If you are over 50, you may feel as though that smartphones, tablets, social media, texting and apps have you nearing the sensory overload limit. We have never before had so much information in our hands and in our heads. Yet we know that the rush to instant access is not likely to slow – but increase its pace. If we are destined to that future, what impact will it have on future generations?
A new Pew Research Center report asked stakeholders and technology experts to predict the impact on constant connection to the Internet. The result was nearly an even split on positive and negative impacts by 2020. Here are some of the findings:
- Millennials’ brains are being rewired to adapt to the new information-processing skills they will need to survive in this environment.
- Memories are becoming hyperlinks to information triggered by keywords and URLs. We are becoming ‘persistent paleontologists’ of our own external memories, as our brains are storing the keywords to get back to those memories and not the full memories themselves.
- Young people accustomed to a diet of quick-fix information nuggets will be less likely to undertake deep, critical analysis of issues and challenging information. Shallow choices, an expectation of instant gratification, and a lack of patience are likely to be common results, especially for those who do not have the motivation or training that will help them master this new environment. One possible outcome is stagnation in innovation.
- Another possibility, though, is that evolving social structures will create a new “division of labor” that rewards those who make swift, correct decisions as they exploit new information streams and rewards the specialists who retain the skills of focused, deep thinking. New winners and losers will emerge in this reconfigured environment; the left-behind will be mired in the shallow diversions offered by technology.
These are Darwinian predictions of the survival of the fittest for the technology surge that has shocked and awed many already. For some of us, Darwin-like challenges have faced us long before the Internet. My vote is for smart multi-taskers that can separate the inane from the valuable – then do something with it.