The Internet: Enhancing Work and Play

The final day of CIL 2006 was kicked off by Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet and American Life project, (shown in the photo speaking with Marydee Ojala, Editor of ONLINE magazine) who gave us a fascinating look at how the Internet is enhancing work and play. He focused on the Millennial generation and gave us eight realities of the lives of this large generation. The main point of his talk was that it’s important for librarians to address the needs of this generation. Here are the eight realities:

1. Millennials are a distinct age group, according to many measures of generational behavior and attitude. They are the biggest and most diverse generation in US history—now comprising 36% of total population. This age group will be bigger than the Boomers. They are more diverse—31% are minorities. They are special, sheltered, confident, team-oriented, achieving, pressured, conventional, tech-embracing (but not necessarily tech-savvy—they are digital natives in a land of digital immigrants and have never known a day without a computer. Rainie recommended that everyone read the book Millenials Rising by Howe and Strauss, published in 2000.

2. Millennials are immersed in a world of technology and gadgets. Nearly half of them have broadband access at home. They expect to be able to gather and share information using multiple devices. Their information needs are contextual and contingent on whatever device they happen to be using.

3. Millennials’ technology is mobile. They share information in ways that allow them to act quickly. Rainie called this activity “smart mobs” in which spontaneous text messaging or cell phone calls leads immediately to unplanned action by a large number of people.

4. The Internet plays a special role in their world. 33% of online teens share their own creations (artwork, photos, stories, videos) online. 57% of them have contributed a creation to the online world. 32% have created or worked on blogs or web pages for others, 22% keep their own personal webpage, 19% have created their own journal or blog, and19% say they remix online content into their own artistic creations.

5. They are multi-taskers and approach research as a self-directed process. Libraries can serve them by positioning themselves as “info support” organizations (like tech support). They do 8½ hours of activity in 6-1/3 hours by “continuous partial attention”—simultaneously scanning several incoming alerts for the one activity most interesting to them.

6. Millennials are often unaware of and indifferent to the consequences of their use of technology, i.e. copyright, privacy. They are constantly doing “soft surveillance” (checking out what their friends are doing) using the Net. They need to be educated about copyright principles and media literacy.

7. Their (our) technology world will change radically in the next decade. The Internet will change from a network of people to a network of things (using RFID devices, etc.). More mobility will be built into the environment. Search will get better. The long tail will get more important.

8. The way that Millennials approach learning and research tasks will be shaped by their new techno-world. Learning and research will be more self-directed, more reliant on feedback and response, more tied to group knowledge, and oriented to people being their own modes of production.

Rainie’s best advice to librarians in dealing with the Millennial generation is to just be brilliant at what you do!

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today

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