Technology and kids: A big fuss about nothing?

This is the second post in a series, sharing some readings I have been doing lately. I chose to share this one because of a conversation I had with a teacher and parent recently. It was one of those rather common place conversations where people lament the fact that children are not the same as we are and announce that the next generation are surely destined for disaster.

The book I’d like to share this time is The App Generation: How today’s youth navigate identity intimacy and imagination in a digital world. By Howard Gardner and Katie Davis.

app generation

Gardner and Davis talk about the way in which apps and technology used are “re-creat(ing) human psychology” – from tradition directed (18th century) to inner directed (19th century) to other directed (mid 20th century) – Reisman. Gardner and Davis believe now youth are ‘App-directed’ or the ‘App Generation’ because their lives are dominated by apps and they seem to see life as a ‘super app’ or a predetermined life pathway. The authors say that the app generation are significantly different, in that:

  • Their identity is tied up in looking ‘polished’ and well ‘packaged’. They are also reported to be less inclined to take risks. In the past, youth would experiment with their identity, before arriving at an idea of self that fit with them. This is much harder to do now that your identity is posted all over social media and you are aware of your digital footprint and others’ perception of you. There is also the assertion made that the app generation are more narcissistic (or at least appear that way) and less focused on developing philosophies of life.
  • Their ideas of intimacy are different – youth are constantly connected, but perhaps not in a meaningful, deep way. This generation can also avoid conflict with others through their devices and (arguably) are becoming less empathetic.
  • They have become imaginative in different ways – perhaps more so in visual media but less so in written media.

So what does this mean? It may mean that you become overly dependent on apps, to the point where your identity and way you interact with others is restricted. Perhaps you might become enabled by apps to do things you couldn’t do ordinarily. Or maybe you ‘transcend’ apps – The authors draw a distinction between ‘app-dependent’ and ‘app-enabling’ – you choose which apps to use and take advantage of the apps rather than being programmed by them.

My response to/thinking about this text:

I found this difficult to read without thinking, doesn’t every generation lament the fact that new technologies arise and the younger citizens are negatively affected? Is this just another technological advance that people worry about at the time, then just becomes part of the way society operates? Are the authors just pining for a world that is no longer?I wonder what a teenager’s response to this text would be.

Perhaps it comes down to teaching students to be discerning or ensuring that they use apps in an ‘enabling’ way – if I want to have a really deep conversation and really get to know someone, what is the best way to do this?

One part of the book that interested me in particular was the focus on the app generation becoming more risk adverse. This is the topic of many a staff room conversation I have been privy to. But I wonder if the focus/blame here is too narrow. I would have thought, just through my personal experiences, that there are many other reasons for this pattern of behavior – things like the new(ish) fences around boiling mud in Rotorua, the ‘caution, hot’ labels on Mc Donald’s coffee, the way teachers make it hard for students to experience failure in school, the way parents seem to wrap their kids in cotton wool. Much of the risk, failure and need to think for one’s self seems to have been taken out of kids’ lives and I’m not sure you can lay the blame for this solely at app’s feet.

What do you think?


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