We watched some portions from PBS Frontline’s Digital Nation series (Chapter 1: “Distracted by Everything,” Chapter 2: “What’s It Doing to Their Brains?” and Chapter 5: “The Dumbest Generation?”) during today’s class. In a nutshell, the series explores how young people are easily distracted, that multitasking does not work and growing up in a “digital nation” with new technologies may be affecting the youngest generation’s brain for the worse, making them the “dumbest generation.”
We also read this excellent New York Times article on danah boyd and the research she conducts into the online lives of teenagers.
“Teenagers are not some alien population,” boyd says. “When we see new technologies, we think they make everything different for young people. But they really don’t. Teenagers are the same as they always were.”
Afterward, I asked the students to write a blog post reflecting on what we had just watched and read, chiefly how they are portrayed in the media and in boyd’s work and that of Mark Bauerlein (who wrote a book making the claim of the “dumbest generation”). “Are you an alien?” I asked them. Here are some snippets of the responses from the 16 and 17-year-old high school students in my class:
Some people say that our integration with digital technology gives us an advantage in the digital age. When I see my parents struggling to grasp iPhone gestures and computer commands that feel as natural to breathing to me, I can see how I might have an advantage over them. However, overall I don’t think that our mindset is an advantage. … Seeing the fulfillment my mother and friends seem to get out of reading, I can’t help but feel as though growing up in a state of constant digital sensory overload has robbed me of something. In this way, even knowing there are millions of teenagers in the same situation as me, I can’t help but feel alienated from a society that expects me to be both technology literate and task-oriented.
It has been said that us teens do have an advantage in the digital age. My Mom still doesn’t even know how to work a touch screen phone. She has had a Facebook for over two years now and still asks me to help her upload pictures to her profile. It just comes so naturally to us teens because we have been using all of this for so long. Teenagers are teaching their parents things they don’t know. We’ve grown up around all things technology and it will keep growing and growing.”
“I feel as if even though I am connected a lot to Facebook and my friends, I control it very well. During the school week, my nose is in the books studying and/or doing my extracurricular, I hardly ever have time to go on the computer or my phone. It is all about managing your time and how well you work.”
“In this small digital and social media class, I might have had the most experience with online things such as social media sites or any other online useful tools, but I do not stay on them all day long and abuse them as a drug or use them for any other reason than communication and providing advertisement for my own personal endeavors.”
“It is not accurate for the older generation to say we are the dumbest generation because they grew up in a generation that did not have the same techology, and distractions that we do today.”
“I don’t consider myself to be an alien, I think I’m pretty private online and can communicate with people without the internet. While we are growing up with more and more technology, we need to be able to focus. I think social media and the Internet are going to be around for a while, and it’s up to individuals to decide how involved or secluded they want to be.”