Category Archives: Technological World

Teetering between Digital Immigrant and Digital Native

photosteve101 / / CC BY

The initial panic is wearing off from being back at school. I think I’ve come to terms with the the fact that I won’t see my family again until August.

There is a lot of reading, which I initially tried to read off the computer screen. I have since printed off the articles, highlighted passages and written notes in the margin. I do have the technology to write sticky notes in the columns of PDFs and highlight text but I don’t seem to retain the information in the same way. There’s something about feeling the paper in hand and putting the geographical positioning of the passages into photographic memory that makes me connect better with the text than a screen scroll on a computer. This brings to question whether it’s a digital native versus digital immigrant issue. I don’t think that it is.

My brain has seemed to re-wire itself over the past 10 years though I am considered a digital immigrant. I have much evidence of this transition, especially since going back to school. I had to re-learn how to write with a pen. Yes, I know how strange that sounds, but it took a long time to 1. choose between printing and cursive for speed and legibility, and 2. I couldn’t remember what my style of hand-writing looked like. The only time I had been using pen and paper was to write short shopping lists and to-do lists.

So far, I have discussed only the use of tools, but even my processing of information is slowly changing back. I am a little better able to focus on individual tasks one at a time again. Since, re-gaining this skill, I found my level of comprehension has gone up. Before, I had gotten to the point of multi-tasking so much with technology that I couldn’t even remember what other tasks needed completion.

Three weeks ago, I was trying to read an article for school on my computer when I came across a word I needed to look up. The word was “inchoate” (which is quite funny, because that’s how I’ve been through this whole transformation). I ended up searching the Internet for the meaning of the word and got lost in different information as links led to other links, leading me away and on to other topics.

I made a point of disciplining myself and returned to read my article and my thoughts drifted to another class of mine. We had been discussing how Facebook looks at your profile and tailors the sidebar advertisements to your interests. That reminded me of a great book I read called, “Feed”. (spoiler alert) The book was about a futuristic society in which when children when born, typically, they were implanted with a chip. The chip monitored a person’s interests and formed demographic and psychographic profiles in order to offer geographical services and products right to the brain throughout life. “Feed” focused on two teenaged characters. One had a late implant and as a result, she could at times, willingly disconnect herself from the feed. Because she was still able to think for herself, she ended up playing with the system and giving out messages to the chip that she was interested in things outside her demographic and psychographic profile like expensive cars and things that didn’t make sense for her lifestlye. It was an informal experiment she was trying out (I won’t spoil the book entirely, but the act leads to her demise). The other teen had the implant from birth and couldn’t decide things for himself, couldn’t concentrate, and couldn’t form coherent full sentences. He let the feed guide his movements and activities. Ironically, I couldn’t remember the author’s name, but I was trying so hard to finish my reading that I resisted looking up the information. When I got to the end of the article, I couldn’t remember what it was I wanted to look for. I even posted on Facebook that I was having difficulty remembering something I knew I wanted to look up, complaining and blaming multi-tasking with technology. When I stepped away from the computer and went to have a shower, it was while rinsing my hair that I remembered what I wanted to look up.

I am frightened for the digital natives. Their ability to retain information in their long term memory by connecting and making attachments is at risk largely due to the distractions precipitated by the act of technological multi-tasking and short spans of time with information. Stephen Kotler wrote an article in the May 2009 edition of Psychology Today in which he wrote,

“The harm being done by Twitter is the harm it’s doing to the brain. The average user goes tweet-tweet all day long. This tunes the brain to reading and comprehending information 140 characters at a time.

No one’s yet done the research, but I’m willing to bet my lunch-money, that if you take a Twitter-addicted teen and give them a reading comprehension test, their comprehension levels will plunge once they pass the 140 word mark.”

Kevin Parrish wrote an article in Tom’s Guide, published in September of 2009 about research done by Dr. Alloway, that suggests that Kotler is right.

“As reported by the Telegraph, Dr. Tracy Alloway, working out of the University of Stirling in Scotland, says that working memory is the ability to remember information, and actually put that information to use. After extensive research in working memory, she believes that success and happiness stem from this ability rather than having high IQs. She also believes that certain video games can train working memory, especially those that involve planning and strategy.

Although Facebook offers “thinking” games such as Sudoku, managing friends and dates on the social website exercises the working memory. Twitter, YouTube and texting, on the other hand, isn’t exactly healthy. “On Twitter you receive an endless stream of information, but it’s also very succinct,” said Dr Alloway. ”You don’t have to process that information. Your attention span is being reduced and you’re not engaging your brain and improving nerve connections.””

Alloway’s work was done with 11-14 year old test subjects. Perhaps, it would also be beneficial to study those of us that teeter on the wall between the digital natives and digital immigrants. It might also be worth studying younger teachers for the added benefit of revealing the impact on the development of a new “educational model”.

Digital Divide

About 6 years ago, I noticed a real change in my students. They were refusing to write notes in class, claiming they could keep all the information in their heads and anything they didn’t understand they could just look up on the Internet later. They also started sneaking cell phones into class and trying to text eachother under the table. Even parents were calling their cell phones while they were in class. Surely, these students were learning, thinking, and communicating in a different way. This made me wonder how we as teachers need to change our teaching methods to “speak in the same language” as our youth.

My goal at Ryerson is to produce a documentary that explores the digital divide between generations in the form of a documentary.