It's no secret that young Americans are always "on": They're often simultaneously checking email, tweeting, texting and updating their Facebook page while in class or a work meeting. The Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project asked more than 1,000 researchers if they think these millennials will show future cognitive benefits or penalties due to their hyper-connected lives.
What did they find? People think this lifestyle will be both good and bad for millennials' future cognitive capacities.
According to the report overview, "Teens and young adults brought up from childhood with a continuous connection to each other and to information will be nimble, quick-acting multitaskers who count on the Internet as their external brain and who approach problems in a different way from their elders."
David Weinberger, senior researcher at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, will join The Daily Circuit to talk about the research.
"Whatever happens, we won't be able to come up with an impartial value judgment because the change in intellect will bring about a change in values as well," David Weinberger wrote in the Pew report .
Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and founder of iGen Consulting, will also join the discussion.
Which do you agree with?:
“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 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.”
“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.”
Here's the 2010 New York Times series Your Brain on Computers.
I'm 24 and I know that when I've spent a lot of time on the computer on sites like Facebook or Reddit I have a harder time reading books for extended periods of time like I used to when I was a kid.
I think of it as a habit of how I use my attention span and I don't like it when my habit is short spurts that the internet tends to promote.
I see plusses and minuses.
First the minus: TMI - too much information will cause minds to suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder symptoms , and minds will find deep focus a tougher experience to attain or maintain.
Then there's the plus: these external readily available sources of information will allow us to reference info sources to expand our knowledge bases extensively as compared to the memorization culture of the pre-technological world.
Being a member of the generation that grew up with this technology even I am a little worried of its effects.
I think we will be fine because if there is a significant change in behavior I strongly believe people will find a way to change back. But the truncating of complicated sets information into small packets to fit within a technological construct is scary to me.
It means that people no longer fully understand issues, they only get the sound bytes that politicians, or scientists, or whoever releases. One thing that is particularly intriguing to me are political sound bytes. A sound byte from the 1960s was an average of 90 seconds; a sound byte today is an average of 9 seconds.
What does 9 seconds of speech typed out equal (on average)?
Yet, can you really get all the information you need to understand an issue in 9 seconds? The technology developments we are experiencing today support this type of behavior and that is something deeply concerning to me.
We will not know the answer to this question for a generation or two.
I think that the lack of focus driven by much of the interaction makes it mostly trivial, petty, and pointless.
Fiddling around on the internet does not a sandwich make. I would suggest that being linked is what we were before the computer ever existed. We were linked to place, time, and condition.
More may not be better. It may just be more.
With the college part, I have found that my peers like to search for an easy answer to thing.
If we can't Google it or find an answer with in twenty minutes then a lot of us give up rather than keep at it.
I am 23 years old and working towards my MFA in Dance.
Noticing the way my students and peers who have grown up in a hyper-connected, technology driven world has been incredible to notice in a profession that relies on physical connectedness.
I am curious to see how technology shapes the arts as well as how it shapes the connectedness between humans. One of the exercises I teach in my beginning level Modern Dance course is just simply looking each other in the eye.
@Pat I think this is a great point. As we become linked with peole around the world do we lose the link with the people close by?
@KerriMPR I might remind these people who are clutching their pearls over my generation's use of technology that THEIR generation was on LSD
If the brain can't do two things at once, how is it most of us can walk and chew gum?
The conscious mind is much more limited than the brain, maybe you're thinking of that.
It think that the term knowledge needs to be defined.
Knowledge used to be who could memorize the most, like in ancient Greece. But today we don't need to memorize as much, instead knowledge should be measured by problem solving. Problem solving and critical thinking is what most colleges teach. Gaining access to all of this information online will help with decision making, and we can teach ourselves anything.
I am a pediatric/adolescent gynecologist and see kids every day in my office.
I am very concerned with the lack of insight into more serious topics...life is such a superficial experience for these kids it seems. Amazingly they are connected, but don't really access information as much as you might think. I give them websites to look at, ask them to track things on apps and still, many don't take ownership of these tasks.
Quick simple solutions that require no work on their part is what they want. These are gross generalizations, and of course there are other great kids!!! But I have noticed even a difference between my kids ( age 24, 22, 20) who attended a liberal arts college and have incredible depth of thought!
Radio, tv, internet, wireless, hyperconnection ... etc are just metaphors for the impending global resonant empathy/telepathy.
(I'm one of the ones on the radio now.) I agree with much of what Jean says, but I want to push back on the assumption that "deep thinking" is the same as book thinking
I think it is not just people with which we lose connection.
We lose connection with the physical world and all of its parts; our senses become numb from disuse, and less aware of our surroundings as we pace the world twittering and blogging our way.
I have been a part of the rise in personal technology, and an avid user of all kinds of connectivity. But my more valid connectivity has more to do with real exeprience; working with real people; solving real issues.
I am 24 years old.
I think you guys are really underestimating the discussion that the internet creates. Look at sites like Post Secret and its community. It has inspired many people to discuss "deep" topics without fear of judgement. This happens far less frequently offline. I may be biased though.
Without the internet, I never would have met the love of my life, today is our anniversary.
I'm 26, work full time in youth development and I'm working on a masters in education.
Yes, it is easy to get into information overload, but we need to teach our youth how to sort out relevant information from all of the other junk. Progressive education trends are moving away from memorizing a list of facts and spitting it out, to knowing how to quickly and accurately find the facts and decipher them with your peers.
In medical school we are always talking about how we are currently in a transition. If we memorized all the recent medical information, we would be out of date by the time we learned it. Learning about how to search for up to date information is a much more helpful skill than memorizing all of the details and it is much better for patients.
