The 18-year olds of 2024 will be a different digital species to anything we know or can conceive of today. They will have grown up in a society where the Internet and digital media have become ubiquitous and where the offline and online worlds are no longer separate. Our risk-averse culture with its overwhelming fear and mistrust of people will ensure that as they grow up, this generation will be drawn to digital technologies as a means to escape the gaze of their parents and the confines of their homes and incessant regulation.
Communication technologies will increasingly be used to overcome their experience of isolation. They will constantly adopt and be drawn to digital applications that are distinct from those used by adults. Their very social status will depend upon their ability to personalise this technology. This self-conscious aspiration to express themselves through engagement with digital technology means the 18-year olds of 2024 will be a generation of technologically-savvy doers, people whose pragmatic adoption and internalisation of digital technology will give them enormous creative potential. If embraced, it could spark a new wave of invention and innovation from below and above.
Realising this potential will be the biggest challenge facing the communications industry for 2024.
Will the creativity and inventiveness of this generational dynamic unleash an era of unprecedented innovation or not? And what would the consequences be if it were realized? The answers are far from clear because the dynamic tension between the agenda of adults and those of young people can only be played out within the broader cultural context of society. And this is where the problem begins. While parents approach the new media with the imperative of risk minimisation, children adopt it in part to gain a measure of freedom from adult supervision.
Government and business on the other hand, remain tied to existing paradigms and business models and look upon this dynamic as a threatening disruption. The emerging experimentation underlying this dynamic opposition can either be harnessed to feed new aspirations for social cooperation or fuel the lowered expectations and mistrust of contemporary culture. The innovation potential inherent in this process can only be realised in a society which is comfortable with experimentation and sees people as the problem-solvers of the 21st Century.
But our contemporary culture of fear can only look upon this dynamic as one in need of constraint and regulation. This threatens to stifle innovation or at best will allow it to flourish in the narrowest and inevitably trivial spaces of life. This can set back the realisation of the potential of these technologies for human progress for decades. The danger is not that we allow adolescents the freedom to act without restraint, but that in mistrusting adolescents we destroy a generation whose ‘rebellion’ will produce technologically savvy people whose embrace of technology could produce the spur to a new era of human-centred innovation.