Thursday, March 1, 2012

Doomed or Lucky? Predicting the Future of the Internet Generation

According to Mindshift and the Pew Foundation's Future of the Internet V survey, there is still no consensus when it comes to the internet or predicting the future. Has there ever been? As the common expression about relationships goes, "it's complicated." Whatever, the results are relevant, each in its own way to the (more or less) varying MOOCs underway, hence the post even if not following any of the assignments. That's autonomous for you,

photo by Flickr

Looking into the proverbial crystal ball, a slew of technology experts weighed in on the Future of the Internet V survey conducted by Pew Research and Elon University, and came up with a predictably mixed scenario: It’s complicated.
Asked to consider the future of the Internet-connected world between now and 2020 and to choose from two statements, of the total 1,021 responses, 55% agreed with this optimistic view:


“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.”

But 42% were less enthusiastic about the impact of wired life:

“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.”

These points of view are presented in the context of statistics that show Internet and media use completely permeating young people’s lives. From the Pew Internet Project: “95% of teens ages 12-17 are online, 76% use social networking sites, and 77% have cell phones. Moreover, 96% of those ages 18-29 are internet users, 84% use social networking sites, and 97% have cell phones. Well over half of those in that age cohort have smartphones and 23% own tablet computers like iPads.”

“Their handwriting will be horrendous. Their thumbs will ache. Life will go on.” 

Focusing the work of educators on shaping students’ use of and attitude towards technology is crucial in paving the way for a more positive outcome, many respondents said. 
“The changes in behavior and cognition in the future depend heavily upon how we adapt our pre-school-through-college curricula to encompass new techniques of learning and teaching,” wrote Hugh F. Cline, an adjunct professor of sociology and education at Columbia University who was formerly a senior research scientist at a major educational testing company based in Princeton, NJ. “If we simply continue to use technologies to enhance the current structure and functioning of education, our young people will use the technologies to entertain themselves and engage in online socializing and shopping. We will have missed enormous opportunities to produce independent life-long learners.”
Some educators who took the survey were critical of the effect of technology on their students “hyper-connected” lives.
“I have seen a general decline in higher-order thinking skills in my students over the past decade,” wrote one respondent. “What I generally see is an over-dependence on technology, an emphasis on social technologies as opposed to what I’ll call ‘comprehension technologies,’ and a general disconnect from deeper thinking. I’m not sure that I attribute this to the so-called ‘re-wiring’ of teenage brains, but rather to a deeper intellectual laziness that the Web has also made possible with the rise of more video-based information resources (as opposed to textual resources).”


More highlights from the study from Barry Chudakov, a Florida-based consultant and a research fellow in the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto, Alvaro Retana, a technologist with Hewlett-Packard, Jessica Clark, a media strategist and senior fellow for two U.S. communications technology research centers, Communications scholar Sandra Braman of the University of Wisconsin, and opinions on the Digital Divide, wiring of the brain, the notion of digital natives, and even human evolution.


David Weinberger, senior researcher at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society: “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.” 

Alex Halavais, an associate professor and internet researcher at Quinnipiac University: “We will think differently, and a large part of that will be as a result of being capable of exploiting a new communicative environment,” he noted.

Read the entire article, Doomed or Lucky? Predicting the Future of the Internet Generation. Needless to say, the Pew Report the article is based on is also recommended reading, fascinating, with lots of thought-provoking perspectives from experts, students, and educators. When you finish the article, read the report in full here.

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