Millennials And Their Hyperconnected Lives: Pew

New data collected by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, in conjunction with Elon University´s Imagining the Internet Center, suggest that Millennials — the ever-connected generation — “will benefit and suffer due to their hyperconnected lives.”

Those born between 1981 and 2000 have such a “thirst for instant gratification and quick fixes” that they are at risk of making poor life decisions based on findings from Google searches or text messages from their friends.

The data shows that 95 percent of teens 12 to 17 years of age are online, 76 percent of which use some form of social networking and 77 percent use cellphones.

The data comes from a survey of 1,021 Internet “experts” from think tanks, research groups, corporations and universities, who were asked to weigh in on whether growing up in a hyperconnected world will have a positive or negative impact on today´s youth.

The results, however, were relatively split. 55 percent of respondents said that kids today are learning to crowdsource information and quickly locate answers to profound questions because of the Internet, while 43 percent said it isn´t looking too good for the youth´s future. The rest were undecided.

After finding out which way respondents swayed, the researchers asked them to explain their choices.

Almost all agreed that in the future there will be a distinct set of skills that young people will need to be successful, including knowing how to solve problems through cooperation and knowing how to quickly and effectively find information on the Web and also quickly determine if such information has any value.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most negative comments came from teachers — those dealing with the Always On (AO) generation everyday — who note the loss of attention span and ability to think critically is a much more common issue nowadays.

“Technology is playing a big part in students not only not being able to perform as well in class, but also not having the desire to do so,” wrote one teacher who has been teaching at the college level for 12 years.

“Every day I see young people becoming more and more just members of a collective (like the Borg in Star Trek) rather than a collection of individuals and I firmly believe that technology is the cause,” noted another.

“The answers that students produce — while the students may be adept at finding them on Google — tend to be shallow and not thought through very well,” yet another wrote.

But more than half — 55 percent — give Millennials a fighting chance, saying 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.” Changes in learning behavior “and cognition among the young generally produce positive outcomes,” according to the positive respondents.

Although, while 55 percent of respondents “agreed with the statement that the future for the hyperconnected will generally be positive, many who chose that view noted that it is more their hope than their firm prediction, and a number of people said the true outcome will be a combination of both scenarios,” Pew said in a statement.

Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, wrote: “I made the optimistic choice, but in reality, I think both outcomes will happen. This has been the case for every communications advance: writing, photography, movies, radio, TV, etc. There´s no reason to believe that the internet is any different.”

“It will provide ways to save time, and ways to waste time, and people will take advantage of both opportunities. In balance, however, I lean toward the more optimistic view since a larger fraction of the world´s population will now be able to access human knowledge. This has got to be a good thing,” Varian added.

Pew and Elon have been studying Millennials for more than 5 years now, and the new report shows the need for quick fixes may signify among the young “a lack of deep-thinking ability due to what one (expert) referred to as ℠fast-twitch wiring´.”

Eugene Spafford, a Purdue University professor of computer science and engineering, and among those queried by Pew, said in the report he sees the consequences daily of the always-on generation.

“The ability to express opinion and emotion is replaced with flaming and emoticons, which are much less nuanced. The level of knowledge of the world around many young adults – cultural, political, historical, scientific – seems reduced in favor of greater knowledge of pop culture. There is also a blurring in their minds between facts and opinions because both are presented in quantity with similar polish and forcefulness, and verification and reasoning have been replaced by search engine results. The resulting acceptance of bombast for fact is damaging in nearly all fields of formal inquiry,” wrote Spafford.

While many see the Internet as the root cause of inattentive and thought-deprived minds, some still argue that the fuzzy-mindedness that we all will inevitably succumb to may not be the Internet´s fault at all.

Wrote one expert, who wished to remain anonymous: “We´re all going to end up being more distracted, shallow, fuzzy thinking, disconnected humans who cannot think or act critically. But this won´t be because of the Internet. It´ll be because of the loss of values and resourcing of things like education and civics and the ridiculous degree to which popular media, etc., are influencing our culture, values, etc.”

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