Jul 19, 2009

Born Digital


Despite the claims of many millennials, the people truly “born digital” are still in pre-school or thereabouts and don’t represent an entire generation as much as the children of the upper middle class whose parents are sufficiently wired as to leave them with constant access to the internet.
This is a cohort for whom the concept of “on TV” is somewhat alien, since Dora and Diego are available for them on a multitude of screens and (due to their parents extensive use of DVRs and On Demand) watching something live is a novelty they find somewhat confusing. They’ve come to expect that whatever show they’re into comes with an online adjunct that combines video clips with games and other activities. Beyond entertainment, they’ve grown up watching Mom and Dad access the internet whenever and wherever, via smart phones and WiFi, and many of them even use videoconferencing services like Skype to stay in touch with Grandma and Grandpa.
In other words, unlike the rest of us, they don’t remember a world without any of this.
They are just the tip of the iceberg too, for as WiFi becomes more ubiquitous, TV becomes less schedule-specific and books become primarily electronic, the experience of being “born digital” will become more ubiquitous as well.
Which raises of the question of whether their sense of spacial relationships will change too.
I’ve noticed that for most anyone over the age of 10, the easiest way to deal with a large document is to print it out: managing the spatial relationships between the various pages via editing and note taking is still not something most of us are comfortable doing on the screen. Reading e-books via a Kindle is equally as disconcerting because, despite a variety of markers to show you just where you are in the book, it’s difficult to mentally picture where a certain section of the book was, the way you can do with a paper version.
That’s just one example of how the digital age is changing our perception. This article in the New York Times today about the effect of smart phones and other devices on our brains and how they create what one researcher called “acquired attention deficit disorder” is another.
Change is inevitable, how we deal with it is another matter. The way this particular change will play out and any generational conflicts it creates is definitely worth keeping an eye on.


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