Marketers – I Believe The Children Are Not Our Future

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There is a common belief in Marketing circles that for the Digital Marketing industry to grow, we need to be spending more time on college and university campuses educating young people on the opportunities available within the Digital Marketing sector. Students in University are Digital Natives – meaning they grew up with a computer (and probably Internet access) in the home. There’s this whole, "they get it" mentality.

I’m not so sure.

I’ve had enough experiences speaking to University students to know that two forces have come together that may well cause that theory to fly out the window.

Point one: Digital Natives don’t understand the power of technology. Technology to them is like electricity to the generation before them. It’s always there. No one marvels about how cool it is and, it’s not an industry many of us thought about going into. Honestly, how many electricians do you know?

Point two: All Universities are challenged when it comes to teaching about new media. There is a lack of vetted publications to serve as information, a severe lack in Teachers with the knowledge to teach the topics, the industry, in and of itself, is young, and the entire structure of Universities, grading, etc… is very much based on individual performance, which is very counter to a mass collaboration wiki world.

Last week I spoke at Ryerson University in Toronto, and then I saw this posting on the Open Mode Blog by Malcolm Bastien entitled, Taking A First Look At Digital Marketing:

"Following the reactions at the Ryerson Business Forum (Mitch Note: this is the conference I presented at), it seems like the majority of people at my university are not even familiar with what some of the tools of Web 2.0 are, never mind knowing how to answer questions like ‘How do these tools let us participate in these?’

A few days ago one of the heads of my program said that our program (primarily Business Technology focused) doesn’t have a role to play in introducing students to the world of Digital Marketing because Digital Marketing’s isn’t about the technology. Which it isn’t so much. But while marketing may not revolve around technology, IT management doesn’t event exist without things like Digital Marketing. Without these sorts of opportunities to use technology to improve these conversations, the relevance of a program like mine diminishes.

One of the biggest opportunities that exists for my program, for now and for the next decade, is to take advantage of the lack of topics like Digital Marketing in the university environment, and to change that. One of the sub points that Mitch Joel touched on twice at last Wednesday’s event was of the opportunities in the Digital Marketing field, which dollar wise was upwards of billions of dollars. Trying to argue that Digital Marketing doesn’t fit into the scope of what a IT Management student should be actively learning to me is short sighted and closed minded."

For the Digital Marketing industry to really flourish and take advantage of the growth that is currently happening, we need to do a much better job of helping people like Malcolm – and his classmates – understand what these jobs are, and how their talents are needed. At the same time, we need to help traditional institutions (whether they are schools or corporations) understand that these young people are coming into the workforce expecting to collaborate, and not be blocked out of using stuff like wikis, YouTube and Facebook.

Just this week Ryerson was in the news because a student was accused of using a Facebook Group to enable cheating in a chemistry class. You can follow that story here: Globe And Mail – Ryerson Student Cheered At Expulsion Hearing. There was also a great Podcast about it (with many different perspectives) from the CBC here: The Current – Education, Cheating and Facebook.

I believe the children are not our future, unless we forgo our previous generation’s assumptions about education, human resources, privacy and collaboration. The changes are coming at us – fast and furious – and decisions need to be made. The challenge is that these decisions are not easy and they may well change our perception of what we think reality "is."

By the way, If you don’t think everything we know about education and creativity is changing, just watch this TED Talk with Sir Ken Robinson:


  1. As someone who works with college-age kids every day, I can vouch for your opinion that the kids are not the future solely by virtue of youth. Technology and media are only as powerful as the minds behind it, and mental agility is not something kids are taught in school.
    In some ways, I actually think you’re at a disadvantage if you grow up with something – you never realize what the difference between before and after is, nor do you have to actually learn it. Learning, exploring, and making mistakes are the paths to becoming powerful and effective with any tool.

  2. From my perspective from within the system, I think now is this time where the need for things to adapt to these changes is huge. The result will either allow people to move forward and stay relevant, or it will keep them following antiquated models.
    But for universities and for students to turn that switch on and start adapting, it’s going to take a holistic approach with a concerted effort from different organizations to have a meaningful impact.
    One question for [Digital] Marketing as an industry to ask is, if there’s even a substantial benefit for it in making that sort of long term investment?

  3. You are right on the mark, I was at a panel about a year and a half ago on teens and new media. None of them on the panel of 8 had heard of skype. The crowd literally gasped.

  4. In the UK, the government is thinking of allowing race and gender to be factored into the employer’s decision on whether to employ the candidate. So the Employer can legally choose a woman from a minority group over a male candidate, who is equally qualified. Is this right? Does this not harm race relations? Does it work both ways? Can I legally choose a white male over a woman from a minority group? It would be interesting what your readers think.

  5. Ken Robinson’s view on our education system made me second-guess the value of the university degree I am working towards. If our education systems does focus on creativity and we all have access to amplifiers like podcasting and other Web 2.0 tools, he may be right in saying that degrees may not be as supportive of our futures, because we would be able to sustain ourselves on this open platform.

  6. This is such a good point. A lot of university students may know about blogs, Facebook and Youtube videos, but whether they can recognise the opportunity for businesses is another thing altogether.
    I may be a university student, but it took me a course on Social Media to begin to understand technology and its implications for human relationships and communication.
    I feel that children are the future only we allow them to experiment and fail (whether it be in social media, or otherwise). And this video of Ken Robinson is awesome.

  7. Over the past several months, I have been teaching a group of college student how to personally brand themselves using social media tools. I was surprised to see how difficult it was for them to move from their ‘social’ world on Facebook to their new ‘professional’ world.
    They are making the connections but very very slowly. They are also very reluctant to expose themselves to the outside world because they have been hidden inside large institutions for years. They have the opportunity to engage with their industries and they are very reluctant to do so. Fear seems to be a big issue on many fronts.

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