Digital Native Culture

By Benoît Meyronin, tenured professor Orange « Digital Natives » Chair and Stéphanie Hospital, VP Audiences & Advertising.

WHAT IS A DIGITAL NATIVE?

There are various ways of defining  this generation that Marc Prensky has described as « digital natives »  From On the Horizon, NCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001.in contrast to the preceding generations and which the same author characterises as being « digital immigrants ». Even if other descriptions exist in academic, journalistic or professional literature this generation, born around 1980, ans une contribution récente (Gestion 2000, septembre-octobre, 2012), F. Billet, P. Coutelle et A. Hulin ont considéré que cette génération recouvrait les individus nés entre 1979 et 1994 sur la base des recherches antérieures. F. Pichault et M. Pleyers (2010) partent de la même période de référence. La littérature académique souligne de façon unanime l'absence de définition universellement acceptée (Levenson, 2010).is quite commonly designated as being the « generation Y ».  Therefore we can speak about either generation Y or digital natives.

Their relationship with digital technologies, therefore, appears to be one of the fundamental characteristics of this generation: « Gen Y was socialized in a digital world. It is more than technically literate; it is continually wired, plugged in, and connected to digitally streamed information, entertainment, and contacts. It has mastered technology to such a level that multitasking is a habit it takes into the workplace, where it has a tendency to instant message with its contacts whilst working » (Susan P. Eisner, SAM Advanced Management Journal, 2005, p. 6).

However, it appears that it is not only their level of use of these technologies which counts but more the fact that the cultural environment in which they have grown up has been profoundly marked by these tools and the associated representations: « The digital natives are born, less in a society equipped by the latest digital technologies than in a society where individual and collective practices and representations have been transformed by all the uses of digital technologies. Within this context, it is the culture and not the technology that is relevant. (…) DN have grown up in a society where culture has been transformed by the specifics of digital instrumental mediation. We no longer teach ourselves, no longer express ourselves, no longer reason in exactly the same way as previously and digital technologies are in some way responsible.  Our image of the world, our social relationships no longer develop in the same way. » J-F. Cerisier, professeur à l'Université de Poitiers

Numerous questions emerge on reading these definitions: firstly, what is the real level of practice of this generation? After, we can legitimately ask ourselves whether their relationships with digital technologies is what characterises them most. In short, « It is not self-evident » and the fact the digital tools and contents are strongly present in their daily life does not automatically mean that they are « different» from previous generations.

WHICH OPENS UP ACADEMIC WORK: A FIELD TO BE EXPLORED....

In managerial literature, the question is largely structured around their integration in the professional world (we will return to this). Based on the fact that today several generations mix in the working world, authors have attempted to identify the issues, the opportunities and the threats that the arrival of this generation in the business world might bring. Numerous works also look at the consumer behaviour of this generation, these supposed « compulsive shoppers » (Reisenwitz et Rajesh Iyer, 2009). We will not examine them here because this preoccupation does not enter, for the moment at least, within the field of our chair.

THE PUBLIC STUDIED BY THE RESEARCHERS ARE MAINLY STUDENTS.

In the USA, numerous publications looking at the « Gen Y » have concerned themselves with students in different managerial fields. In France, as far as we know, no work has explored this generation basing itself on a student population following a management school curriculum. The few works published in Europe by researchers concern students of a French engineering school (Pralong, 2010) or a Belgian University (Pichault et Pleyers, 2010). This rightly constitutes, for these same authors, one of the limits of the works within the context of a great scarcity of empirical studies.

FINALLY, CERTAIN EVEN QUESTION THE VALIDITY OF « THE GENERATIONAL HYPOTHESIS »

The fact of being part of this generation or another is brought into doubt by certain of the most in-depth works (Pichault et Pleyers, 2010, XXIème Congrès de l'AGRH ; Pralong, Revue Internationale de Psychosociologie, 2010 ; Soulez & Guillot-Soulez, Recherche & Applications en Marketing, 2011). Thus, the few empirical works put into perspective « the dominant discourse on the specifics of generation Y » (Pichault & Pleyers, 2010, p. 34), in Europe as in the United States : « To date, there is insufficient evidence that the Millennial generation is fundamentally different from its predecessors » (Levinson, Journal of Business Psychology, 2010, p. 263).

