I interview Michelle Manafy, Co-Editor of the newly released book Dancing With Digital Natives. Michelle and I talk about how “digital natives” are already transforming the way business is being done, and their increasing impact on the online video industry. 

Because there was so much good information in both the book and my interview with Michelle sane thing to do is first dedicate an introductory article to just an overview of the book itself, Dancing with Digital Natives, and some of my own takeaways I think my fellow online video professionals can appreciate as well.

An Overview of the Book Dancing With Digital Natives…

What is this book about?

Co-Editors and chief contributors Michelle Manafy and Heidi Gautschi, along with a diversity of experts from business and academia, offering an in-depth look at the characteristics of “digital natives” –how they work, shop, play, and learn – and what the contributors argue is their transformative effect on society that’s unparalleled in the modern age, and perhaps any age.

Who are the “digital natives?”

The short answer from the DwDN book is: Digital natives are “those immersed in digital technology from birth.”

“The general definition that the book use sis the one that Marc Prensky uses that it is generally perceived: Those who were born in the 1980’s (or later) and have grown up – surrounded by and immersed in – digital technologies.” says Michelle. That would seem to intersect to the generations we also refer to as “Generation Y,” or the “Millennial Generation.”

So what do they mean by “immersed” in digital technologies?

Well according to Michelle, it doesn’t mean that they’re using an iPhone at year one of their lives, but it does mean that they were raised sitting down at a dinner table where their parents were using their BlackBerrys, and their PDAs and the precursors to the mobile technologies we use today.

“We’re also talking about a generation who grew up whenever they had a question, who did they ask?  They didn’t run to an encyclopedia; what they did is they asked the Internet, because in their world the Internet knows everything.” says Michelle. “So that level of immersion doesn’t even have to necessarily mean that they themselves had hands-on experience with the technologies, especially that first generation.  But today we see those actual hands-on experiences with digital technologies getting younger and younger.”

How are digital natives more distinct in their behavior from earlier generations?

digital native boyHere’s what I gathered on the vital characteristics of digital natives – from reading Michelle’s entire 394-page book. (And don’t let the length scare you, because it consists of many individual essays from experts in business and academia that you can pick your favorites from.)

  • They are really comfortable about living their lives publicly, and have fewer concerns about privacy. (Not just with their own privacy, but that of others.)
  • They are comfortably immersed in an always-online, always-connected digital culture.
  • Their lines between personal and work are blurred.
  • They are more comfortable with multi-tasking, less on giving something their total attention.
  • They are more collaborative, engaged, interactive, and participatory. I.e., they learn better when they are not forced to passively absorb; and not only be involved with the process, but as a part of something entertaining. (Sometimes they learn best when they are the actual entertainment.)
  • They have spent all or more of their lives being conditioned by both mainstream and online media towards immediacy – immediate feedback – as a natural and sometimes expected state of being.
  • They are more likely to share digital content and conversations with others, especially with online video content (from the Internet and mobile devices.)
  • Their social norms and accepted morays are different, sometimes strikingly, from previous generations.
  • They are more about ongoing connections with smaller groups than wide, fleeting bursts of attention online.
  • They tend to be more naïve about the law governing both media and community behavior, and what’s expected of them as responsible citizens – especially with laws enacted before the ubiquity of the Internet, social media, and online video.

So then who else is there besides digital natives in our population?

  • Digital migrants / digital immigrants – those who weren’t born into digital and social technology all around them, and who are emigrating over towards becoming digital natives. Digital immigrants are benefitted by age and experience in ways that digital natives often are not, and thus can serve as mentors to digital natives by nature of their own participation in the digital culture.

Here are a couple extra labels you won’t find in the book, but were fun to brainstorm with Michelle:

  • Digital toddlers – someone who admits they don’t get it, but acknowledges its importance and wants to learn and find out how they can be a part of it. (Can also be substituted with “digital babies” or “digital dippers.”)
  • Digital deniers – those who have a profoundly negative impression about digital natives – both their culture, and as individuals and groups. Digital deniers will even downplay both their contributions to, and potential for, present and future society. Digital deniers tend to cling to the past out of fear and a desire to control their surroundings, and the younger generations they would rather see themselves as wardens of than potential mentors for what they can offer.
  • Digital dumb-asses / smart-asses – this one is entirely my own, so don’t give Michelle a hard time, OK? This is an obvious reference to people who’s social activity online is largely motivated by tipping sacred cows, creating pranks, causing and fomenting controversy, and just wanting to air dirty laundry to an audience. Now that’s not meant to sound like a bad thing, but the connotation on dumb vs. smart is something that can be rather subjective. (Take my own digital dumb-ass video on YouTube I did back in 2007, for example. Even my spouse hates it, but YouTube rewards me with AdSense money for all the views it gets.)

