Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Gen M - are they too connected?

I found this article in Time thanks to George Siemens's newletter dated 24 March.

The good news is that:

Gen M students tend to be extraordinarily good at finding and manipulating information. And presumably because modern childhood tilts toward visual rather than print media, they are especially skilled at analyzing visual data and images, observes Claudia Koonz, professor of history at Duke University. A growing number of college professors are using film, audio clips and PowerPoint presentations to play to their students' strengths and capture their evanescent attention.
But this bit worries me when I think of the hours every day that my kids spend plugged in:
Although multitasking kids may be better prepared in some ways for today's frenzied workplace, many cognitive scientists are positively alarmed by the trend. "Kids that are instant messaging while doing homework, playing games online and watching TV, I predict, aren't going to do well in the long run," says Jordan Grafman, chief of the cognitive neuroscience section at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
I regularly tell my sons to disconnect and spend some time relating to people with skin on for a bit. Talking, interfacing the old-fashioned way. I know there are those who would say that I'm not in tune with the KPI's of the coming generation. However, I would like my sons to be able to relate face to face, person to person. Without this ability, they are likely to experience relationship problems throughout their lives. I have uneasy thoughts of Sandra Bullock's character (Angela Bennett) in The Net. None of her colleagues had ever seen her face, so no-one was any the wiser when an imposter took her place. All her identity was online: it was where she did her shopping, ordered her food, conducted her conversations - she had no life outside of that: no relationships, no hobbies, no trips to the mall, no nothing. She had none of the personal entanglements that characterise us as human. I feel vindicated by the fact that:
Many educators and psychologists say parents need to actively ensure that their teenagers break free of compulsive engagement with screens and spend time in the physical company of human beings
Some months ago, I took a train from London to Milton Keynes - a journey of some 50 miles/80 kms. Two late-teenage/early twenties girls got on. It was peak time and the train was jam-packed, so the girls were unable to find seats together. They took seats about 2 metres apart, facing one another and proceeded to chat to each other on their mobile phones all the way to Milton Keynes. Ingenious? Sad! I'm sure they would have preferred to sit together, but failing that, they missed the opportunity to engage their fellow travellers in conversation. I have learned the most amazing things chatting to strangers in trains and have occasionally been able to give assistance to someone. I have established personal and professional leads and recieved advice on any number of topics. I even learned a little about being a sign-language interpreter - enough to renew my desire to learn sign myself.

By being permanently plugged in to the ether, Gen-M is in danger of missing out on opportunities that present themselves in their immediate surroundings. Most of all, they miss out on the opportunity to strengthen existing personal relationships and develop new ones.

The problem is not with the technology - it is with the people who make unwise use of it. The final paragraph of the article sums it up perfectly - it's about what we're not doing while we're plugged in:
"you are not having family dinner, you are not having conversations, you are not debating whether to go out with a boy who wants to have sex on the first date, you are not going on a family ski trip or taking time just to veg. It's not so much that the video game is going to rot your brain, it's what you are not doing that's going to rot your life."


Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher said...

Hey Karyn!

Chris Sessums wrote about you! I thought you might want to know!

You are really a great writer! Remember me when you're famous!

Anonymous said...

Blush. I'm not used to moving in such lofty cirles. I'm likely to get a nosebleed at this altitude!

It's an interesting study he's conducting, though - I will keep track of it.

A colleague and I recently introduced a group of local education authority consultants to the concept of blogging:, and they are using viral marketing to get teachers blogging. My view is that if they don't have a *reason* to blog, they won't blog.

By the way, thanks for the pointer to Digg - now I have to school myself not to spend too much time, there.