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Developer's View: Real Life Inspirations Or Abstract Ideas? 144

StormDriver writes "According to writer Marc Prensky, most of us come from a generation of digital immigrants. It basically means the modern web developed during our lifetime, it is a place we migrated to, discovering its potential. But people aged 20 and younger are not like that at all. They are digital natives, they've spent their whole lives here. 'Hey, let's do a digital version of our college facebook' is a digital immigrant's idea, just like 'Hey, let's make something like a classifieds section of a newspaper, only this one will be online.' Or 'Hey, let's make an online auction housel.' 'Hey, let's make a place for online video rentals.' The thing is, recreating items, ideas and interactions from the physical realm on the Web already ran its course." To me, this sounds like the gripe that "Everything that can be invented, has been invented." There are a lot of real-life services and experiences that have yet to be replicated, matched, or improved upon in the online realm; I wouldn't want people to stop taking inspiration from "old fashioned" goods as starting points for digital products.
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Developer's View: Real Life Inspirations Or Abstract Ideas?

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  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @02:43PM (#39139117)

    I'm 28 and haven't seen any sign that my fellow Millennials are any fundamentally better with computers than Generation X or the Boomers. In fact, I've found that my grandmother who is 82 and doesn't even have a computer has more common sense about how she would use one if she bothered to buy one. For example, when I told her of all of the people I knew who got viruses by not updating their OS when automatic updates have been available for at least 10 years, if not about 12-14 (Windows ME?) or by clicking on every link and file attachment they're sent, she asked how stupid could those kids be to be that lazy and trusting. You can make excuses for them like phishing, but the fact is that more often than not, it's just laziness or unwillingness to learn to do any better.

  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @02:43PM (#39139123) Journal

    The inventors are a handful of people at any time. The rest are consumers.

    Once, if you had a computer you had to know its ins and outs. Same as people who once drove cars or flew planes. Nowadays cars just work and people barely know where to put the fuel in, cue people putting in the wrong fuel. No owner of a Spyker would ever have done that, they KNEW their car and its needs.

    There will be new inventions made by old and young people but what they all have in common is that they don't just consume whatever tech is available in their time but think about and think about what is lacking or missing. The man who made lighthouses saw how his wife was cooking and made a better stove. Simple as that. Could easily have been her son as well. Or a grandpa watching his granddaughter. Inspiration comes from looking at the world and not just assume but to question. And no, kids are NOT better at it. If they were, they would be far harder to teach.

  • by ScottyBlues ( 310677 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @02:56PM (#39139295)

    When the electric guitar was first invented, it was played just like an accoustic guitar but with amplification. Later, artists like Jimmy Hendrix came along and played it like it was a fundamentally different instrument. I think that a similar cycle is likely going on with the web, as the original article says. Like the electric guitar, the web has ways of "playing it" that are fundamentally different from the non-web counterparts. The best innovations have come and will come not from porting non-web faculties, but inventing new ones that could not exist without this medium.

  • HIstory repeating (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ukab the Great ( 87152 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @02:56PM (#39139299)

    Since the 1970's every generation has independently invented disco and think they have something new. Donna Summer, Techno, Lady Gaga, etc. But eventually they get over it.

  • Eh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @03:02PM (#39139351) Journal
    Anybody who uses the phrase "digital natives" without a heavy dose of irony can usually be safely ignored.

    Are there cases where dragging physical metaphors into computing is brutally-old-and-busted? Sure; but making MP3 players with UIs consisting of elaborate(but non-resizeable) bitmaps renditions of 1970s stereo gear was a moronic idea back in the 90s, just as it is now. Outside of agonizing over-literal nonsense like that, 'real life inspirations' seem to take two forms, neither obviously outmoded:

    1. Remnants in name only: Your email client likely still has an 'inbox' and an 'outbox' because, at some point, somebody actually had two boxes on their desk. Guess what, it doesn't matter. The computerized abstractions have gained so many features(instant search, threading, sort-by-whatever-you-want, etc, etc.) that they bear almost no relation to their physical counterpart. They have to be called something, so the legacy name is harmless enough.

