Learning The Language

A fascinating report came out at the end of last month from The Pew Internet and American Life folks. This one has to do with the impact of an “always on” connection on young people and whether that impact will be positive or negative. You can read the release and the report itself here and there was a good summary of the study done here.

These are really the key points:

…many of the young people growing up hyperconnected to each other and the mobile Web and counting on the internet as their external brain will be nimble, quick-acting multitaskers who will do well in key respects.

At the same time, these experts predicted that the impact of networked living on today’s young will drive them to thirst for instant gratification, settle for quick choices, and lack patience. A number of the survey respondents argued that it is vital to reform education and emphasize digital literacy. A notable number expressed concerns that trends are leading to a future in which most people are shallow consumers of information, and some mentioned George Orwell’s 1984 or expressed their fears of control by powerful interests in an age of entertaining distractions.

I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time each day online and have for years.  There is no question it has an effect on one’s brain.  I notice how my thinking has changed – at times I feel more distracted because there are always a few other things I’m doing concurrently but I also notice that when I read offline I read the “above the fold” portion of articles (usually the lede and a few paragraphs) and then scan the rest – the mind gets restless.

My thought today is this.  Digital literacy has become something that young people learn as they do their native language.  Anyone under 21 has grown up using digital devices and their brains are wired to operate a connected environment.  Ever seen a three year old play with an iPad?  Kids are digital before they can read.  They also don’t seem to focus as well (coincidence that there is an epidemic of ADD?) and can grow impatient quickly.

That statement about the digital language is several implications.  First, we don’t think about where our native language comes from (other than those of us who study philology).  We just speak it. People know how to use the digital tools but have no clue how they operate (unless they’re engineers).  Sometimes I think we confuse speaking a language with studying one and treat people who do the former as if they’ve done the latter.  Second, when one reads articles about companies enhancing broadband wand WiFi availability in one area while others are abandoning those efforts in poorer areas, it makes me think about immigrants who can’t speak the language of a new country.  If you’re not speaking digital, pretty soon you’ll be treated as a different class.

Have a look at the study and tell me what you think (if you can focus long enough!).

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1 Comment

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One response to “Learning The Language

  1. Great point about 3 year olds with their iPads. My 9 year old fixed my wife’s phone the other day. All this digital connectivity is having a negative effect on our interpersonal skills. I read one of the social/mobile app developers talk about how we meet people has always been an inefficient process and thought that was an incredibly crass sad statement — as if humans meeting humans via their interpersonal skills was somehow a negative that could be fixed with digital technology. And yet, I finally signed up for foursquare this week.

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