There was a bit of a buzz in the news this week about Don Tapscott’s new book “Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing the World“.  If you’re a bit of a podcast addict like me, there’s an audio interview with the author on the always-interesting CBC radio show Spark. The thesis of his book is that the brains of kids who have grown up on the Internet and mobile telephony are essentially wired differently.  They are better multi-taskers, critical thinkers, sensemakers, etc.

Intuitively, this seems as if it is probably true, especially after listening to ABC’s All In the Mind podcasts on neuroplasticity.  For those, like me, who hadn’t come across the term, neuroplasticity is the fairly recent re-conception of how the brain works recognising that thinking, learning, and acting actually change both the brain’s physical structure and functional organisation.  The famous example of this is the study made of London cabbies who are obliged to comprehensively learn the map of London’s streets in order to pass an exam known as The Knowledge.  The study found that the the rear part of the hippocampus in drivers who had passed The Knowledge was significantly larger than a control group.

Curiously, Tapscott argues that he is not talking about neuroplasticity but something more profound happening in the brains of Digital Natives (Tapscott refers to them as Net Gen’ers).  I’m afraid that the subtlety of that difference is lost on me.  Tapscott argues that one of the biggest challenges is that Baby Boomers simply have no idea of how to cope with this new generation of multi-tasking, self-organising kids busy sense-making from a million snippets of information.

I find I prefer the term Digital Natives to Net Gen’ers because it has made me think of how Digital Natives are being marginalised in Africa.  An idea worth a little exploring.  I take the liberty of reflecting on how one might deal with an uprising of digital natives.

1.  Ignore them

The natural first reaction to any threat to the current world order is to simply deny it’s existence and hope it will go away.  “Digitial natives?…. nonsense! [insert throaty snort here]  My daughter wouldn’t be caught dead in a chatroom!”

2.  Politely Attempt to Extinguish Them

Having conceded that Digital Natives exist, move your strategy toward making their existence very difficult to the extent that they actually give up or move somewhere else.  Tactics include:

  • deliberately inflating connectivity charges for mobile and Internet use;
  • establishing punitive import taxes on all communication technologies;
  • restricting how Digital Natives move about via ridiculously high interconnect fees and upstream bandwidth caps; and
  • establishing tiny and barren homelands for Digital Natives such as the 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrum bands while sequestering vast swathes of wireless spectrum for military and other obscure purposes while actually leaving the bandwidth unused.

3. Claim the Moral High Ground and Criminalise the Natives

Argue that Digital Natives are an insignificant minority that complain too loudly. Make a big deal of the illegal behaviour of Digital Natives in issues such as use of voice over internet (VoIP), illegal file sharing, and using spectrum across one’s property boundary.

4.  Divide and Rule

Pit Digital Natives against each other.  Have government departments collude with incumbent telcos.  Pit the ISPs against the incumbents.  Rule by disinformation, changing your mind, and stonewalling.  Keep everyone guessing, desperate for change.

5. Recruit their Elites

Offer golden salaries to the best and brightest and lure them into ultimately entrenching the status quo, while trumpeting loudly that you are the digital revolution.

The Lessons of History

I do hope that when the revolution comes, Digital Natives will find it in their hearts to forgive those who through ignorance, stupidity, or malice, sought to deny them their inevitable place in the world. Having said that, I suspect that when the time comes, the Digital Natives will blow past their oppressors so quickly that they won’t bother to give them another thought.

Thanks to Andrew Rens for a little brainstorming on colonial repression.

Posted by Steve Song

@stevesong local telco policy activist. social entrepreneur. founder of @villagetelco #africa #telecoms #opensource #privacy #wireless #spectrum #data