Meeting the next generation

In the past twenty-five years, Information Technology has changed many things with the Internet, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, and the Internet of Things, etc. However, these are only the beginning, as I believe there will be more changes to come in the near future and many of them will happen quickly and unexpectedly.

Last month, I was asked to give lectures about information technology to several high schools as a part of the public school’s STEM initiatives where college professors volunteered to train high school teachers and students on specific subject. This activity gave me the opportunities to learn about the “next generation.” Although I only lectured in four high schools with over three hundred students and five teachers, this experience led me to believe that these young people will make a significant difference in the future.

I noticed that these young students were very different from the previous generation and their parent’s generation. They all grew up with the Internet, Laptops, Mobile phone so they are more comfortable with technologies than their parents. For example, when their parents go shopping at local stores or supermarkets, they prefer to buy everything online and often make a decision quickly on what they want. When I asked: “Why do you buy everything online?” Many told me that they ask their friends, read Facebook’s comment on a product, or chat online with others about something before purchasing so they can make a decision quickly. They value their time and prefer to use laptop or mobile phone instead of “wasting” time in the market and negotiate prices like their parents. To them, online shopping is the best because they can compare prices and quality quickly. A ten-grade student said: “I prefer to let the mobile app compare prices on what I want and select the lowest price online.” Another student added: “Why bargaining? Let artificial intelligence software do the checking. No wasting time.” Now I understand why Amazon is the largest and most successful online store with several billion dollars in quarterly profit, they understand the younger generation’s purchasing habit.

I asked: “But why Amazon and not others?” A student said: “Amazon has the best price and can deliver the product within a few days. They do not use the post office but has its own transportation system. Sometimes they can deliver the product within days. That is what we want. To us, “On-demand” is an important factor, soon Amazon will use drones for delivery, whatever we buy, we can get it within half an hour. With mobile apps, we can buy and pay by phone, it is easy and fast.” Now I know why mobile payments like Apple pay, Google Wallet, or Samsung pay are getting more popular. I think soon ATM machines will disappear just like the wired telephone because everything is connected by wireless technologies.

I also found that these young people are much faster in adopting new technologies like the Internet of Things, Virtual reality, Wearables technologies and Artificial Intelligence’s digital assistants. When I lecture on these subjects, over half of the class already know about them, some already used them. I asked: “It seems many of you already know about these technologies, how do you learn them?” Their answer surprised me: “We learn from Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) many of us even took classes there. Since high school teachers do not know these subjects, they refer us to take online courses.” Now I know why many businesses such as retail, banking and physical stores are having problems. More than half of the physical stores are now closed and many large companies are filing for bankruptcy. I think if companies do not change quickly by adopting digital transformation, many will not be able to survive. As we enter the near future where these younger people begin to impact the society, it is important to understand what they can do and will do as times have changed.

After the class, a high school principal asked me: “How was your class?” I answered: “I do not think that I will need to talk about technology but there is an urgent need that I will come back for.” He seemed surprised: “What do you intend to teach? I told him: “Students may not need to learn about technology, many can learn that by themselves, but I think they will need to be trained in ethics, moral, and responsibilities because technology without a conscience could be a disaster.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University