Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Growing Up Digital

Technology propels us ever-forward, shaping us even as we strive to create new, faster, and more stylish gadgets and processes to assist with our daily life needs. Researchers are beginning to ask how these technologies will change our relationships to each other, and are finding that the continuous march of technological advancement is building a digital divide between generations. As the author of the linked article says of his toddler:
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.
I have spent some time on this blog belaboring the point that technology has an isolating effect—that our ability to make and manage one-to-one connections is limited by our need to always be connected to everyone. (Do you really know all 500 people who are your "friends" on Facebook? Do you really need to Tweet about your Starbucks order—and why are there a hundred strangers who care?) I've spent some time wondering how the dynamics of our networks will change as we begin to manage them digitally, and recently, I've wondered how social pressure and the social order are manifested digitally. I think these are important questions to ask because like it or not, technology is integrated with our lifestyles, and we're constantly making accommodations to encourage it to infiltrate even deeper.

The article marks a contrast between the Net Generation (born in the 1980s) and the iGeneration (born in the 1990s and the past decade), citing their preferred method of communication: the latter spends more time using text messaging and instant messaging programs to connect with one another instantly, while the former still demonstrate a preference for email, which does not necessarily guarantee instantaneous responses. The point here, according to Cal State professor Larry Rosen, is that the iGeneration will grow up expecting instant responses and constant connection to one another, and will lack the patience for anything less.

But this is also a generation that will group up more primed to process information than any other. They will know how to mine the web, how to glean relevant information from different sources, how to synthesize a story out of the assorted bytes of data they have collected. And they'll be able to do all of this while multitasking at levels not previously employed by even their older siblings. This is also a generation that will have a head start on networking. They're born connected—they probably have Facebook groups for their playgroups! Networking will be second nature to these kids who will retain friendships from elementary school and kindergarten with ease. What the Net Generation has merely tapped will be unleashed by the iGeneration and subsequent web users. While some may worry about the caliber of congition with this group, I think we'll find that the world is rapidly becoming a different place, one that accommodates their relationship with technology and information.

I'm no fan of the Kindle. I feel that books should be held and experienced as much as they are read. But an entire generation may grow up knowing only digital books. My heart breaks a little at this notion, but it's the way they will come to process information. It's progress—just another step in growing up digital.

What are your thoughts about the digital divide? What is your relationship to technology? How does that differ from that of your own parents? And new parents, what have you noticed about the ways your children interact with technology?

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