Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Kids Are Alright

In his recent Huffington Post article, Don Tapscott (Author of Growing Up Digital which defined the Net Generation and the sequel, Grown Up Digital) lashes out at The New York Times for their recent portrayal of teens in “Growing Up Digital” another in their litany of pieces about today’s generation being more inept because they spend so much time immersed in digital technology. Tapscott’s on-the-mark post conveys my sentiments on the topic exactly. In the lengthy for HuffPo article he shares these nuggets:

Net Geners are better at switching attention and multitasking
When I look at my own children, their friends, and legions of other Net Geners, this is what I see: They're faster than I am at switching tasks, and better than I am at blocking out background noise. They can work effectively with music playing and news coming in from Facebook. They can keep up their social networks while they concentrate on work; they seem to need this to feel comfortable. I think they've learned to live in a world where they're bombarded with information, so that they can block out the TV or other distractions while they focus on the task at hand.

Kids don’t really have ADD, they’re just bored
So why do some Net Geners seem to have attention deficit disorder in class? Isn't it possible that the answer is because they're bored -- both with the slow pace and with the content of the lecture? Researcher Marc Prensky thinks so. "Their attention spans are not short for games, for example, or for music, or rollerblading, or for spending time on the Internet, or anything else that actually interests them," he writes. "It isn't that they can't pay attention, they just choose not to."

Prioritizing passion over homework is alright
The Times piece ends with the story of Vishal, who after a long Sunday on his computer is finally getting to his homework at 11pm. But we learn that Vishal's time online was in fact editing his new film. Vishal is a budding film director! Sure, he should get to his homework earlier. But the reader is left wondering how Vishal's passion for his craft, and his laser-like focus on editing over a 12-hour period is somehow evidence that he has lost his intellect or his attention span.

His conclusion...
The evidence suggests that many young people today are using technology to become smarter and more capable than their parents ever could be; and, like Vishal, to accomplish important, perhaps great things. Rather than kids losing their attention spans there is a stronger case to be made that growing up digital is equipping today's youth with the mental skills, such as scanning and quick mental switching, that they'll need to deal with today's overflow of information. The superior performance for many of them, as evidence by university graduation rates show they know when they have to focus, just as the most intelligent members of my generation did. They may think and process information in a different way than most boomers do, but that doesn't stop them from coming up with brilliant insights, new models of doing business, new ways of collaborating; or, for that matter, creating a carefully edited film as a teenager.

For the full article visit New York Times Cover Story on "Growing Up Digital" Misses the Mark
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