The Myth of the Net Generation

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Many of today's college students are serious multitaskers, which come as no surprise, since they are growing up in an era where technology permeates every corner and inch of our daily existence. They are constantly on Facebook, updating their status and reading their news feed, while at the same time streaming a Youtube video, surfing the web and instant-messaging their friends. On the rare occasion when they are not using the Internet on their laptops or cellphones, they are either texting or talking on their cellphones.

It is probably safe to assume that the addiction to technology does not just affect college-age students but anyone living in this technology-rich era, one where technology has become more than just a tool but instead is an extension of our selves. Honestly, when was the last time you made it through a meal without checking your cellphone? I for one cannot even remember a time when I felt at ease without some form of mobile technology by my side.

However, the effects of technology are probably even most pronounced in college-age students. As an article in The Chronicle puts it, students belonging to the Net Generation are "born digital," and "with this birthright comes not only great facility but also great love the new technologies." Or so it seems.

A group of researchers discovered that students (age 18 and up) today in fact have significant concerns about the role of the new technologies in their lives, as reported in the article, No cellphone? No Internet? So much less stress, in The Chronicle. Even though many students enjoy and appreciate the convenience and benefits of technologies in their lives, many also appear to be reflective and genuinely concerned about technology's pervasiveness in their lives, more so than they are generally given credit for. Through a series of methods such as talking with and informally surveying more than 300 students at six colleges as well as conducting focus groups, the researchers noticed the same themes in every setting:

• Students are aware of, and seemingly frustrated by, the amount of time they spend online. Some talked about spending too much time online, calling it a waste and even an addictive form of behavior. As one student commented: "I don't realize how much time is passing while on my phone and computer. I'm so preoccupied, I'm not paying attention to what else is going on around me."
• Many students feel pressure from those around them to be continually connected and responsive. They feel this pressure not only from peers but also from parents, faculty, employers, and even the technology companies whose marketing strategies make them feel they must have the most up-to-date gadgets and features. "I don't have a coping mechanism," one student said. "There are so many things: e-mail, high-school e-mail, personal e-mail, texting, news."
• Students regularly talk about their online contacts as being less "real" than face-to-face interactions. "Talking to all these people, making connections when it wasn't really a personal connection, didn't feel real," one student said.
• When forced to disconnect for longer stretches of time, some students discover that they enjoy the slower pace of life. Their first reaction might be anxiety or panic--over the loss of cellphone coverage while on vacation, for example. But once they made the adjustment, they were likely to find themselves more relaxed. Said one international student: "When I came to the States, I didn't bring my laptop. ... I have much more time. It's a great feeling."
• Students hold a range of opinions about the use of personal technologies in the classroom. Some say laptops and cellphones are sources of distraction and shouldn't be permitted; others think that people who use them should sit in the back of the classroom. Still others feel they have the right to turn to Facebook or YouTube if the instructor isn't sufficiently engaging.

The researchers' findings come at a time when people are starting to question not only the role of technology in our lives but also the additional or unnecessary stress it can cause us. Wortham writes in a New York Times article that social media has created a problem emblematic of the digital age. Through hundreds and thousands of status updates, Twitter messages, photographs, and posts, social media has allowed us to keep up with the daily activities and lives of friends. Even though we may feel more connected to our friends as a result, the constant photo and status updates may also induce feelings of anxiety, inadequacy and frustration brought on by comparing your life with theirs. Known as "fear of missing out," we may become afraid that we've made the wrong decision about how to spend our time, especially if your friend's life seems so much more productive, fulfilled and perfect than yours.

Cordell offers a simple solution to the above problem in another article in The Chronicle - limit your Facebook friends list to people you actually care about instead of distant acquaintances. After cutting his Facebook friends list by half, Cordell said he's been able to spend less time on Facebook and is surprised by how much mental space that has created. He advises, "As social networks proliferate, we will have to make choices about where to spend our time and where not to. I made the choice to separate Twitter and Facebook: one for professional contacts, and the other for genuinely personal contacts."

Perhaps, this is something the Net Generation and also all of us living in this hyper-connected age have to be okay with - it's not quantity but quality, of time spent and number of friends, that make our lives meaningful.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michelle C published on May 24, 2011 11:00 AM.

What Would Nellie Bly Say? was the previous entry in this blog.

Experience as an external peer reviewer is the next entry in this blog.

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