Presentation: The problem with ‘digital generation’: A study of adult digital content creators

I recently gave a presentation at the 2015 Generations themed MeCSSA conference at Northumbria University in Newcastle. What follows is outline and slide presentation.

Karl Mannheim (1952 [1928]) wrote about problems associated with use of the term ‘generation’. He argued that generational consciousness within a generation is not necessarily homogeneous or coherent, as there will be divergent views and practices within any group. Indeed one of the main criticisms arising from comparisons and differentiation between people in pre-defined generational groups is that standardised assumptions and pre-conceptions are made about how they behave and their ability to learn. This is particularly problematic in the digital era when use of the terms ‘digital generation’ and ‘net generation’ (Tapscott, 2008) are used for the categorisation of age delineation (Buckingham, 2006).

This paper investigates 36 UK adults using digital technology as they participate in the practices of content creation, distribution and sharing online as a form of vernacular creativity. It views participants not as members of a pre-defined generation, but as individuals within an age range. Consequently, generational preconceptions were suspended in favour of an approach linked to the modes of communication and technologies available and familiar to them in their early life and to their own personal circumstances and backgrounds. Research revealed that adopting digital technologies acted as enablers in facilitating the unlocking of suppressed behaviour and creative desires across the age spectrum. In addition the research findings offer a nuanced set of conclusions where both commonly held actions of purpose and age related circumstances are important. These are alternative to the over-simplistic and sometimes polemical perception that the so-called ‘digital generation’ are more digitally adept and literate than older internet users.


Buckingham, D. (2006), Is there a Digital Generation? In: David Buckingham & Willett, R. (eds.) Digital Generations: Children, Young People and New Media. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Mannheim, K. (1952 [1928]), The Problem of Generations. In: Kecskemeti, P. (ed.) Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Tapscott, D. (2008), Grown Up Digital, New York, NY, McGraw-Hill.

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