The “net generation” – a new way of thinking about technology

Today’s big idea comes from an article titled “How computers change the way we think” (Turkle, 2004).  Now, before I talk about it, I should talk a little bit about myself and my relationship to technology. My background is in Computer Science (that is where I started my academic career with a B.Sc. in Computer Science). So, when I see and learn a new technology, I grasp how that technology works. I am impressed with cool uses of computation, and I’m amazed when I see what we can do with each new version of a technology. Because I understand the foundations of technology, I know what its limitations are, and I often know how to approach learning it and using it. In many ways, it is intuitive to me.

I never really bought into the idea of “digital natives” or the “net generation” before – or at least the idea that they somehow were better with technology just because they grew up with it. Turkle has given me a new way of thinking of the net generation, which actually isn’t related to age, rather it is related to the way in which they think about technology. Turkle uses the idea of “taking things at interface value” and describes how the typical college student today seeks to understand how to use technology. They are perceived as understanding technology if they know how to use it, not how it works. The focus is very different. She goes further to say “when people say that something is transparent, they mean that they can see how to make it work, not that they know how it works”.

So, the question for me is, how does this change in paradigm affect the way I teach Technology to Education professionals? Do I no longer need to focus on “how it works” and instead focus more on “how to make it work”?


Turkle, S. (2004). How computers change the way we think. Chronicle of Higher Education, 50(21), B26. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

2 responses

  1. Osnat Fellus Avatar
    Osnat Fellus

    Hi Rebecca,
    When I think of technology, I think of how those who know how to make it work are informed by the needs of those who focus on how it works to address specific needs. The analogy to driving a car is helpful. While I don't know how the car works, I like driving a car that is driver friendly. That is, I don't really have to know how the car works to enjoy using it or to make it work for my purposes. Having said that, technology has become an integral part of everything we do. This may have implications as to our need to know how it works in order for us to realize how it can work better for us. For example, it is useful to frame social media as attention economics (i.e., how it works) in order to adopt a platform of operation that can address specific objectives (i.e., make it work). Now, what's interesting is that efforts to make technology work for specific purposes feed back to how it works to allow for the development of a higher-end product.Tom Hillman (PhD) examined this inter-feeding between users and producers of technology.

  2. Brian Kiely Avatar

    Great point, Rebecca.
    We don't have to be mechanics, we just have to be good and effective drivers.  Some folks learn how to drive, but never really get comfortable with driving, with how to 'read' traffic around them, or even with what their vehicles can or cannot do.  Same with any technology.  Some folks just seem too nervous about it to take the time to play or just try stuff out.
    It may seem odd, but I think getting comfortable with technology requires both a combination of linear, rational skills and creative intuitive skills…yeah and a sense that you can play with it.

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