How will the next generation face a wired world?

According to a survey from Pew Internet, experts believe that today's younger generation (the so called 'Millenials') will be profoundly affected by living in a hyperconnected digital world from birth, more so than any generation before them. On the plus side, this means that they'll be able to utilize information and technology even better than those that came before them, but it could come at the cost of shallow, impatient minds looking for instant gratification (their words, not ours - but if you are suffering from these effects, see our condensed pictorial version of this article below).

The survey consisted of 1,021 technology 'stakeholders and critics,' which could range from rich and famous CEOs to total nobodies. It asks them to weigh in on what sort of impact the digital revolution could have on people who can't remember a time before it, and whether they thought this impact would be mostly positive or negative by 2020. Respondents were asked if they agreed with one of two statements:

In 2020 the brains of multitasking teens and young adults are "wired" differently from those over age 35 and overall it yields helpful results. They do not suffer notable cognitive shortcomings as they multitask and cycle quickly through personal- and work-related tasks. Rather, they are learning more and they are more adept at finding answers to deep questions, in part because they can search effectively and access collective intelligence via the internet. In sum, the changes in learning behavior and cognition among the young generally produce positive outcomes.


A small majority (around 55%) of those surveyed bought into this more optimistic approach, but many of those pointed out that this was more of a 'hope' than a 'guess'. Isn't that reassuring? The 'glass half empty' types (around 42%) agreed with this version of events:

In 2020, the brains of multitasking teens and young adults are "wired" differently from those over age 35 and overall it yields baleful results. They do not retain information; they spend most of their energy sharing short social messages, being entertained, and being distracted away from deep engagement with people and knowledge. They lack deep-thinking capabilities; they lack face-to-face social skills; they depend in unhealthy ways on the internet and mobile devices to function. In sum, the changes in behavior and cognition among the young are generally negative outcomes.


Pew says that the actual results work out to something closer to 50/50 if they consider the fact that a large number of people didn't really agree with either statement fully. A few rejected them altogether, arguing that technology wasn't going to make any difference in the fundamental function of kids' brains, only the thought process.

Most of those surveyed also agreed that it's important for future generations to learn how to harness the power of the information that's available to them in the same way that we have traditionally been taught basic literacy. Discerning fact from fiction, and combining information from different sources into a coherent whole, were given as examples.

Finally, the study gives a sampling of some of the actual predictions and arguments, ranging from the interesting...

• Young people accustomed to a diet of quick-fix information nuggets will be less likely to undertake deep, critical analysis of issues and challenging information. Shallow choices, an expectation of instant gratification, a lack of patience, are likely to be common results, especially for those who do not have the motivation or training that will help them master this new environment. One possible outcome is stagnation in innovation.


...to the bizarre:

• The environment itself will be full of data that can be retrieved almost effortlessly, and it will be arrayed in ways to help people - young and old - navigate their lives. Quick-twitch younger technology users will do well mastering these datastreams.

• “Memories are becoming hyperlinks to information triggered by keywords and URLs. We are becoming ‘persistent paleontologists' of our own external memories, as our brains are storing the keywords to get back to those memories and not the full memories themselves,” argued Amber Case, CEO of Geoloqi.


So, what do you think? Is the internet and our constant connection (please don't blame Neowin) turning our youths into shallow-minded heathens, or is this just another moral panic like the one caused by novels in the 18th century?

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