For a long time, there was talk about America’s “Generation X” and then “Generation Y,” referring to our young people.
Now the buzzword is “millennials,” since many of our teenagers and young adults were born in the years just before and right after the turn of the century - which also happened to be the beginning of a new thousand-year millennium.
Others call our young people the “always-on” generation.
They seem to be in perpetual touch with each other - and sampling information from the world over - via cell phones, tablets and other mobile devices.
Now Elon University in North Carolina and the Pew Internet and American Life Project have produced a study of millennials and what the future may hold for them. It’s based on a survey of more than 1,000 tech experts, scholars, and educators.
The survey finds that today’s young Americans are, in its words, “hyper-connected.” That’s both good and bad for their future.
On the good side: Millennials are nimble, quick-acting “multi-taskers” who approach problems in fresh ways and have an almost magical ability to quickly process a great deal of information. They are astute at telling the difference between so-called “noise” and truly important messages in what the report calls “the ever-growing sea of information.”
These abilities could lead to important breakthroughs that will benefit the country.
But the experts interviewed by Elon and the Pew Project found a troublesome flip side as well: They predict that the “always-on” generation will, in the report’s words, “exhibit a thirst for instant gratification and quick fixes, a loss of patience, and a lack of deep thinking ability,” due to what one expert called “fast-twitch wiring.”
That particular conclusion won’t surprise parents and other older adults who watch today’s young people zip through information with the speed - and sometimes the analytical skills - of a buzzing gnat.
Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Project, notes what he called “palpable concern” that the marvelous communications skills exhibited by many “tech-literate” young people are not shared by all of their peers. He says this could create “new social and economic divisions” between Americans who can comfortably navigate through the maze of technological gadgets, and those who cannot.
In other words, a different kind of “lower class” that literally isn’t up to speed.