Some of the books’ essayists get into the topic of social responsibility in the digital age, with one particular them I found to be especially valuable – “digital citizenship.” (There are even lessons for mentors in areas of professional, academic, and social services expertise on how to properly teach and train digital natives in this type of citizenship.) My own understanding of what makes for a good “digital citizen” is this:

A good “digital citizen” is someone who both participates in both digital and social communities, and follows the rules of legal and social responsibility. On some advanced degree, it involves imparting this education (and experiences towards education) through active sharing and collaborating on both social media channels online, and in the physical world.

The interesting aspect to this type of learning I gleamed from the book is this: Both a digital native and a digital immigrant can practice and teach this kind of “digital citizenship” to each other.

So why should businesses care about these “digital natives?”

John Palfrey, co-author of Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives offers this insight to that question:

Generational differences have always influenced how business is done, but in the case of “digital natives”— we are witnessing a tectonic shift… As an always connected, socially networked generation comes to dominate business and society, organizations can ignore the implications only at the risk of irrelevance… are a generation that’s transforming how business is done.”

A logical conclusion we can make is that as time goes on, an increasingly larger percentage of the world population will be digital natives. “There are increasingly fewer and fewer exceptions to the constant exposure category of kids being left out, or not fully immersed, in the digital world.” says Michelle. “There’s definitely some dispute over whether or not it would be 1980 or 1985 or even 1990;” and there are, of course, social-economic factors that come into play… “but I think we can agree that there’s a certain point at which everybody is surrounded by these technologies; and you do have an increasingly populated generation that has grown up surrounded by them with constant access to them.”

(And all this time I thought it was the apes that were going to rise up and take us over. Whew!)

Here’s an interview with friend-of-ReelSEO David Meerman Scott (who reviewed Dancing With Digital Natives here). He explains why businesses need to do a much better job of incorporating and accommodating digital natives if they expect to be around for the long term.

How YOU can benefit professionally from this book.

DwDN argues that digital natives are not only transforming how business is done. They are also creating huge ripple effects in own educational system, challenging established ethics around social behavior, and running head-on with the law (which are often argued for being far behind the digital culture.) John goes on in his praise to say “Dancing With Digital Natives will help any manager, marketer, or educator embrace—and stay in step with—a generation that’s transforming how business is done.”

Michelle says that educators who are paying attention to digital natives will be better able to teach them through the information and guidance of this book. “However where I think it gets interesting is when we look towards a more collaborative, engaged, interactive approach that recognizes always-connected behavior and use it to enhance learning,” she says.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Interview with Michelle Manafy

Michelle and I talk more about her book; and about the impact that online video, especially social video, is having with digital natives; and how the older generation can better understand and work with the next generation that is shaping our business and entire culture.

About Michelle Manafy, Co-Editor and Author of Dancing with Digital Natives

Michelle Manafy is also director of content of FreePint, Ltd., a publisher of sites and resources for the business information industry. Michelle previously served as the editorial director of the Enterprise Group for Information Today, Inc. In this role, Michelle was editor-in-chief of EContent magazine and the Intranets newsletter. She was also the chair of Information Today’s Enterprise Search Summits and the Buying & Selling eContent Conference.

An award-winning columnist, Michelle has written on a variety of technology topics including digital publishing, social media, content development and distribution, streaming media, and audio, video, and storage technologies. She speaks at a variety of industry events and serves as a judge for many content and technology competitions. She has worked in book and magazine publishing for more than 20 years in areas ranging from pop culture to academic nonfiction and holds a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University.

Read more about Michelle Manafy.

Stock photo image courtesy of iStockphoto, ©soup stock, #10153725