A “Net Generation” Q&A
Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.
The National Psychologist
A: Yes, we multitask all the time. But the Net Generation is unique. They are the first generation to be raised with technology from birth. Unlike previous generations who saw technology as a tool, Net Geners see it as the major focus of their lives. While they were growing up, the World Wide Web encouraged them to open multiple windows and to quickly switch between them; entertainment devices became high tech, miniaturized, and portable; telephones became omnipresent portable fashion accessories; communication options increased dramatically including e-mail, IM, text messaging, blogging, and, social networking; and video gaming became realistic, 3D representations with blood and gore flying everywhere, or sports games so realistic that you feel as though you are really playing tennis or bowling, Kids embraced any and all technology with a fervor that kept them craving the next, newest, fastest, greatest. Each of these tools allows – no, really encourages – the user to jump back and forth as constant sights and sounds beckon them. Along the way, pre-teens, teens, and young adults found that they could juggle more tasks as technology became easier to navigate. It is not unusual to see a 14-year-old studying on her bed with the television blaring, iPod ear buds firmly implanted, chatting or IMing with several friends, checking her MySpace for comments; and responding to her vibrating cell phone hailing an incoming text message. Texting became such a major part of their lives that they developed the ability to write a text message with the phone hidden in a pocket or purse while listening to a lecture. The simple truth is that their lifelong experiences surrounded by technological gadgets has made it not only easier to multitask but actually encourages multitasking.
Q: I understand that you have recently completed a research study looking at multitasking among children, teens, and adults. What did you learn?
A: We found that as expected, the amount of multitasking decreases as age increases. When they had free time, Net Geners chose to do more than six tasks at the same time compared to five for Gen Xers and four for Baby Boomers. Interestingly, the tasks they chose differed. Net Geners’ top five choices in order were listening to music, eating, being online, watching television, and talking/texting on their cell phones and IMing. Gen Xers chose eating, being online, listening to music, watching television, and e-mailing. Baby Boomers’ top five were eating, watching television, listening to music, talking on the telephone, and talking face-to-face. These differences were fascinating as we see a total change in communication choices across the generations from talking face-to-face, to the telephone, to e-mailing, and then IMing and texting among the younger generation. It is mind boggling that the communication choices have changed so rapidly.
Q: The New York legislature is considering a new law called E-STOP – the Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act – to keep sex offenders from infiltrating social networking sites by requiring them to provide their Internet screen names and e-mail addresses as a condition of their parole. What do you think of this law?
A: Good Lord, this is absurd. Under this law, a sex offender merely has to open a shadow account under a different name and go right back on the Internet. The key is not restricting sex offenders, but teaching parents and their children how to deal with situations where someone approaches them in an overly friendly, or sexually-suggestive manner. Adopting an Authoritative parenting style helps parents and kids develop strategies for dealing with these and other uncomfortable situations.
Q: What do you think about parental controls such as Net Nanny or keystroke loggers?
A: Technological blocking programs will not keep kids from viewing whatever they want. Give me the name of a program and I will find a website with a “work around” that negates its use. The only solution is being an Authoritative parent and discussing rules and limits with your kids, including which sites are acceptable and which are not and establishing consequences for visiting these sites.
Q: What do you think about how so many children and adolescents are using shortcuts in their communication? Do you think that using “net speak” affects their writing abilities?
A: That is a very interesting question. We asked 11- to 25-year olds to tell us how often they used these “textisms” and then to write a letter to a company concerning a product that they purchased that did not work properly. We also gave them SAT Reading Comprehension questions where they had to read stories and answer questions. The results were fascinating. Those subjects who used more of certain textisms – including acronyms (e.g., LOL, IMHO), leaving out apostrophes (cant instead of can’t), shortened words (tht instead of that), and lowercase i instead of capital I – wrote worse essays than those who used fewer of those textisms. Using smilies such as ;-) and providing emphasis to words such as *hug* or I AM ANGRY did not have any effect on writing ability. Clearly the textisms that were related to worse writing dealt with word formation while those that did not provided emotional context. Reading comprehension was not related to the amount of textisms used by the subjects. This has us puzzled since earlier work in England had suggested that this generation’s use of textisms was positive in that it encouraged teens to write more and hone their writing skills. We are presently examining this result in more detail in another research study.
Those are just a sample of questions I field from reporters. For complete articles, visit my website at www.Me-MySpace-and-I.com. As always, I encourage your questions at LROSEN@CSUDH.EDU.
Larry Rosen, Ph.D., is the author of Me, MySpace and I: Parenting the Net Generation (December 2007) and TechnoStress: Coping With Technology @Work @Home @Play. He can be reached at LROSEN@CSUDH.EDU or www.csudh.edu/psych/lrosen.htm.
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