Growing Up Digital

Is it possible to have a conversation with the person standing next to you while you are texting?  How does one listen to music and watch something on YouTube at the same time?  Is it possible to write 27,000 texts in one month and still function as a human being?

Apparently the answer to all of these questions is yes.  As Matt Richtel reports at The New York Times, high school kids do it all the time.  Here is a taste:

Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.

Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.

“Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing,” said Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston. And the effects could linger: “The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently.”

But even as some parents and educators express unease about students’ digital diets, they are intensifying efforts to use technology in the classroom, seeing it as a way to connect with students and give them essential skills. Across the country, schools are equipping themselves with computers, Internet access and mobile devices so they can teach on the students’ technological territory.

See Thomas Friedman’s commentary on this piece in today’s Times.