Pew Surveys Perceptions of How Always-On Technology Will Impact Generation Y

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The Pew Research Center designed a survey to assess how tech insiders, critics, and students perceive how always-on technology (AOT) will impact teens and twenty-somethings of the Y Generation. The survey was administered online from August 28 to October 31, 2011 as part of Pew's ongoing project on the Internet and American life. Among the participants were Google Inc's top economist, Hal Varian and Berkeley Research Scientist, Bruce Nordman.

Fifty-five percent of participants agreed with the following 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 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 not everyone is convinced; 42% agreed with an opposing 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."

This goes back to the old academic debate about whether technology makes citizens more intelligent or not. This discussion typically leads to a somewhat balanced divide in classroom opinions because they cannot vote for middle-ground and was also evidenced in this survey item with a 55-42 split. In what ways do you think AOT will impact the Y generation?

Survey participants were more cohesive in their predictions that in 2020 young people would require skills that assisted them to assess the quality of information, search for information online, and succeed in public problem-solving through cooperative work.

They also agreed that other skills like reading texts more closely and critical thinking would become less important for the majority of Americans but could hamper innovation in the long run. It was thought that bratty expectations towards immediate gratification would lead young Americans to read less challenging forms of print media, making them less capable of overcoming new challenges and "mastering new environments."

Here are some other samples of arguments and perceptions that were hallmarked:

“Memories are becoming hyperlinks to information triggered by keywords and URLs. We are becoming ‘persistent paleontologists’ of our own external memories, as our brains are storing the keywords to get back to those memories and not the full memories themselves,” argued Amber Case, CEO of Geoloqi.

"A key differentiator between winners and losers will be winners’ capacity to figure out the correct attention-allocation balance in this new environment. Just as we lost oral tradition with the written word, we will lose something big in the coming world, but we will gain as well. “As Sophocles once said, ‘Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse,’” noted Tiffany Shlain, director of the film Connected and founder of the Webby Awards.

With the importance of AOT technology prevailing in the workplace, "many of those surveyed backed educational reforms to make distracted young people better able to handle always-on technology and to focus. They included time-out zones, meditation, silence areas and going without Internet devices."

Such reforms may be instrumental in helping students diagnosed with disorders like ADD and ADHD turn their inherent vulnerabilities into strengths.

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