There was a recent article that postulates the Internet is leaving children brain-dead; that children of the “Google generation,” who spend a lot of time on-line, are “losing creativity and skills.” In a story in London’s Daily Mail newspaper, John Stevens reports on a man named Trevor Baylis, a British inventor who said that children are losing creativity and practical skills because they spend too much time in front of screens. Baylis fears that the overuse of the Internet by young people, whether it’s on a laptop, smartphone or tablet, has led them to become “dependent on the Internet” and literally unable to make anything the old-fashioned way, with their hands.
Mr. Baylis has a very good point. Many children and teens are either “liking” something on Facebook, watching YouTube videos, or playing Call of Duty on a PS3. On the other hand, many kids also play games called “Minecraft” on the computer, a game about breaking and placing blocks to build structures to protect against nocturnal monsters. The key is that there are no boundaries; a kid can build anything they imagine if they’re clever enough to figure out how to work with the blocks. So, it is debatable whether the Internet causes ‘brain-dead” children, as Mr. Baylis said, or allows kids to learn new things with no limits to hold back their imagination.
The one solid point that Mr. Baylis talked about was that kids do not use their hands to create like they used to; everything they do is virtual, not touchable. He believes that simple challenges using tools, such as model kits, would give children valuable skills. While it is extremely important to give a child the opportunity to physically explore the world around them, the issue is probably more of how electronic devices are being used by young people, rather than that they are replacing other forms of learning.
A study at Stanford University postulated that media multi-taskers pay a mental price. The researchers took 100 students and put them through a series of tests to see if these young folks could multitask as well as they claimed. Well, as it turned out, texting, while webpage hopping, while watching TV, or while talking on the phone was not a good way to get things done. In a story written by Adam Gorlick of the Stanford News Service, he quotes the researchers:
“When they’re in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, they’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal…That failure to filter means they’re slowed down by that irrelevant information.”
So, it’s starting to look like the Internet is inundating kids with so much information, they can’t focus on one thing (almost like Internet-induced ADHD). Instead of the Internet causing creativity to disappear from young people, maybe it is just the problem of multitasking – thinking you can do a lot of things well and, in reality, doing none of them well. In a blog posted by Dick Bourgeois-Doyle on Stubbornbooks.com, he says that, “it is in the long term commitment to an idea and the persistence beyond all reason that true influential creation emerges.” Perusing an idea to the end, without the distractions of texts, TV, Facebook, etc, is really what is needed to be creative. And this commitment, this focus, is the real culprit to our children’s apparent lack of creativity, not just the decline in tactile learning.
So, some would argue that we’re breeding a robotic generation whose main social contact is a web based one and who are losing the ability to talk and deal with others face to face. Others would argue that the Internet is the largest, most comprehensive encyclopedia ever known to man. There is enough information to become an expert in almost any topic. The Internet is not making children brain-dead; in fact, it should be the opposite. It should be making a generation of incredibly knowledgeable and skillful children.
So, what is the answer? Do we shut down the power to our computers and wrestle the smartphone away from our kids? Or do we embrace the power of the Internet (and technology)? Probably, like almost everything else in the world, moderation is the key. As a Greek philosopher once said, “Throw moderation to the winds and the greatest pleasures bring the greatest pains” and that still holds true today. If our kids become too dependent on the Internet, they may, indeed, have great pains dealing with the harsh reality of the real world.
So, let them use the Internet as a tool and resource and encourage them to go to ROBLOX instead of Facebook and Twitter, at least some of the time. But, also get them some time away from it; have them build things, or draw, or simply read a book. Encourage them to have real conversations with their friends (not just texting) and other face-to-face social interactions. Then, we’ll have the best shot ensuring that the next generation is also a creative generation.