Can you express yourself or understand ideas in under 140 words or much less? Most who tweet or post would say yes. Net Geners (the generation that has grown up immersed in the digital age) are consumed with texts, tweets and posts and respond with a 15 second attention span or less. The apparent need for instant gratification without any investment of thought leads to no thought at all. Just make a comment, leave and move on. The access to instant information and then automatically taking it at face value without further research and then promptly forgetting it has led to short attention and reading spans that ultimately eliminates critical thinking and learning. (Shallow Thinkers). The following article, if you take the time to read it, is a good analysis of the pros and cons of the digital world and its effects on learning and how it can be better utilized to educate the next cohort of students, the “Net Geners”. A good read for teachers. (Net Geners).(University observation)
Nevertheless, it is apparent that the instant access to information is a good and bad thing. The ease of access to information is empowering and can quickly boost learning. The danger arises when one relies on the instant search result and takes the information at face value with no further thought or research. Unfortunately this is the trend. Posts on Facebook often have widely circulating claims and “facts” that are instantly re-posted as true and somehow make their way into the cyber world of believable BS.
The worst of it is that the digital world is a distraction and leads to very little face to face communication. You will often see friends sitting together but are lost on their devices in different worlds, removed from each other missing the moment. Gossip, innuendos, stupid tweets and trivia somehow have become important to this generation. The next text message must not be missed. Distracted driving now causes more crashes than alcohol impaired driving. There is a constant need to be “in the know’ – but to know what? Is there a meaningful conversation in this or any conversation at all?
The internet, social media and instant information is a good thing if it is used properly. Facebook, Twitter and Blogs are good ways to discuss ideas, promote dialogue and link people if articles are factual and written with respect to promote discussion without vitriol comment or hatred. Twitter is useless or empowering. The instant spread of information to thousands, perhaps millions of people regarding events or ideas is democracy in action. As with new technology, time will iron out the problems and we will move on to use it more effectively. Those who continue to be mired in the shallow aspects of the technology will be left behind by those who can use it as a tool to learn and communicate quickly and effectively.
I often wonder how this might have affected me when I was in high school or university. I spent hundreds of hours with the slow laborious task of researching and reading journals for my projects. I often had to physically move through 3 floors of the university library thumbing through the catalogue system or I had to actually go to another university to find and read a promising journal. It forced me, however, to read, think, analyse and sort through scientific information, but in a slow and methodical fashion. What if I had the internet, Google Scholar and access to university libraries, experts and journals from around the world, almost instantly? If I was able to apply the same critical thinking process and patience to the e-world of the internet, the access to knowledge would have expanded my world in a way I could not have imagined. The key is how one thinks and uses the information with patience to read and question. This combination of skills could enable the new net-savvy students to be the most educated and connected generation.
Unfortunately, I believe patience and critical thinking are missing with the Net Geners. This is the challenge for our educators, otherwise we will see a shallow generation emerge that is more concerned with the next tweet, email or post rather than experiencing, thinking and communicating about the world around them in a meaningful way.