Blame Don Tapscott; even digital kids say the darndest things and give us priceless moments

don-tapscottIf you are 40 something with kids, have you noticed your kids learn differently than you did? 

Blaming Don Tapscott probably isn’t fair, because his 1998 book Growing Up Digital is as relevant in explaining things today as it was groundbreaking then.

cass-irhs-sept-2005A couple of weeks ago my wondrous 15 year old daughter, Cassidie, managed to say it all in 15 words or less: “I couldn’t make it any better, so I went back and made it worse.”   

The statement needs explaining, obviously, and it may possibly fall into one of those “you had to be there” categories, but let me try anyway to put you in that priceless moment, so to speak. 


Of course what kids learn today is a topic of its own. Perhaps another time I’ll post an entry on that topic alone, because I look at today’s high school math for example and I have a hard time believing I did any of it, let alone that I ever truly understood it. Who knows, maybe I did. 

For now I am more interested in how kids learn today, which is a quantum leap different from what I endured in the 60’s and 70’s. It’s astonishing to witness the role of digital technology in forming the minds of a generation that hardly knew of a time without PCs, the Internet, Cell Phones, MP3 players, Digital Cameras…etc. Forget library index card, what’s a Library? In a matter of minutes, kids today can access, research, and absorb 10 times the information which in my time took days, even weeks.

For years I considered digital technology as simply a collection of more efficient tools for getting a job done. And they are that also. But being a bit of a techno-weenie myself and as soon as the kids could use them, or sooner, there wasn’t a piece of digital technology they didn’t grow up with. All houses have high speed connections in all rooms don’t they? And Dad, what do you mean not all 8 year olds don’t have a MSN on their PDA-Phones? Voice mail? forget it! Takes too long, just TM me.”

What I didn’t quite realize until more recently though, is the significant impact on core “thinking processes” and “problem solving” that occurs as a direct result of being exposed, nearly since birth, to a steady diet of digital technology. The impact is not just in the types of solutions kids come up with, but the manner in which they derive, access, process, and choose from among possible solutions. More important, for today’s teenagers the process happens in a instant and to them it’s no big deal. It’s just the way it is. Unlike us, kids care less about the how, but they care deeply about the what.

The difference is I might produce a piece of work using technology – a slide show, a musical arrangement, or even a few carefully worded thoughts in a blog – and when it’s all done I might marvel as much about the technology involved and how technology made it all possible, whereas most kids today care only about the result. They award no brownie-points for process.

The process for kids is a given, which explains why I nearly drove off the road when Cassidie said what she said, whereas she looked at me wondering what the big fuss was all about.

“Dad” she said, as we were making our way along the 401 westbound to London to meet halfway her best grade-school friend Abby now living Michigan, when you write, do you compose an entire draft without stopping and then go back and edit? Or do you edit over-and-over as you type?” 

I thought for a moment and said I think mostly I edit sentences and paragraphs over-and-over as I type, but then I go back when I think I am done and I edit, add, delete, cut, paste, move, and correct anything I don’t like, but the original body and content remains largely intact. I do it this way because that’s the way my mind works. I have to fully develop and finish an idea while I am still thinking about it and before I lose it. Why do you ask?”

“You’re not serious!!!” She shrieked, “So that’s where I get it … it’s all your fault!” she said with equal amounts of teasing and sarcasm.

After thoroughly debating the pros, the cons, and the historical origin of other methods, I asked Cassidie why and what this was all about. And that’s when one of those precious moments occurred, you know the ones today’s busy teenagers seemingly have less-and-less time for, but that several hours alone and in a car together, can’t help but bring about. 

“Well, my English teacher gave us this writing assignment and we had to hand in three drafts plus a final, fully showing the changes and progression from each draft to the final. Given the way I write [making changes and editing over-and-over along the way] I had it nearly the way I wanted after the first draft. Upon review, I made only minor changes in the second draft before producing the final. But the teacher was adamant we’d lose marks unless we handed in three drafts plus a final. So…”  — are you ready for this —  …as much as I tried I couldn’t make it any better, so I went back to my first draft, made a copy, and made it worse!”

In my “day job” I’ve ad-tested more than my fair share of MasterCard priceless moments. The very real one above, in my view, tops the list and if you think about it long enough, it truly is no big deal to a kid growing up digital. Thank you Mr. Tapscott.

Can’t wait to see what the next generation might accomplish learning from teachers who won’t ever have known a world before digital technology.

By then I imagine the discussion will center on the writing styles of bodies of work typed, versus those composed using voice recognition and the different neurological processes between the two. Not to worry, though, they’ll still call it English class 🙂

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