I’m one of more than a thousand Internet experts who contributed thoughts about our emergent digital world to the 2012 Elon University-Pew Internet & American Life study on the future of the Internet. My comments were picked up in the Globe and Mail and MindShift, where I got to carry the banner for the pro-digital side of the equation (surprise!), so I wanted to post my full comment about the impact of the Internet on kids, as it appears on the Elon University site. Amazingly, the quote that got picked up is also the same quote I Facebooked after completing the survey in the first place!
The impact of technology on young brains will be a mixed bag: it will enhance some capacities and diminish others, and will probably help certain kinds of people perform better and others will end up performing worse. I checked the positive box because I am concerned that with all our hand-wringing about the way brains are being rewired, we are focusing excessively on the down sides.
Yes, I expect that my now-8-year-old daughter will spend less time reading novels and more time playing video games, and that makes me sad: I have a generational and cultural bias that makes novel-reading seem like a more worthy pastime. The key is to recognize that our cultural and generational biases strongly shape our judgments about the way younger people think and spend their time. If we live in a world that values and rewards now-declining capacities—like the ability to sustain attention on a single subject for a long period or to write in full, grammatically-correct sentences—that world is not going to be around a lot longer, and it seems pretty clear that the new world is necessarily going to be driven by the skills and values of this younger generation.
If we can stop fretting about what we’re losing, we can make room to get excited about what we’re gaining: the ability to multitask, to feel connected to ‘strangers’ as well as neighbours, to create media unselfconsciously, to live in a society of producers rather than consumers. The question we face as individuals, organizations, educators and perhaps especially as parents is how we can help today’s kids to prepare for that world—the world they will actually live in and help to create—instead of the world we are already nostalgic for.