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Musings on the Millenium generation

  1. May 15, 2013 #1
    I was reading an article in Time magazine in the waiting room of an allergy clinic today when I stumbled upon this article outlining the challenges and advantages of the main generations of the 20th century. I.e, greatest generation (WW2), Baby Boomers (Hendrix) X-gen(me and Molly Ringwald), Y-generation (the 90's kids), etc. The most recent one they called the millenium generation (I think). In any case, they show a picture of a bunch of kids on a lawn all engrossed in their Personal devices, ipad, laptop, smartphone, etc. And I started to think, where is this going? What are the pros and cons, cognitively, for kids who are growing up with this instant accessibility to all the knowledge that ever was. It's an interesting study.

    I published my first peer-reviewed article in 1995. At the time, I was attending a small college in northern California that had an accordingly small library. Back in those days you did research by walking the isles of the library and looking for books or journal collections that caught your attention. "Googling" back in those days amounted to mining the card catalog. Remember that? For the cog sci research I was doing, they also had this computer search database called psychLit, too. Which at least was more than the greatest generation had.

    In any case, once you found a book or journal you liked, there were no "links" to other articles you could just click. What you did was "mine" the references from articles you liked by handwriting them down. Of course, while you were there, you also almost invariably hand-browsed through all the other articles in the journal volume you were reading because, well, it was already in your hand.

    At least in my case, the only thing that mining the references did for me was remind me that I had very few of those journals in at my library. Therefore, in order to get those articles, I had to submit an "interlibrary loan" application whereby it took up to two weeks to get the article. I submitted alot of these. Another thing I did was compile a large list of references, and then, once every several weeks or so, take the two hour drive to the big libraries at UCSF or UC Berkeley, and spend all day there hand-copying the articles on the printer.

    However, and I'm getting to the point, most of the time I just hung around my own small library and read whatever was there because that is all I had to read. Although I whined and complained about it, I found that it pushed me out of my comfort zone and I learned very interesting and useful things and different ways of thinking that ended up helping me out alot later. Had I a laptop and google, much of that never would have happened.

    So, after a long winded intro, my question to y'all is your thoughts on how this instant access to information is going to affect the cognitive development of the millenium generation? Is it going to create a super-generation of ultra-smart people since they can get the answer to any question they have instantly, or is it going to create a generation of cognitively challeneged individuals who do not have the capacity to do research creatively and figure things out for themselves because they have all the answers handed to them?

    P.S. Btw, I had to send out that first article in quadruplicate. It cost me about 30 bucks, which was alot back then. And I ended up doing that about 4 times until I found a journal that would publish it, so 4x30=$120. Not to mention the time delays with snail-mail. These days its all e-submission, instant and free....much better:smile::
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  3. May 15, 2013 #2


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    Your post implies that google is capable of natural language question answering that simple responds to any question given to it with an appropriate answer. In reality using search engines properly is a big skill, one which millennials (of which I think I quality) get to learn naturally as they grow up. It's not enough to simply type into google "what is X?" And be confronted with 1,000,000 results and it is even worse when X is a controversial topic.

    Access to information is vastly greater but the ability to filter that information and understand it are just as difficult.

    The huge advantage that I think you have missed in this system is that it encourages research. Back in the pre-Internet (or even pre-smartphone to some extent) age if you and your peers didn't know something you had to resort to asking other people when you saw them or comtemplating a trip to the library. That's likely to stifle the vast majority of questions because who has the time or energy to trek to the library whenever they want to know something? Nowadays I find it very common to see people talking and upon getting to a point where an answer is needed but no one knows they simply pick up the phone and get searching. Within seconds-minutes the answer is found and the conversation can move on, or as I also often see people argue over the surve and begin to look for others.

    So the answer basically is neither of your extreme options will happen. Millennials won't become savants that downloads information to their brain to solve any problem nor will they be mentally challenged individuals who can't cope when Wikipedia doesn't have an article on a subject. Like most generations the technology available to the, will mostly be used for good with a number of negative aspects that tend not to outweigh the former.
  4. May 15, 2013 #3
    Trust me, I know. One thing I didn't mention in the original post was that frequently (as in the vast majority of the time), by the time my interlibrary loan article came in the mail, I was so past it in the development of my thoughts it was essentially useless. So, after not a long while, I just stopped doing it because of the time involved. I also felt a little guilty with the volume of paper copying, say a 40 page article, produces (SF area conservation mentality). Multiply that by requesting 30 articles, and you need a wheelbarrel to get the product home:eek: I can't image the guys that had to sit and copy all those requests....phew.

