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Always-online future good for our kids? Experts split in survey Add to ...

A survey has found that, even among tech believers, there is serious concern about the effect of an ever-more-connected world.

Deep disagreements were laid bare when more than 1,000 technology experts, insiders and critics were asked whether young people will be helped or hurt in the long term by their movement towards always being online.

Respondents were not offered a third option but were able to elaborate on their choice – and their submissions revealed a wide range of opinion and suggestions.

“[Participants] called for reinvention of public education to ... help learners avoid some of the obvious pitfalls of a hyper-connected lifestyle,” study co-author Lew Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, said in a statement.

Those responding to the online survey, done in conjunction with the private Elon University in North Carolina, had to choose between responses pointing to a positive or negative future.

Slightly more than half of those responding felt that the trend would lead to a positive result. But many acknowledged their answer was more a hope than a prediction. As a result, according to a report on the results released Wednesday, the true result was probably a wash.

People raised concerns about shortening attention spans and the potential that, as technology becomes indispensable in peoples’ lives, it could be co-opted by state authorities. Conversely, many respondents predicted a better future, with people able to synthesize information quickly and freed from having to remember trivia.

“It’s simply not possible to discuss, let alone form societal consensus around, major problems without lengthy, messy conversations around those problems,” offered one participant who remained anonymous. “A generation that expects to spend 140 or fewer characters on a topic and rejects nuance is incapable of tackling these problems.”

Others took a much rosier tack. Alexandra Samuel, a director at the Social + Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University, said it was pointless to prepare youth for a world “we are already nostalgic” about.

“If we can stop fretting about what we’re losing, we can make room to get excited about what we’re gaining,” she argued. “The ability to multitask, to feel connected to ‘strangers’ as well as neighbours, to create media unselfconsciously, to live in a society of producers rather than consumers.”

And some people questioned the very premise of the debate, noting that concerns have always been raised about new technology. Socrates, noted one person, was concerned about the effect writing implements would have on the future of intelligent discourse.

In his response, author Jeff Jarvis, who blogs at BuzzMachine, noted that the printing press eliminated the need to use rhyme for memorization and speculated that “curmudgeons” mourned those lost skills.

“Text became our new collective memory,” he noted. “Sound familiar? Google is simply an even more effective cultural memory machine.”

Follow on Twitter: @moore_oliver


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