April 1, 2013

So, I’m Part of the Dumbest Generation?

It was brought to my attention a little while ago that I was a member of something called ‘Generation Y’.? Who knew? Moreover, I was informed that as a member of this exclusive and occasionally taboo faction, my brain has developed in such a way that it is inherently different to yours; because I’ve never not known technology. And you know what? I was willing to believe it. At first, at least.

einsteinI initially came across the concept of a distinct technology/generation divide when I was still at University; and it all started with a book called ‘The Dumbest Generation’.? Also known, reassuringly enough, as Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30. A fantastic start! I hear you yell. Well actually, yes, because it intrigued and then incensed me enough to read it cover to cover, get good and angry, and then find out if there was actually any grounding in the concept that my generation is inherently disadvantaged- or? to use the book’s tagline, that ‘cyberculture is turning us into a society of know-nothings’. There is evidence to support the idea that reading on-screen reduces both the level and quality of information absorbed; that our attention spans are being negatively and permanently affected. There is a culture of gentle ironic poking at the correlation between social media and a sad lack of social skills within Generation Y. The term ‘bibilophobic’ is flung around in a massively unflattering manner, accepted by many and openly embraced by some as scientific fact, an irrefutable truth.

And yet. Here I am, armed with a wealth of data on the so-called detriment of my generation? wanting desperately to argue to the contrary. Wanting to argue that, used in the right way, technology in general and social media specifically can be an ally, a tool, and ultimately – the future.

It’s all too easy to find negative press on social media; and what I find truly fascinating about the whole furore is the incredible media divide. Bauerlein, author of ‘The Dumbest Generation’ and others who ascribe to Generation Y theory contend that electronic media, originally developed to enhance learning capacities, has directly contributed to growing gaps in basic knowledge. And it is true that reading on-screen can lead to distraction and hence a perceived lapse in attention span. But on the other hand- what is it we are being distracted by, if not information and the potential for knowledge? You can’t read a newspaper, spy a link to the right of your article to a related interesting story, click on it and expand your knowledge. Yet we do this so frequently on-screen that we barely even notice. Are we really ‘switching off’ when we get a bit click-happy, or just re-directing our attentions to a place where our brain can remain genuinely engaged as we continue to learn more, for longer?

The opposing view on this, of course, is that these ‘distractions’ are not actually leading us gently by the hand to new and exciting knowledge acquisition; but are actually dragging us into the pit of passive facebooking, nonsensical? tweeting and a host of similarly frivolous counter-productive activities.? The key, it appears, is really very simple- discipline. It lies with the individual, and realistically has very little to do with a generation.

So, then, a challenging dilemma – never before have our minds been so incredibly open to possibilities, or so potentially trapped by them. We can use social media to lock our minds in front of a screen.? We can be the couch potatoes of a new generation. We can let technology rule us. Or, we can challenge the stereotypes of a generation with no social skills, who can only coherently communicate through a screen; and we can do things never before dreamed possible.

A new generation is joining the workforce, and while this may mean change, it does not mean tragedy – and it definitely does not mean that we are disadvantaged. We can utilise our alliance with technology; in fact, I found when starting to work at DPG that this is already happening, that social media and online platforms are already used cohesively alongside other learning tools to make the very process of learning more accessible, communal, contextualised and overall just enjoyable. It is very difficult for community and social tools to become detrimental to the learning process, and incredibly easy for them to enrich the entire experience.

And, bottom line? These tools are not making us any less social, analytical – or dumb. The fact that, in the process of writing this, I actually had a coherent discussion over coffee with a friend from university, a very tech-savvy friend (also a member of Generation Y), shows that we are still fully in possession of all our social, analytical and learning skills. The fact that there was a 5 hour time difference and this conversation actually took place through Skype – well, that’s just one indicator of exactly how much we can achieve if we work with technology, engage our brains and shape technology into our future rather than allowing it to shape us. Watch this space, in the best way possible.

If your attention has been piqued or you’d like to find out more about the Generation Y debate, here’s an interesting video on the topic, from the point of view of a teacher:

Want your say on The Generation Y debate? Are you in the ‘Dumbest Generation’ too? Get involved with your comments and videos, I’d love to hear your opinions!