    2. Borrowings that make sense because people want them: Y'know why stuff exists in 'real life'? Because people wanted them it. If they wanted the dead-tree version, they will probably want an electronic one, as well. Once that gets built, it will eventually be polished(having features added and archaisms removed) until it moves into category #1.)

    This argument also seems to implicitly overstate the number of things that are somehow fundamentally digital. There are a lot of (mostly failed) ideas involving the dissemination of information in surprisingly modern ways within the constraints of antique media. Making variants of these ideas actually not fail this time will be a change; but it won't be one fundamentally tied to the internet(in anything other than an economic sense).
  • 1976 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by poena.dare ( 306891 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @03:14PM (#39139473)

    "Dammit, all these charts a tables need to be on a computer!" -- me in 1976 playing D&D.

    I would argue that the "immigrants" have a more pressing desire to innovate because they felt the crushing limitations of the non-virtual world first hand.

  • by DrgnDancer ( 137700 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @03:18PM (#39139509) Homepage

    I also hate to point out that these articles are constantly pushing back the age at which people become digital natives. People the OPs age (also my brother's age) were "digital natives" when these articles were first being written 5-10 years ago. Now they're too old to be real digital natives. What constitutes this mysterious age group? My brother has had a computer in the house literally as long as he can remember. My parents got the first computer in our house in 1986 when I was 12 and he was 2. Unless his lack of opportunity to Google "learn how to walk and talk" disqualifies him, he's a digital native.

    Basically they moved the bar from "had a computer since infancy" to "had access to the Internet since infancy" after they realized that the first "digital natives" were no better with computers than anyone else. At some point they'll realize that having had access to the Internet since infancy isn't enough to magically impart computer skills either and they'll move the bar again. Ten years from now they'll be talking about the kids in their early twenties who have had access to mobile computing devices since infancy and are the real "digital natives". Meanwhile some tech will still be cursing while he cleans up the viruses on some "digital native's" computer because the kid is no smarter than any other kid and got his box owned looking for porn.

    There's not magic in being younger. To do anything more substantial that basic word processing and web browsing you still need a combination of mindset and training whether you're 15, 25, or 65. The basics are somewhat easier if you've been around computers all your life, but beyond that I don't think it matters much.

  • by Pope ( 17780 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @03:28PM (#39139625)

    Sounds like these "digital natives" as you describe them have a monstrous sense of entitlement. "I want everything and I want it MY way and I want it NOW."

  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Thursday February 23, 2012 @03:29PM (#39139631)

    I'm sorry, but the college kids that I've been around don't strike me as being particularly internet savvy at all. For all this hype about "They were born on the internet, they were raised at its tit, etc." they actually strike me as being no more tech savvy than any other generation. Sure, they all have Facebook profiles and play a lot of those Farmville-type games, but they still have to call someone to set up a router. They still have to ask me how to do a complex google search. They still seem to know fuck-all about internet security. My brother-in-law had to call me in to fix his laptop after my Generation-Y super-internet-savvy niece infected it with about every phishing virus known to man. The young programming students I've dealt with seem no more or less comfortable with programming than any other young programmers from other generations (and I go back a while).

    So where exactly are all these Generation Y ubermensches I keep hearing about? Because I sure haven't met many of them. There are geeks in that generation like any other, but, as with all generations before them, most of them seem pretty clueless about tech.

  • Re:1976 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 19thNervousBreakdown ( 768619 ) <davec-slashdot&lepertheory,net> on Thursday February 23, 2012 @03:31PM (#39139659) Homepage

    "Dammit, I've put all these charts and tables into an SQL database (you wouldn't believe the amount of crazy things you can do when you can search on just about any imaginable combination of criteria) and I can't share it because I don't feel like dealing with lawsuits, even if I'd win!" -- me, now.

