The rise of social networking (including social games), smartphones, and text messaging can be attributed in large measure to the behavior of “digital natives” whose skills, personas, and expectations have been shaped by a lifetime of exposure to the Internet and its accompanying technologies. How these technologies shape people, and vice versa, is fascinating to watch, given such a real-life and real-time case study. For businesses, employing and selling to this population present particular challenges and opportunities.
It would be difficult, and at any rate artificial, to try to argue chickens and eggs in questions of demographic change and technological change. Given the magnitude of what has happened in the past 20 years, it's appropriate to begin by asking a few questions about radical shifts in who is using information technologies and where they are doing so.
A number of commentators have noted how quickly the young pick up on such things as electronic games, text messaging, MP3 music, and other tools.1 Whether they are called oyayubizoku (“clan of the thumb”) in Japan, “digital natives,” or the “net generation,” people currently under 30 are argued to access, process, and understand information in markedly different ways from their predecessors.2 The implications of this change vary.
For starters, people facile with such tools are changing the workplace. Second, in the realm of politics, this group played a decisive role in the 2008 U.S. elections, ...