The Children of Cyberspace: Old Fogies by Their 20s


As cited in the New York Times article below, the accelerated pace of advances in technology may be creating what one prominent researcher calls “mini-generation gaps,” reflecting the influence technology has on students during their formative years. Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, says, “People two, three or four years apart are having completely different experiences with technology. College students scratch their heads at what their high school siblings are doing, and they scratch their heads at their younger siblings. It has sped up generational differences.”

These differences are most notable in each generation’s choices of communication and entertainment. According to a survey last year by Pew:

• 68% of teenagers are likely to send instant messages while only 59% of slightly older 20-somethings are.
• 78% of teenagers are likely to play online games while only 50% of slightly older 20-somethings are.

Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, has discovered in his studies another gap within generations. Dr. Rosen’s studies show that 16- to 18-year-olds perform, on average, seven tasks during their free time. People in their 20s typically can handle only six, while those in their 30s handle about five and a half. Some educators predict that multitasking may become a greater issue for these younger generations in a negative way. Vicky Rideout, a vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, states, “I worry that young people won’t be able to summon the capacity to focus and concentrate when they need to.”

What can teachers, schools, districts and parents do to help prepare students to develop critical and creative thinking skills for the 21st century, which demand focus and follow-through?

How can the U.S. education system integrate the younger generations’ affinity for new technologies to create compelling and engaging curricula?


The New York Times
January 9, 2010
The Children of Cyberspace: Old Fogies by Their 20s

My 2-year-old daughter surprised me recently with two words: “Daddy’s book.” She was holding my Kindle electronic reader.

Here is a child only beginning to talk, revealing that the seeds of the next generation gap have already been planted. She has identified the Kindle as a substitute for words printed on physical pages. I own the device and am still not completely sold on the idea.

My daughter’s worldview and life will be shaped in very deliberate ways by technologies like the Kindle and the new magical high-tech gadgets coming out this year — Google’s Nexus One phone and Apple’s impending tablet among them. She’ll know nothing other than a world with digital books, Skype video chats with faraway relatives, and toddler-friendly video games on the iPhone. She’ll see the world a lot differently from her parents.

But these are also technology tools that children even 10 years older did not grow up with, and I’ve begun to think that my daughter’s generation will also be utterly unlike those that preceded it.

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