Jean just replied. And, yes, most of what's on the web expresses non-serious interactions. Of course! If you want to see how knowledge is changing, we should be looking at the sites where this occurs. And there are plenty of them. (I'd count Reddit as one of those, even though most of the posts are puppy photos :)
I'm 26. As a web designer/developer, the internet/social media makes up much of my workday world.
I find that at the end of the day, I'm really need to disconnect from the web. Activities like cooking a healthy meal, reading a good book or playing with my dog are the counterbalance I need to sustain my hyper-connectedness throughout the day.
The greatest honor a person can pay another is listening, empathic, intense listening. That's not possible when you are using a device.
And frankly, I find it hurtful when people do this when with me: how do you suggest we ask someone to stop looking at their Iphone, etc. and do us the favor of really being present?
I am the 50 year old mother of teenage boys.
There is no question that re-wiring is occuring, because it is happening to me. I used to rail against their constant use of technology and now I find myself in the same boat. I check FB many times per day. I hop on the computer to check this and that. I have a harder time picking up and concentrating on a book, and I love to read. I write in shorter, clipped sentences.
If my 50 year old brain changed this much over the course of a year, I cannot really imagine how it is affecting my teen son's brains.
"Consider the poor factory girl, never alone, not even in her dreams."
I was a recruiter for the Peace Corps. We had considerable concerns about twenty-somethings who are addicted to the fast speed and shallow nature of much social media communication being able to handle the slow speed of life in most countries in the world.
Quote from Henry David Thoreau, about 160 years ago.
Not a dude here! I'm a woman. You're excused :)
Ed: I was waffling. Needed to commit. Thank you for forgiving me! I had Jules Verne on the brain.
They already are creating contact lenses with HUD displays in them for connectivity. Ski goggles have GPS and HUD displays that you can buy.
Yes, disconnecting from the Web at times is a good thing! And there's evidence (cf. Alison Head) that students in libraries turn of Facebook, etc., in order to focus...and may go back to FB every 20 mins or so as a "reward" for having studied hard.
Technology has wonderfully changed the way I work in my technical/design field as a 55 yr. old - easy to find data, information, etc. instead of having to know who to call or which huge book I have to haul off the shelf.
Then, I have four 20-year-old- something children, all finishing college this year, and I see that they are very comfortable getting information quickly, but do not step back to analyze what they NEED first.
Finally, in working with younger 20 and 30s in a professional environment, I notice that it's difficult to make them slow down to form lasting relationships with clients and each other, as well as look at the long-term, overall picture to guide their immediate actions.
I see that approaches toward the world are much more me-oriented, immediate, and I fear ethics will be negatively affected with lack of a societal commitment and/or broader insight into what the future means.
Maybe I'm odd, but I search Wikipedia for information and I retain it.
I read novels, one every three or four day. I use social media to some extent, and I have real life relationships with my family and friends, in addtion to those online connections I've made.
I am 48 and have a 25 y/o girlfriend. We're both on Facebook, but she has 300 friends and know something about all of them, where I'm no where near that count.
I believe it has made made us less observant of our surroundings and less aware.
Ironically you just aired the David Attenborough piece and what nature requires of us is keen observation skills. It requires all of our senses. We shut down all of those senses when connected.
Love the new show!! :)
I am a millenial and I have noticed that people in my age group (including myself) prefer to use email and other forms of instant written communication instead of picking up the phone... sometimes a phone call is best (as the most recent guest said) but we are hesitant.
Cognitive shortcomings compared to what? By the time we are the generation making blanket statements about the generation below us, whatever we do will be the status quo.
Yes, you are odd. Unless you are old. I have yet to meet anyone under 30 who has read anything other than Harry Potter and the Vampire stuff.
I grew up spending a lot of time in front of the computer, and I must say, it has, in a way, molded the overall outcome of my personality and social relationships.
I'm 26, and I had a relatively large group of friends in highschool, but I was always a little more detached then them. After highschool, I was diagnosed with depression and I came to find that it has a direct link between my ability to converse with people and the number of close friendships I retained (which is very few.)
In regards to the last caller I would recommend playing phone roulette.
Everyone puts their phone down on the table (face-down so you can't see it) and whoever picks up their phone to check it first picks up the table's tab.
Believe me, no one wants to pay for 3 or 4 other people's dinners just to check their phone. We have used it in my friend group a number of times and works great.
To David Weinberger: In Kevin Kelly's book, What Technology Wants, he describes the social process of science (basically, a digestive system for fact creation) versus the isolated/separated process of indigenous knowledge.
While the internet enables broader forms of knowledge creation, it also seems to enable siloing, where technical or social divisions prevent related forms of knowledge from being connected.
What are your thoughts?
P.S. read about your book on Boing Boing, waiting for my copy to arrive.
Phone roulette; I love it!
It has made us less observant of our surroundings, less tuned in to nature so it is uncanny that you just aired the piece on David Attenborough.
Nature requires of us keen observation skills, the ability to employ all of our senses. I think a good of the young people I am in contact with are oblivious to the nature around them, they hardly observe what's going on around them and have no connection, or I dare say, curiosity about their environment.
I wouldn't make any claims about brain wiring, unless we're talking about the exposure of infants and young children to inappropriate and excessive TV, video games, and digital media, which is liable to correlate with a lack of exercise, bad dietary and eating habits, parental neglect, and other problems, like poor literacy skills and other academic problems.
This is positively harmful, but teens are capable of bringing self-discipline and critical attitudes to bear on the things they spend time and money on. This is what needs to be encouraged and taught; when it is not.