Will young people who grow up in a hyper-connected world be deep thinkers and multi-taskers?
Or will they be socially isolated nerds with short attention spans who crave instant gratification?
Those are the two questions posed to experts in a Pew Research Center survey on the future of the Internet. The survey, which was done online, polled the thoughts of over 1,000 technology experts and critics on how young technology users will be impacted by their connectedness by the year 2020. Survey takers were asked if the brains of teens and young adults would be “wired” differently because they were constantly connected to each other through the Internet and mobile devices.
A majority (55%) agreed that there would be a positive outcome to a lifetime of multitasking. Young people would grow up acquiring knowledge faster as they access the “collective intelligence” of the Internet. And they would be more adept at finding answers to deep questions.
But a sizeable number of experts have a darker view of the future. Within a decade, 42% predict that young people will spend most of their time being easily distracted and entertained by the Internet and mobile devices. They will lack face-to-face social skills and the capacity for deep-thinking.
The youth being discussed in the poll are as divided as the experts.
“On the plus side, the information that I need is rapidly available,” said 18-year-old Ani Misiran, a California college student. “On the other side, any information that I need is rapidly available. While technology has made me more efficient in doing research and work, it has also made me lazy. For all the convenience technology offers, it also breeds increasing impatience for tasks that require more time and effort than typing things away on a keyboard.”
20-year-old Jamie Kubiak agrees. “I feel like we develop a dependence on technology,” he said. “So much that when we’re bored, the first thing we want to do is check our phones, go to the Internet, and do other things. Whereas, as a kid, when I was bored I went outside or played a board game, or did something social in person.”
Kubiak doesn’t think the problem with this behavior will manifest itself in his generation. “I’m not sure the problem lies with our generation so much as the generation after us,” he told American News Report. “We didn’t grow up entirely on the Internet. We spent a lot of time growing up with friends, outside, at their houses, building friendships and social skills.”
Misirian has doubts that the “wiring” of brains will change so quickly. “I’m not sure if using technology directly changes the biological wiring of our brains, especially during our individual lifetimes,” she said. “However, continuous exposure to technology does change the way we think and the way we make decisions on the conscious level.”
The solution? “We can always put down our phones and shut down our computers for a while,” Misirian said. “Reliance on technology boils down to a lifestyle choice, and we can choose how much technology we allow into our lives and how strongly we will depend on it.”