  • by joh ( 27088 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @03:40PM (#39139765)

    One important thing to note is that the laws of the physical world are pretty much ingrained in us. Not only in us, even in animals and their reactions to things. Things from the physical realm *have* to obey these laws (or they wouldn't work) and just imitating them can help here. *Understanding* why they work is better, though.

    One reason the iPhone took off as it did despite its touchscreen was the fact that the scrolling was modelled closely on the behaviour of "real" things: There is friction and inertia, you can "throw" a page, everything works in a reliable, predictable way because it's the same way every physical thing behaves. There is no abstraction here at all, it even painfully emulates things that have no real meaning in the digital world. They have meaning for us and our animal minds and bodies, though. We are a product of millions of years of evolution in the physical world and while there is freedom in breaking out of this there's also much to work with in this.

  • No such thing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by starfishsystems ( 834319 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @03:57PM (#39139977) Homepage
    There's no such thing as one optimal point of view when it comes to understanding the universe or creating artifacts or inquiring into the human condition, just to cite a few examples.

    Each generation has its peculiar fashions and prejudices. Each generation is imaginative. New generations tend to bring a refreshing skepticism of preexisting paradigms - and this is good, or anyway better than complacency - but there's no guarantee that what they come up with will be any better than what came before. Less experience is not intrinsically an advantage over more experience; it stands to reason that more often the converse is true.

    One certainty is that, as the volume of human knowledge grows, its surface area increases also. It's at this surface that genuinely new discoveries and new ideas can take place. Unless it turns out that we're living in a bounded space, it's not the case that we're in any danger of running out of new material. And new generations do tend to be especially comfortable at this surface, because their life experience is all about new discoveries and new ideas - at least, discoveries and ideas which are new to them.

    It doesn't follow that all new discoveries and new ideas are revolutionary, or even necessarily very interesting. Most aren't, in my experience. Most are either prosaically obvious or shallowly misguided. I'm old enough to have seen a dozen generations of computer hardware come and go. Certainly there's been much incremental evolution along the way, but of all the hundreds of shiny new technologies that were supposed to be revolutionary, only a handful have actually stood the test of time. I'm happy to see anyone, young or old, propose a new one. But please, let's dispense with the hubris.
  • by wanzeo ( 1800058 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @04:06PM (#39140035)

    Ok, try on this car analogy. Cars have been around for 100 years. They have been a defining aspect of our culture for 60 years, and nearly 100% of people know how to drive. And yet, only a very small subset of the population have any idea of how a car works.

    I don't see how any other technology should be expected to be different. People who grow up on computers and the internet will either take an interest in them because they are curious, or they will treat them like an appliance and have occasional problems, just like people have problems with their cars.

    I would use caution when attributing characteristics to "generations", the effects of individual personalities seem much stronger.

  • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <> on Thursday February 23, 2012 @04:18PM (#39140151) Homepage

    You're right, they keep pushing it back, and I'm guessing it's for 2 reasons:

    1) The concept of "digital" keeps changing. People who are 35 now may have grown up with computers already, but they didn't grow up with smartphones and facebook.

    2) Journalists keep predicting that the world will change once the "digital natives" start taking over, and they're not willing to give up the idea. As the "digital natives" enter the workforce and no one is observing the magical effects everyone predicted, they say, "Well these aren't true digital natives! Wait until the real digital natives arrive!"

    The fact is, most people under 20 don't understand computers very well. They've comfortable using them, but they have even less understanding of what's going on than earlier generations who had to do a lot more manual configuration.

  • by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Thursday February 23, 2012 @04:28PM (#39140249) Journal

    Whatever you do, do not believe these two reasons. Never use then as a justification to not do something.

    1. If it was worth doing, someone else would have already done it. (No market)
    2. Someone else is already doing it, so there is no point in you doing it too. (No profit, too much competition)

    Commerce happens because of value and value alone. No one has done it just like you, or will do it just like you. Facebook wasn't first but their way won. Apple didn't invent computers or phones but they went on to make the best, and incredible profits even while charging a premium.

No extensible language will be universal. -- T. Cheatham