AGE EFFECT OR GENERATION EFFECT?

THE CULTURAL PRACTICES APPROACH OR « THE IMPORTANCE OF THE GENERATIONAL DIMENSION »

In « Pratiques culturelles, 1973-2008, dynamiques générationnelles et pesanteurs sociales », Culture Etudes, Ministère de la culture & de la communication, 2011-7, décembre, p. 28
In « Pratiques culturelles, 1973-2008, dynamiques générationnelles et pesanteurs sociales », Culture Etudes, Ministère de la culture & de la communication, 2011-7, décembre, p. 28

Yet, notably in France, certain authors consider that the generation « under 30 years old has grown up in the world of televisions, computers, games consoles and other screens in a context marked by the de-materialisation of the contents and generalisation of the high speed internet: it is the generation of a 3rd mediatised age still to come ».

The author, Olivier Donnat, published studies that refer to the subject of cultural practices.In « Les pratiques culturelles à l'ère numérique » (2010), Le Dossier BBF, T. 55, N°5, p. 12.
But, his analysis raises a question related to this « screen culture » undeniably linked to young people: between the age effect (« I am young so I am connected ») and generation effect Et Olivier Donnat de préciser que l'on observe « une tendance croissante des adultes à conserver, à tous les âges de la vie, des comportements ou des préférences acquises au temps de leur jeunesse » (In « Pratiques culturelles, 1973-2008, dynamiques générationnelles et pesanteurs sociales », Culture Etudes, Ministère de la culture & de la communication, 2011-7, décembre, p. 32). (« I was very connected during my 20s so I remain very connected throughout my life »), it still seems difficult to choose.

Thus, if « being young or more precisely being part of the young generation seems to constitute an essential advantage » to the extent that»  the 15-24 year olds are the most numerous to have a connexion and to use it frequently »,
In « Pratiques culturelles et usages d'internet », Culture Etudes, DEPS, Ministère de la culture & de la communication, 2007-3, novembre, p. 6. the presently available data on the cultural practices of the French do not allow the assertion that we are faced with a generational effect: « They constitute [the digital uses strongly linked to «the youth culture universe »] a relative attribute of the 15-24 year olds, without us being able to talk about that which comes from generational effects and of the life cycle.» (Ibid., p. 9).

If O. Donnat undeniably observes the powerful generational effects in the evolution of cultural practices (concerning, particularly, the relationship to Anglo-Saxon cinema and music), not hesitating to talk about the « explanatory force of the generational affiliations »In « Pratiques culturelles, 1973-2008, dynamiques générationnelles et pesanteurs sociales », Culture Etudes, Ministère de la culture & de la communication, 2011-7, décembre, p. 28., for everything that concerns the digital (and the associated cultural practices) it is without a doubt still a little early to conclude there is a generational effect.

In the following paragraphs, we endeavour to bring to light the main questions that we wish to address within the framework of our Chair.

THE PARADOX OF THE DIGITAL NATIVE CULTURE: DIGITAL OR NOT DIGITAL?

PARADOXICALLY, THE RELATIONSHIP TO DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY OF THE YOUNG GENERATION IS RARELY EXPLICIT AND WELL THOUGHT OUT.

What are their representations and their « true » uses of digital technology? In which way, if need be, can this constitute an advantage faced with the stakes of the digital transformation of, so called, traditional companies? 

In the majority of works published by researchers in France, the starting premise is clear: « Generation Y is characterised by an innovative and interactive mode of communication (Tapscott, 2008). It is the first generation which grew up with continuous technological innovations that it introduced in all its communication activities (Internet, emails, mobile telephones, Skype…), information research, fun or artistic (Google, Google Books, Wikipedia, YouTube, Deezer…), social networks (Facebook, Myspace, Twitter…) or even virtual (Second Life, World of Warcraft…) » (Dejoux et Wechter, Management & Avenir, p. 229).

But where is it in reality? Here is a question rarely posed: we generally start from the premise that « they know », with rare exceptions (Reisenwitz et Rajesh Iyer, 2009 ; Benraïss-Noailles et Viot, 2012). Generation Y is supposed to distinguish itself by « the knowledge and behaviour that it has acquired with the new technologies, social networks and Internet » (Dejoux et Wechter, Management & Avenir, p. 233).

