I just finished watching the PBS Frontline documentary Generation Like. Here’s the trailer:
Generation Like is the latest project by author and mediasphere commentator Douglas Rushkoff, and if you have an hour to spare I think you’ll find it worth watching. Anyone who’s interested in a better understanding of how today’s adolescents — tomorrow’s college students — are coming of age in such a rich digital-media environment ought to watch at least some of this video.
The premise of this documentary, in Rushkoff’s own words (around the 5:48 mark), is that “likes, follows, friends, retweets — they’re the social currency of this generation.” And that social currency can translate into actual currency for many corporations. Generation Like, says Rushkoff on his website, “explores how the perennial teen quest for identity and connection has migrated to social media — and exposes the game of cat-and-mouse that corporations are playing with these young consumers.”
I’m still trying to process what Rushkoff’s documentary all means for higher education — from a branding and marketing standpoint as well as from the perspective of our educational missions — so I don’t have much commentary to add at the moment. I will say that some of the concerns expressed in the film will probably turn out to be overblown. That’s typically the case with documentaries that try to critique or analyze a cultural shift as the shift is happening. It’s like trying to analyze the damage of an earthquake while the ground is still shaking. But this seemingly insatiable hunger for likes and recognition in the digital sphere does have major implications for how adolescents are marketed to — and how they can become brand ambassadors for those entities they “like” in the social sphere.
I think this program offers some valuable perspectives for those of who are responsible for communicating with future college students. They, like us, are affected by the culture around them, and their quest for identity is being affected by the digital world. And as one corporate marketer interviewed by Rushkoff says, “To stand on the sidelines is not an option.”