The NYT has been running an excellent series on the ways that technology is altering our lives. Today they had another remarkable piece. The topic was teenagers, computer use and connectivity. I will highlight a few stunning lines at the end of this post.
My whole hypothesis in Consider is that we work inside organizations where thinking and reflection have been fragmented and simply replaced by distraction and bias for action. The firms that fight to return some concept of reflection inside the organization will prove the most relevant and lasting.
Today’s article took my mind to another place. The teenagers and college students of today have been immersed in all things digital since the day they were born. Many have no clue what it means to be unplugged from technology– even for short periods of time. Further, they don’t value it as their parents helped to facilitate their dependence on the technology. Schools can’t push back either as use of technology is correlated to grants and perceived value in the market place. We have a generation trying to enter a resistant workforce with poor writing skills and indirect communication skills — as in face to face dialogue and rich discussions come a distant second to texting and email. You could say that the knowledge supply chain into companies today is filled with many incapable of demonstrating the skills that I suggest matters the most today– critical and horizontal thinking and the ability to frame approaches to problems of a size and scope that is stunning.
The next decade will see America incorporate these young workers into tens of thousands of organizations. They will likely be hired primarily for their tech savvy skills and ability to mythically multi-task. I think we are asking for the wrong things from them on the inbound hiring side. Yes technology skills matter. But does computer savvy matter as much as the ability to: problem solve, work in groups, and harness the potential of others towards solving ambiguous problems? We should ask these young people to tackle a tricky business problem — and write out their logic on white board without the internet to find the quick answer. We should ask them to hand write a note to a colleague as they explain the answer to the problem. We should see if they can even sit alone for fifteen minutes or even five as they digest the assignment. We should see if they even read the details of the assignment.
The consequences of the fragmentation of attention is that reflection is not only devalued but it becomes inconsequential. What does this mean for thinking, innovation and creativity when reflection is absent in an entire generation? We are only beginning to discover the answer to this question. Its rather disturbing when you actually consider it. Pun intended.
Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction
By MATT RICHTEL
REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — On the eve of a pivotal academic year in Vishal Singh’s life, he faces a stark choice on his bedroom desk: book or computer?
By all rights, Vishal, a bright 17-year-old, should already have finished the book, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle,” his summer reading assignment. But he has managed 43 pages in two months.
He typically favors Facebook, YouTube and making digital videos. That is the case this August afternoon. Bypassing Vonnegut, he clicks over to YouTube, meaning that tomorrow he will enter his senior year of high school hoping to see an improvement in his grades, but without having completed his only summer homework.
On YouTube, “you can get a whole story in six minutes,” he explains. “A book takes so long. I prefer the immediate gratification.”
Later in the article:
The technology has created on campuses a new set of social types — not the thespian and the jock but the texter and gamer, Facebook addict and YouTube potato.
“The technology amplifies whoever you are,” Mr. Reilly says.
For some, the amplification is intense. Allison Miller, 14, sends and receives 27,000 texts in a month, her fingers clicking at a blistering pace as she carries on as many as seven text conversations at a time. She texts between classes, at the moment soccer practice ends, while being driven to and from school and, often, while studying.
Most of the exchanges are little more than quick greetings, but they can get more in-depth, like “if someone tells you about a drama going on with someone,” Allison said. “I can text one person while talking on the phone to someone else.”
But this proficiency comes at a cost: she blames multitasking for the three B’s on her recent progress report.
“I’ll be reading a book for homework and I’ll get a text message and pause my reading and put down the book, pick up the phone to reply to the text message, and then 20 minutes later realize, ‘Oh, I forgot to do my homework.’ ”