Frontline looks at the “Digital Nation.”

I like to consider myself to be a wired individual, but even though I grew up alongside the technology that is now commonplace these days I am nowhere near as wired as some of the kids who have never known anything other than the highly digital world we have today.

I’m not even that good at multitasking. If I’m doing something I’m usually doing that one thing to the exclusion of anything else. Be it writing a blog post, chatting in IM, playing a game, or talking on the phone. I think I’ve sent a total of a dozen texts on my phone in my entire life. I don’t own a smartphone. Occasionally I’ll talk on the phone while driving or do a little IM chat while working on a blog post, but I usually end those conversations quickly so I can get back to concentrating on the primary task at hand. I’ve never had a lengthy, pointless conversation on my cell while driving. It’s too distracting. About the best I can do is listen to the radio while driving or talking to a passenger.

Compared to some of the kids I know today that makes me a total Luddite. Every time a break come around at work the kiosk computers are filled instantly with people checking their Facebook pages while chatting on IM and eating a snack. They’d have their cellphones out if it were for the fact that they’re banned from the building and some of them go out to their cars to get around that restriction.

This is why I found the following episode of Frontline so interesting. In it they take a look at how all these highly wired and constantly multitasking people are affected by the technology they’ve so immersed themselves in. How is it affecting them socially and physically? What’s it doing to their brains? How’s it affect their relationships? How will it all change the way the world works?

As per usual with Frontline, this is a very balanced bit of journalism that points out the pros and cons. In the end they don’t draw any conclusions one way or the other, but simply look at where things are headed and what it might mean. We’re going to lose some things along the way, but we will gain others.

The episode airs tonight on your local PBS station, or you can watch it here as I’ve embedded all nine chapters in this entry. The first is below and the rest are after the jump. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on it if you take the time to watch it.

7 thoughts on “Frontline looks at the “Digital Nation.”

  1. One of the researchers I know in Gifted Ed. is convinced that this is the rise of the ADD generation. He believes that things like depression are going to be on the rise as a result of being conditioned to short-term attention-spans and short-term rewards.

    Which is really what modern electronics do: give us access to whatever we want, right now – as far as learning is concerned.

    There are indicators that learning is a far more powerful drive than sex, and one that does not abate simply because it has been satisfied.

    It will be an interesting thing to watch.

  2. One of the things that really struck home with me was the interview with the teacher/prof (I believe he was a history teacher at a private school), where he talked about what it must be like for today’s hyper connected teens/kids to walk into a “classroom” at an average public school. Going from an iphone/internet wifi lifestyle where everything is available at their fingertips… to a 19th century industrialized learning environment with blackboards and textbooks… it must be like stepping back into time. A very SLOW time.

    I remember feeling disconnected when in class just 10 years ago… Our dorms had more technology than most classrooms.

  3. It’s pretty much a given that NOBODY “multitasks” as well as they think do. If a person is doing two things at once, then one task has 50% of the brainpower/attention and the other task has 50% (generally speaking). This is all fine and impressive if the individual is washing the dishes and talking on the phone. Neither task really requires big brainpower. Likewise skimming the banality of Facebook while typing “U phat dood! LOLLOL”.

  4. The problem is not THAT we are all multi-tasking, it’s WHAT we are multi-tasking. Those kids at MIT, for example, weren’t *really* listening to one professor, emailing another professor and making plans for tomorrow night. They were sort of listening to one professor, checking emails, watching YouTube, updating Facebook. We (the establishment?) really need to be careful not to drink the Kool-Aid that the kids are serving. It has always been this way, but I think that we are accepting a new kind of slackerism as “digital age multitasking” when the reality is, these kids, in large part, are just dicking around. I think that the digital age (and I freely admit to being immersed in it) is a somewhat sad age. As hooked up as we all are to each other it seems pretty lonely.

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