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Behold the iGeneration

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Thanks to an early exposure to today's relentless cyber culture, our young kids will be more plugged in -- and more scattered -- than ever before.

toddler texting
Vivian Manning-Schaffel: My husband and I, along with our 6- and 2-year-olds, ventured out to a restaurant for brunch the other day. Even though we had to wait a whopping 20 minutes for our entrees, the kids didn't so much as make a peep -- not even the toddler. Our waiter was amazed.

No, we don't carry around muscle relaxers or socks to stuff in their mouths. It was largely because our 2-year-old daughter was gleefully occupied with a toddler application on her dad's iTouch. And wouldn't you know, she's better at navigating its ins and outs than I am!

Kids born in the past couple of years will likely turn out to be a hell of a lot more tech-savvy than their older brothers and sisters. The author of this New York Times article explains that "the ever-accelerating pace of technological change may be minting a series of mini-generation gaps, with each group of children uniquely influenced by the tech tools available in their formative stages of development.

"'People two, three or four years apart are having completely different experiences with technology,' said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project. 'College students scratch their heads at what their high school siblings are doing, and they scratch their heads at their younger siblings. It has sped up generational differences.' "

This is true of my kids who, at almost four years apart, have had completely different experiences with technology in their short time on earth. For one, there was no way my 6-year-old would have been messing with my personal electronics when he was two.

One source in the article, Larry Rosen -- a professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and the author of the upcoming book Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn -- has aptly dubbed kids born in the '90s and this decade the "iGeneration."

He says: "The iGeneration -- conceivably their younger siblings -- spends considerably more time texting than talking on the phone, pays less attention to television than the older group and tends to communicate more over instant-messenger networks."

Because of the amped-up connectivity they've been exposed to at such a young age, today's young'uns will likely "expect an instant response from everyone they communicate with, and won't have the patience for anything less.

" 'They'll want their teachers and professors to respond to them immediately, and they will expect instantaneous access to everyone, because after all, that is the experience they have growing up. They should be just like their older brothers and sisters, but they are not,' " said Dr. Rosen.

They're also proving to be skillful multitaskers. A study cited in the article shows that teens are able to perform an average of seven near-simultaneous tasks, as opposed to those in their early twenties, who can handle only six.

But will they be hosed when it comes to tasks that require a singular focus, like homework? " 'I worry that young people won't be able to summon the capacity to focus and concentrate when they need to,' said Vicky Rideout, a vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation."

I wonder how moderation effects this outcome. I, for one, am temporarily grateful for an apparatus that, at once, enhances my daughter's mental dexterity while it allows for us all to enjoy a family meal someplace other than our dining room. I mean, can twenty minutes per week playing age-appropriate games on an iTouch really hurt her in the long term?

What do you guys think? Is early exposure to a technology that's almost considered perfunctory a bad thing?

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2 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous January 13, 2010, 9:27 AM

How about more stupid? They won’t be able to think for themselves without and electronic device doing it for them.

Jeminiks January 13, 2010, 1:52 PM

“How about more stupid? They won’t be able to think for themselves without and electronic device doing it for them.
- Anonymous”

Thats been cited with every technological innovation since the Calculator. People who are disposed to thinking will think, why waste time trying to figure out something that can already be done for you when you can have a machine do it and you can devote your time to doing something better.

Should I break out Pen and paper to do long division and balance my checkbook or have a machine do it with less chance of screwing it up?

Moderation in everything is whats key. Overexposure and over-reliance on these things will become a problem if its the only thing they do. A balance between technology and everything else will have to be struck.

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