Raising wired kids: boon or bust?

If you can’t make up your mind whether today’s hyper-connected kids will turn out to be super-efficient digital denizens or overloaded duds with brains of mush, then you’re not alone. A new survey undertaken by the Pew Research Center as part of its Internet and American Life Project found that a group of technology insiders, critics and students were fairly evenly split on how technology will impact the teens and twenty-somethings of the so-called Generation Y.

While 55 percent of those surveyed agreed with a statement that suggested technology would have a positive effect on young people, 42 percent had a more negative outlook, agreeing that young tech users would grow up to lack analytical skills, be easily distracted, and look for instant gratification.

“There is this tension going on between the positive and the negative (aspects) that we foresee,” said Janna Anderson, an associate professor at North Carolina's Elon University and one of the study's authors. “Right now a lot of people (in the survey) are responding, ‘That's already my life.’ They are anticipating this.”

The survey participants gave consistent predictions on the key skills that today’s young people would need by the year 2020. They included public problem-solving through cooperative work, searching effectively for information online, and weighing the quality of information.

“In contrast, the ability to read one thing and think hard about it for hours will not be of no consequence, but it will be of far less consequence for most people,” said Jonathan Grudin, a Microsoft researcher and one of the survey's respondents.

Barry Chudakov, a research fellow at the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto, said staying aware of technology's influence and intrusions would be at a premium. Alvaro Retena, a technologist at Hewlett-Packard, forecast stagnation in technology and even in literature as attention spans shorten.

Many of those surveyed backed educational reforms to make distracted young people better able to handle always-on technology and to focus. They included time-out zones, meditation, silence areas, and even going without Internet devices for a period of time.

However, a few attempted to frame the discussion in an historical perspective. Socrates was said to be concerned that the introduction of writing implements would have a negative impact on conversation and intelligent debate. Perhaps the debate about technology should be more about what we are gaining than what we are losing.

Is technology having a positive or negative impact on our kids? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom! 

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