Generation "Always On"

The Internet may be a mixed blessing for younger generations, whose brains are being irrevocably altered by their relationship with the medium, warn more than half of the respondents to the fifth survey of more than 1,000 Internet experts fielded by Elon University's Imagining the Internet Center and the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, reports The Futurist.


While multitasking and instantly gratifying every info-whim-simultaneously posting Facebook updates, texting, researching assignments, streaming live concerts, and Skyping friends -- today's average teenagers may be turning themselves into shallow thinkers and impatient adults, warn some of the experts surveyed. Some 42 percent agreed with the statement: 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.


In contrast, others think "quick-twitch" thinking may become a key survival skill for this hyperconnected, "always on" generation. Some 55 percent agreed with the statement: 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 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.


Futurist John Smart, president and founder of the Acceleration Studies Foundation, recalled an insight of economist Simon Kuznets about evolution of technology effects known as the Kuznets curve: "First-generation tech usually causes 'net negative' social effects; second-generation 'net neutral' effects; by the third generation of tech -- once the tech is smart enough, and we've got the interface right, and it begins to reinforce the best behaviors -- we finally get to 'net positive' effects," he noted. "We'll be early into conversational interface and agent technologies by 2020, so kids will begin to be seriously intelligently augmented by the internet. There will be many persistent drawbacks however [so the effect at this point will be net neutral]. The biggest problem from a personal-development perspective will be motivating people to work to be more self-actualized, productive, and civic than their parents were. They'll be more willing than ever to relax and remain distracted by entertainments amid accelerating technical productivity. 


Source: "Millennials Will Benefit and Suffer Due to Their Hyperconnected Lives " by Janna Anderson and Lee Rainie, Pew Internet.