Internet and Young People

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The brains of young people growing up “hyperconnected” to the Internet might be wired differently from those of their elders, suggests a recent survey of technology experts, who were split on whether the newfangled wiring is desirable. Researchers from the Pew Research Center and Elon University recently conducted an opt-in, nonrandom, online survey of 1,021 technology stakeholders and critics. Participants were asked which of two predictions about teens and young adults seem more likely by 2020—a scenario in which they’re savvy and productive, or one in which they’re hampered by impatience and shallowness.

HR professionals might, as a result, have to change the ways in which they manage these younger workers.

Some 55 percent of survey participants agreed that the brains of multitasking young people will be wired differently from the brains of those older than 35, mostly for the better. They said young people won’t suffer notable cognitive shortcomings, and that “they are learning more and they are more adept at finding answers to deep questions,” in part because they’re good at going online and finding collective intelligence.

Some 42 percent of survey participants expected brain-wiring changes with negative results, including a thirst for instant gratification. They expect young people will “not retain information; they spend most of their energy sharing short social messages, being entertained, and being distracted away from deep engagement with people and knowledge. They lack deep-thinking capabilities; they lack face-to-face social skills; [and] they depend in unhealthy ways on the Internet and mobile devices to function.”

Even some who chose the positive prediction said it was more their hope than their best guess, “and a number of people said the true outcome will be a combination of both scenarios,” according to the Pew-Elon survey report, published Feb. 29, 2012.

While they were not offered a third option, some participants disagreed with...
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