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article imageReport: Will online digital lifestyles change our brains? Special

By Lesley Lanir     Feb 29, 2012 in Internet
Pew Research Center together with Elon University investigated whether young people growing up in today’s internet world will demand instant gratification and make hasty, superficial choices or have analytical minds and become good at making decisions?
Pew Research Center, closely following GenY or the Always-On Generation, have published a survey about future effects of the internet. The research led by Janna Quitney Anderson, Elon University and Lee Rainie, Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project finds that technology experts and stakeholders were fairly evenly split as to whether online interaction will have positive or negative outcomes for the younger generations thinking skills.
These findings come from a random sample over 1,000 technology experts and critics and academics. The study was fielded by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center between August 28 and October 31, 2011.
The participants were asked to read two statements and choose the one they thought to be true and support their selection.
55% of respondents 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 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.
42% 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.
Main findings of the report are many young people in the future will:
• grow up hyperconnected to each other
• rely on mobile Web heavily
• use the internet as their external brain
• be adept at multitasking
• desire instant gratification
• be satisfied with quick choices
• lack patience
• have active brains
• discern the quality and veracity of the information
• communicate findings well - have high digital literacy
• be able to synthesize information well
• be strategically pro-active
• differentiate between the relevant and irrelevant amongst enormous amounts of data
One expert respondent is quoted as saying:
There will be an increase in accidents and things going wrong due to miscommunication and the widespread combination of sleep deprivation and fractured attention spans.
Other remarks about the influence of the internet and an online existence from experts in communication involved in the survey :
What is being lost are the skills associated with print literacy, including the ability to organize complex processes in a sustained way over time, engage in detailed and nuanced argumentation, analytically compare and contrast information from diverse sources, etc. What is being gained are hand-eye coordination skills, certain types of visual literacy.
Their cognitive ability will not be impaired, their ability to think critically will be, and they will be far more susceptible to manipulation
Digital Journal discussed the findings and some of the more negative responses to the future of the internet with research leader Janna Quitney Anderson who responded with:
Often concerns are rooted in their desire to retain the status quo. Sometimes their concerns bring forth real issues; it is important to understand those fears and address them if possible. People’s hopes are important to study as well, although they can often be enthusiastic overstatements. People can be giddy with the thought of what could be done by leveraging new technologies the right way. But every new tool is a double-edged sword that can be used for good and evil, and ubiquitous connectivity through digital communications networks is a blessing and a curse, dependent upon how people choose to behave.
Read here for the full report: Millennials will benefit and suffer due to their hyperconnected lives
More about Social Networking, Internet, Pew research center, Digital lifestyle
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