The Internet – Enhancing Work & Play

Lee Rainie from Pew Internet gave a really interesting keynote this morning. So many great studies and stats come out of Pew that the quality of his presentation was hardly surprising. Lee’s a great presenter and would be well worth inviting back next year for an update.

His talk today was inspired by the new Time magazine cover story, “Are our kids too wired?” [Kenton and I had used the topic as well in an emerging tech talk we did at the library school last week).

Millenials = The biggest and most diverse generation in American History (36% of total population). Characteristics include: Special, sheltered (grew up with NetNanny, etc), confident, team oriented, digital natives in a land of digital immigrants, technology savvy, high achievers, pressured, conventional. Millenials are immersed in media and gadgets (see the Kaiser report). Gen M is Generation Media — the internet and gadgets are built into their lives.

Lee displayed a graphic of the home media ecology from 1975 – a simple document compared to the fantastically complex media ecology shown on a graph of today. How do teens prefer to receive information? The answer Pew gets from them is that the question isn’t quite right – “if they can’t be with the device they love, they love the device they’re with.”

Media has been “uprooted” – appointment media (ie hourly newscasts) don’t mean the same thing to Millenials when you can shift media to meet your schedule. He gave a good example of smart mobs and how cell phones, text messaging, picture phones and so forth can spread media and gather people at a pace like never before.

Some 57% of all online teens have contributed something to the Net (photos, videos, artwork, stories). 32% have worked on blogs or webpages for others. 22% keep their own webpage (MySpace being one example). 19% have created their own online journal or blog. 19% say they remix content they found online into their own creations.

“The internet plays a special role in their world.”

They are multi-taskers. Research done by millenials do it “as a self-directed process” [listen up, library folk]. They do many things at once, Modern life = “continuous, partial attention” = selectivity and adaption to environmental variables (like a radar array for finding what can improve your situation based on what is available to you).

Millenials are relatively free and unbothered by things like copyright, downloading mostly because they see it as being so easy to do, it really can’t be anything wrong. They are also incredibly open about their life online. They are leaving digital footprints everywhere, and they constantly use the Internet to sleuth and prowl for information about others.

Computing power doubles every 18 months. Communication power doubles every 9 months. Storage power doubles every 12 months. Lookout for the “smart doorknob” (RFID and other detection devices). The environment will get smarter and provide ongoing feedback to you.

“Search will get ever better,” referencing the “long tail.” (Chris Anderson’s (Wired magazine) will have a book out on this soon. If you haven’t come across it yet, the long tail refers to a graph plotting traffic on one axis and content on the other. The long tail is the less popular material that is now much more readily available through social recommendations and online systems which help to surface and bring attention to harder to find material.

The way new workers will approach learning and research tasks will be shaped by the new techno world. Lee spoke about a few examples of this, but one of those was tagging and folksonomies – the ability to bring your own context and purpose to the items you create, discover and interact with.

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