    In any case, another point I didn't mention that is relevant to your comments is the "narrowing" of research focus that the current search engine technology allows you. You mentioned the search engine "sifting" skills of the millenialls as being key, and I agree. However, this "sifting" is exactly that, it really works to filter out anything that isn't extremely specific to what you are requesting of it. This risk here, I will offer, may be in a kind of self-fulfilling reinforcement of a particular species of dogmatic thinking. I.e., if all I'm looking for are flat-earth models of the universe, that's all I'm going to get. I'm gonna get exactly what I'm looking for. Not only that, but I'm gonna get 20 different versions of the flat-earth model I'm gonna have to sift through with my uber-millenial search engine skills. That's gonna keep me busy for a while. So long, in fact, It may take a while before I get to Loop Quantum Cosmology, if I ever do get there. This narrowing issue has already been hypothesized to be significant in the political arena, with peoples tending to visit websites that support their political ideologies, while eschew the majority of others. The point here being that now, more than ever, we have the ever greater capacity not only to expand our minds, but also to narrow our minds.
    Last edited: May 15, 2013
  5. May 15, 2013 #4


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    I think there are positive points for this too. Firstly we do live in an increasingly specialised world so having access to very specific information, especially tailored to your needs, is beneficial. This makes it far easier to manage one's time and pursue interdisciplinary study. Also it is worth noting that hyperlinking really aids in learning about things you weren't originally looking for. A large portion of websites link out to other sources and it doesn't take many clicks to go from reading about one thing to something completely different. Lastly you could be reading a flat-earth model and come across a term you don't understand and in seconds have a new tab up to google it. Unlike finally finding a specific book in a library it is very easy to jump to other material.

    I do agree that the internet is counter-intuitively great for segregation. It's a great tool for any sort of community building which is why you not only get places like PF but forums for very specific and often obscure topics. It doesn't matter if only one in a million people are interested in a topic because the internet collapses geography and allows all 7,000 of those people world wide to meet online. Ultimately though I don't think the negatives here outweigh the positives. Indeed the ability to join specific communities for specific reasons regardless of geography is a great extension of what we have without the internet. It is a brilliant way to explore personal fulfilment if otherwise you are constrained by sharing interests with who lives around you or who you meet at work etc.
  6. May 15, 2013 #5
    I certianly don't think so either. Compared to how it used to be, research is a breeze today. It's such a breeze it's addictive. For those of us that have lived without it, its a godsend (for the most part). One thing I'm trying to explore in this thread is what would it be like to grow up not having ever known what it was like without it (the internet). That is a mindset I will never have insight into. My first reaction is that I appreciate it alot more than a Millenium. But that could just be old-man talk. I can hypothesize, however, that if I were a millenium, it would be very difficult for me to imagine what it would be like not to be able to google an answer to a question I had and immediately get an answer, or to be talking to my friend on the phone who was looking at something cool, and not be able to see what it was because they couldn't send the photo to me immediately. I'm just curious as to how this shapes the worldview of these Milleniums relative to pre-Millems.

    Again, I think that much more than not, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. But the advantages are kind of obvious. What may lie deeper as far as its implications is not so obvious? It's an interesting question.
  7. May 15, 2013 #6


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    The idea of not having the internet or the ability to phone is pretty alien to me (given that my house got internet access and I got my first phone around age 10, I'm now 24). Obviously I've been in situations where I've had no internet access or phone signal for prolonged periods but those have been exceptions and not the norm. It's very strange to try and imagine the opposite.

    Correspondingly I'm sure that people age 10 today will find it baffling when they are 24 to try and imagine what the world was like without the internet in your pocket and even stranger what the world was like without having a GPS in your pocket. If you think trying to convey what it was like living pre-internet and pre-mobile phones to a current millennial is a challenge try explaining what it means to be not constantly social and to be able to be lost to the next generation.

    Here's an old blog post that covers this idea and more http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2007/05/shaping-the-future.html
  8. May 15, 2013 #7
    Interesting thread.

    It's hard to hypothesize that it would not affect cognitive development, and I think the training stimuli will indeed trigger the development of a higher average intelligence of a certain kind.

    Not necessarily "intelligence" in the meaning of more rapid problem solving, but "intelligence" in the meaning of processing and ordering more information faster.

    But it's one thing having data in one's head (or one's i-Whatever respectively) but another issue knotting those pieces together in a creative way.

    I think creativity, not just in terms of "art", but also in terms of problem solving competence and "educated guessing" ability will suffer from this information overload in the long run.
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