The Impact of Hyperconnectivity
This, a not-so-brief Research Brief, is an introduction to The Future of the Internet as seen through a series of eight separate reports from Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. This publication is part of a Pew Research Center series that captures people’s expectations for the future of the internet, in the process presenting a snapshot of current attitudes.
This first 36 page not-to-be-missed report, looking at expectations of the impact of today’s digital society in the year 2020, is excerpted here only to acquaint readers with the context of the study. A complete reading of the source material is encouraged if it appears to provide groundwork for today’s communications challenges as well as for future planning.
For a shortcut to access to the complete PDF file of the first release, please visit here... or read along for “flavor” before committing:
In this survey about the future of the internet, technology experts and stakeholders were fairly evenly split as to whether the younger generation’s always-on connection to people and information will turn out to be a net positive or a net negative by 2020. They said many of the young people growing up hyperconnected to each other and the mobile Web and counting on the internet as their external brain will be nimble, quick-acting multitaskers who will do well in key respects.
At the same time, these experts predicted that the impact of networked living on today’s young will drive them to thirst for instant gratification, settle for quick choices, a loss of patience, and a lack of deep-thinking ability due to what one referred to as “fast-twitch wiring.”
The survey question about younger users was inspired by speculation over the past several years about the potential impact of technology on them. They were asked to read two statements and select the one they believe that is most likely to be true and then explain their answers. 55% agreed with the statement:
- In 2020 the brains of multitasking teens and young adults are "wired" differently from those over age 35 and overall it yields helpful results. They do not suffer notable cognitive shortcomings as they multitask and cycle quickly through personal- and work-related tasks. Rather, they are learning more and they are more adept at finding answers to deep questions, in part because they can search effectively and access collective intelligence via the internet. In sum, the changes in learning behavior and cognition among the young generally produce positive outcomes.
And, 42% agreed with the opposite statement, which posited:
- In 2020, the brains of multitasking teens and young adults are "wired" differently from those over age 35 and overall it yields baleful results. They do not retain information; they spend most of their energy sharing short social messages, being entertained, and being distracted away from deep engagement with people and knowledge. They lack deep-thinking capabilities; they lack face-to-face social skills; they depend in unhealthy ways on the internet and mobile devices to function. In sum, the changes in behavior and cognition among the young are generally negative outcomes.
While 55% agreed with the statement that the future for the hyperconnected will generally be positive, many who chose that view noted that it is more their hope than their best guess, and a number of people said the true outcome will be a combination of both scenarios. The research result here is really probably more like a 50-50 outcome than the 55-42 split recorded through survey takers’ votes. Respondents were asked to select the positive or the negative, with no middle-ground choice, in order to encourage a spirited and deeply considered written elaboration about the potential future of hyperconnected people.
Analysts generally believe many young people growing up in today’s networked world and counting on the internet as their external brain will be nimble analysts and decision-makers who will do well, says the report. An excerpt here from just one of the hundreds of respondents offers an insight into not only the generation under consideration, but the tenor of the complete report as well.
David Ellis, director of communications studies at York University in Toronto, has a front-row seat to observe how hyperconnectivity seems to be influencing young adults, says the report. He said it makes them less productive and adds that most of them do not understand the new digital tools or how to use them effectively. “The idea that Millennials have a cognitive advantage over their elders is based on myths about multitasking, the skill-sets of digital natives, and 24/7 connectedness,” he commented. “Far from having an edge in learning, I see Millennials as increasingly trapped by the imperatives of online socializing and the opportunities offered by their smartphones to communicate from any place, any time,” Ellis said.
Ellis continued, “I can see this in the living experiment that takes place every week in the computer lab where I teach internet technologies to fourth-year communication studies majors. Students everywhere have become relentless in their use of mobile devices for personal messaging. Even good students delude themselves into thinking they can text friends continuously while listening to a lecture and taking notes and, in the process, retain information and participate in discussions. But good research has shown that even especially bright kids are less productive when multitasking, a finding resisted by plenty of grown-ups as well.
Our fondness for thinking positively about multitasking, especially among the young, gets a lot of reinforcement from two other assumptions:
- that Millennials have a special aptitude for digital media because they've grown up digital
- and that ubiquitous, seamless connectivity is a positive social force.”
The first assumption is baloney, says Ellis. The second is fraught with contextual problems. Of the hundreds of liberal arts students I've taught, notes Ellis, not one in ten has come into my class with the slightest clue about how their digital devices work, how they differ from analog devices, how big their hard drive is, what Mbps measures. In other words, they're just like people who haven't grown up digital.
And of course the immersive nature of 24/7 connectedness creates the illusion that Millennials can somehow tap into a form of collective intelligence just by being online, while looking impatiently for messages every three minutes.
Ellis continues, “I don’t think there’s anything inherently bad or anti-social about smartphones, laptops, or any other technology. I do, however, believe we are entering an era in which young adults are placing an inordinately high priority on being unfailingly responsive and dedicated participants in the web of personal messaging that surrounds them in their daily lives. For now, it seems, addictive responses to peer pressure, boredom, and social anxiety are playing a much bigger role in wiring Millennial brains than problem-solving or deep thinking.”
The publication is part of a Pew Research Center series that captures people’s expectations for the future of the internet, in the process presenting a snapshot of current attitudes. Please access the full report here.