At the same time, the reality of these digital skills remains questioned by certain works (Page and alii, 2010). More surprising: in other research, it is hardly referred to when we endeavour to measure the reality of this generation. « The technophile category » is thus dismissed by certain (this is notably the case in the work of F. Pichault and M. Pleyers, 2010).

Finally, if an Anglo-Saxon contribution has been explored the emotions that the generation Y associate spontaneously with his use of digital technologies (Page and alii, 2010), the question of their relationship to digital, understood from the angle of the effects, also very clearly merits being studied further.

Globally, we see, empirical evidence is lacking to be able to measure their level of practice, their representations and the effects linked to this universe. They are therefore « Digital Natives » but, fundamentally, we know little about their relationship to the tools, services and digital contents…  

Yet, all this is not anecdotal if we accept the challenge that is still represented, for many companies, by the passage towards the e-company, the digital company or even the 2.0 company. Indeed, if « the organization may be confident in assigning more Internet-related tasks to Generation Y recruits, based on their greater overall satisfaction with the technology » (Reisenwitz and Rajesh Iyer, 2009, p. 100), so it is appropriate to better measure their knowledge and their level of practice and, thus, their capacity (under which conditions?) to benefit their future employers if necessary.

A GENERATION BEARER OF DREAMS…

In the USA, and in a smaller measure in France, we worry above all about their ability to integrate the business world (« Managing Generation Y », « What motivates Generation Y? », « Gen Y in the workforce »…), in the context of the unprecedented cohabitation between three even four generations at the heart of companies.

In fact, the academic and professional literature has principally examined the following points:

  • What are their behavioural characteristics? In what ways are they different or not from their predecessors, notably in their relationship to work?An overview of the main research has been recently published Cf. Gestion 2000, septembre-octobre, 2012, l'article de F. Billet et alii déjà mentionné. . . It is accompanied by a survey realised with HR professionals about the perceptions that they have of this generation, which brings us to the following points:
  • Indeed, what are the attitudes of managers to them? The « against » camp seems to be victorious over the « for » (who see, also, their potential) in the European context as in the Anglo-Saxon world. In fact, the works that question HR professionals seem to indicate a rather negative view of this generation (Deyoe and Fox, Journal of Behavioural Studies in Business, 2011): we sense only clichés, even prejudices, often dominate the perceptions…
  •  Finally, what are the methods to manage them « well », motivate them, etc. (within the context of a « war of talents »)?

The central question that occupies the researchers can thus be summarised in the following way: « Examines the characteristics of the newest entrants to the workplace, Generation Y, and the strategic implications for management. (…) What challenges and opportunities are presented by the entry of Gen Y in to the workplace? » (Susan P. Eisner, SAM Advanced Management Journal, 2005). Thus, a very « RH »  interpretation dominates.

At the heart of the Orange - Grenoble Ecole de Management "Digital Natives " Chair, we formulate the hypothesis that this generation can constitute a « method » of efficient transformation to accelerate the digitalisation of professional practices and economic models. But, once again, such a hypothesis needs to be able to measure better, beforehand, their real level of practice as well as the representations that they have of these tools and contents and, thus, their ability to benefit their future colleges and, more globally, their future employers.

THROUGH THE SETTING UP OF AN « DIGITAL NATIVE CULTURE THINK TANK»

We will thus attempt to bring our contribution to this effort by studying the population of a Grande Ecole de management.

THE QUESTION OF THE « FRONTIER »: FROM THE STUDENT WORLD TO THE PROFESSIONAL WORLD

To finish, one of the fundamental questions about this « generation » concerns its aptitude to blur the frontiers between the professional and the private life: « Generation Y does not really distinguish between the professional and private networks. They are capable of asking to arrive later in the morning to finish a leisure activity, and calling on friends to resolve a problem in company. They connect all the worlds of which they are part » (Deluxe and Richter, Ibid., p. 231).

If this hypothesis proves to be correct, then the colleagues from this generation could be an efficient method of the e-transformation of which we have spoken supra, in the terms that this- supposed- ability to connect the worlds could be, among other things, a great advantage faced with the stakes of this digital transformation.  


Contact

Valérie Mangournet
+ 33 4 76 70 61 88