Last month I was lucky enough to attend a presentation by Dr. Larry Rosen, who studies the psychology of technology. He discussed the six generations and the six technology waves. The six generations are as follows and are each characterized by their preferred method of communicating:
The silent generation born 1925-46 - prefer to communicate face to face
The baby boomers born 1946-64 - also prefer to communicate face to face, by phone or by email
Generation X born 1965-79 - they communicate by mobile phone, email and IM
The NetGeneration born 1980-89 - are defined by the internet. They Skype, IM and text.
The iGeneration born 1990-99 - are defined by individual mobile technologies and they prefer to text.
Generation C - born since 2000 - see technology as part of their core - they are called this because their lives revolve around communication, connection and collaboration.
The generations are getting shorter - at one time they spanned 20 years, now they are down to less than 10. The time taken for general adoption of different technologies is getting shorter too. For example it took 38 years for radio to be used by 50 million people, only 1 year for YouTube to be used by 50 million people and only 3 weeks for Google+ to hit 30 million users!
Larry discussed Alvin Toffler's 3rd Wave (the computer wave). He talked about the 3 waves identified by Toffler:
The agricultural wave - it took 3,000 years for technology to be integrated into agriculture
The industrial wave - this took 300 years
The computer wave - this took 30 years
These waves are also getting shorter, but Dr Rosen has also identified 3 subsequent waves:
The informational wave - this took 3-5 years
The communication wave - this took 3-5 years
The biotechnology wave - we are about to enter this one
Dr Rosen produced a really interesting graph showing these waves and how they cross each other. He pointed out that at times in history where these waves crossed there has been chaos, social unrest and so on. We are currently in the middle of these last 3 waves crossing.
Today I dipped into the Pew Internet survey 2012 which talks about another generation which is dubbed Generation AO - always on (click here to download or read the full report). This is actually a future generation since the report was looking at those who will be teenagers in 2020. This fifth report from the Pew Research Center refers to the benefits and challenges young people will face as a result of being "always on". Benefits cited are that teenagers will be nimble, quick-acting multitaskers as these young people will have grown up in a world that has instant access to the entirety of human knowledge and the ability to connect, create and collaborate. Challenges cited in the survey are the inability of young people to focus their attention, be patient and to think deeply as well as a thirst for instant gratification and the desire to settle for quick choices.
The survey did come up with the most desired life skills for young people in 2020. These include:
- crowd sourcing - public problem-solving through cooperative work
- digital/internet literacy - searching for information online, discerning its quality and veracity and being able to communicate these findings
- synthesizing - bringing together information from many sources
- being strategically future minded
- the ability to concentrate
- the ability to distinguish between "noise" and important information
There was an interesting section in the report about multi-tasking. In his presentation Larry Rosen referred to this as task-switching and he noticed that even computer programmers only stay focused for an average of 3 minutes at a time. He pointed out that our generation was raised to do one thing at a time, but young people can do many things simultaneously and task switch. On average they can do 6 or 7 things at the same time while we can do only 4 - this is because they use different parts of the brain to do different things.
Larry Rosen talked about the fact that he is seeing mostly positive effects of using technology with the iGeneration and Generation C. He said these young people are believers: they believe that anything they believe in can be done. They trust everyone and also trust themselves. They are liberal and idealistic, they believe in equality and love working in teams. He said they have a strong work ethic. He also talked about the fact that these are the most close-knit generation with their families, but did agree that patience is not their strength. With regard to social media he also felt the results were positive. He pointed out that students use social media to talk about who they are and from a developmental point of view this is positive. They constantly change what they post and also post about things such as their philosophy and about people who they admire. He points out that these are conversations and that they go back and forth.
So being hyperconnected and always on isn't such a bad thing after all - however as teachers it is our duty to transform education so that we are meeting the needs of these new generations of learners.
Image taken from Pew Internet Report Imagining the Internet