So do they know something we don’t? Can all that pinging, instantaneous access and over-stimulation damage a child’s developing mind?
A survey from the Pew Internet Project released Wednesday suggests that opinions among technology experts and stakeholders are divided on the issue.
The survey asked 1,021 professors, consultants and Internet executives to imagine the brains of teens and young adults in the year 2020. About 55% of respondents thought the technology of the time would yield “helpful results,” while about 42% thought there would be a negative impact (and 3% did not respond.)
Pew suggests that many respondents hoped for a positive impact, rather than guessing realistically. True opinion is probably split evenly, the study’s authors speculate.
“The replacement of memorization by analysis will be the biggest boon to society since the coming of mass literacy in the late 19th to early 20th century.”
What is more interesting than the numerical breakdown were the ways that respondents justified their views of the future’s connected youth.
One potentially positive effect of a hyper-connected future world: less need to memorize stuff.
“The replacement of memorization by analysis will be the biggest boon to society since the coming of mass literacy in the late 19th to early 20th century,” said Paul Jones of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Others thought constant stimulation could lead to a halt in progress.
“Short attention spans resulting from quick interactions will be detrimental to focusing on the harder problems,” argued Alvaro Retana, a technologist at HP. “We will probably see a stagnation in many areas: technology, even social venues such as literature.”
Some wondered if reliance on the Internet could rob youth of independent minds.
“The underlying issue is that they will become dependent on the Internet in order to solve problems and conduct their personal, professional, and civic lives,” said Paul Gardner-Stephen of Flinders University. “Thus centralized powers that can control access to the Internet will be able to significantly control future generations.
“It will be much as in Orwell’s 1984, where control was achieved by using language to shape and limit thought, so future regimes may use control of access to the Internet to shape and limit thought.”
“The underlying issue is that they will become dependent on the Internet in order to solve problems and conduct their personal, professional, and civic lives.”
The survey was the fifth in a series of “Future of the Internet” surveys conducted by the Imagining the Internet Center and the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. About 40% of the survey participants identified themselves as research scientists or further education employees; 12% said they were employed by a company with a focus on information technology; and 11% said they work at a non-profit organization.
What do you think the ever-more connected future holds for youth? Will relying less on memorization allow them to analyze more easily? Or will a shortened attention span lead to a halt in progress? Let us know in the comments.