Young People – Wired for Distraction!

Dear Commons Community,

I previously posted twice on this blog on the issue of young people and Internet usage. (See Two Days without Texting and Use of Electronic Devices).  Today’s NY Times has a substantive article on the topic that quotes young people, parents, educators and researchers, all of whom raise concerns about the amount of time being spent on the Internet to the point that it is causing problems at school.  One study, for instance, indicates that excessive Internet usage may also be rewiring their brains such that young people are have difficulty concentrating on activities such as reading.  Referring to one otherwise bright young high school student who is doing below average school work, a principal comments:

“He’s a kid caught between two worlds — one that is virtual and one with real-life demands.”

American education at all levels is facing this issue.  There is no simple answer.  There has been a significant investment in instructional technology so it is not simply a case of educators ignoring the fact that many students are “wired” to online technology.   After all, many adults including teachers also are engaged actively on the Internet.  The problem is more whether young people are getting so “wired” to fast, multi-tasking environments that they are have difficulty concentrating deeply on an activity such as reading a substantive book.  What seems clear to me is that while educators are increasingly using technology for instruction, they are not backing down from requiring students to explore topics in depth.  Activities that require substantive reading, working out a difficult math problem, and critical thinking are significant components of the educational repertoire as well they should be.  The solution to this issue likely centers on finding the right mix or integration of high-paced technology and slower-paced problem-solving activities.  Young people as well as the older generation of educators are going to have to find the common ground.


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