of online resources is further exemplified by student habits in their places of study. Many schools now block MySpace — a popular social networking site — because, amongst other reasons, kids were constantly 'hanging out' on it instead of completing school work on their Internet—enabled computers.

Questions of ethics and productivity are already frequent concerns in places of business. Now imagine a workforce that consisted mainly of Generation Net. Imagine a workforce that was accustomed to stealing intellectual property or comfortable wasting their employer's time via the click of a mouse. Gen Net has the possibility to be the worst Human Resource nightmare ever.

Despite what may seem evident in Generation Net, the Internet is actually not facilitating a fundamental shift in culture and values. Instead, it is bringing to light the already corrupt nature of human beings. First evident via Napster and music piracy, the anonymity of the net diminishes the fear of punishment. With the perceived absence of authority, netizens (and Gen Net in particular) take liberty to do as they please online because they believe they cannot be held accountable for their actions. They think their invisibility makes them invincible.

The main way to combat Generation Net's current proclivities is to show them that laws and social norms apply to their virtual world. Fortunately, that is beginning to occur on a more visible scale. In recent months, both USA Today and Business Week have detailed the effects the virtual world is having on the real one. The influence has been life—altering, with college and job applicants missing out on opportunities because of their digital personas.

Solutions to these problems do not lie in future technological advances or by new legislation alone. The web is now woven into the very essence of an entire generation. If the "invisible invincible" mindset is allowed to prevail, outsourced homework will be the least of society's problems, making the potential impact of Gen Net as troubling as it is promising.

Ken Yarmosh is the proprietor of the blog Technosight.

Teenagers are as familiar with the web as they are with television. When someone asks for their address, they think e—mail first. Computers without the Internet are useless to them and the frustration on their face shows it.

When they finally come of age, "Generation Net" will bring very marketable tech savvy skills to the workforce. Still, a society powered with Gen Net Inside might look more like Lord of the Flies than that of the high—tech Jetsons.

Unlike Gen Xers, today's generation definitely has something to define itself by: the Internet. "Generation Net" or Gen Net lives online. They have clever away messages to describe each portion of the day they are disconnected from the Internet. They blog about travels or relationships. Most importantly, many younger members of Generation Net hardly remember life without the web.

Gen Net's understanding of the World Wide Web is quite unlike that of their Baby Boomer parents. Baby Boomers and even Generation X to a certain extent was largely first introduced to the Internet as a business tool. E—mail presented a new paradigm to communicate with colleagues and clients. Storing files online meant teams could work remotely or even be distributed around the world.

Not so for Generation Net. Their cognizance of the Internet has always been directly related to its social implications. Instant messaging with friends, downloading and sharing music for "free", and multi—player games online — these are just a few of the ways the Internet functions as an extension of their social interaction.

Of course Baby Boomers and others outside Generation Net are obviously now using the Internet for activities other than work. The difference, however, is that these users mainly see the web as a means to save time and make their lives more efficient. Buying a present online prevents the frustrations of dealing with screaming kids and traffic (well, at least the latter is true). Looking up directions for a weekend trip prevents Aunt Edna from providing wrong directions... again.

For Generation Net, however, that sort of efficiency is taken for granted. It has been incorporated into how they live and operate in society.

It is ironic that high—speed connections have propelled Gen Net—ers to all—time lows. They are not just innocently Googling the name of that actor who stars in their favorite movie. The Internet has fostered a psychology of instantaneous satisfaction. Students can now 'outsource' their school projects for rather reasonable costs. And why not do so? If the web can alleviate the frustration of trying to remember the name of that darn actor, then it could obviously help with responses to difficult questions on a take home test.

Generation Net's widespread failure to distinguish acceptable use of online resources is further exemplified by student habits in their places of study. Many schools now block MySpace — a popular social networking site — because, amongst other reasons, kids were constantly 'hanging out' on it instead of completing school work on their Internet—enabled computers.

Questions of ethics and productivity are already frequent concerns in places of business. Now imagine a workforce that consisted mainly of Generation Net. Imagine a workforce that was accustomed to stealing intellectual property or comfortable wasting their employer's time via the click of a mouse. Gen Net has the possibility to be the worst Human Resource nightmare ever.

Despite what may seem evident in Generation Net, the Internet is actually not facilitating a fundamental shift in culture and values. Instead, it is bringing to light the already corrupt nature of human beings. First evident via Napster and music piracy, the anonymity of the net diminishes the fear of punishment. With the perceived absence of authority, netizens (and Gen Net in particular) take liberty to do as they please online because they believe they cannot be held accountable for their actions. They think their invisibility makes them invincible.

The main way to combat Generation Net's current proclivities is to show them that laws and social norms apply to their virtual world. Fortunately, that is beginning to occur on a more visible scale. In recent months, both USA Today and Business Week have detailed the effects the virtual world is having on the real one. The influence has been life—altering, with college and job applicants missing out on opportunities because of their digital personas.

Solutions to these problems do not lie in future technological advances or by new legislation alone. The web is now woven into the very essence of an entire generation. If the "invisible invincible" mindset is allowed to prevail, outsourced homework will be the least of society's problems, making the potential impact of Gen Net as troubling as it is promising.

Ken Yarmosh is the proprietor of the blog Technosight.