New book explores the App Generation’s world
It’s hard to have a conversation with today’s teenagers without some gadget interrupting with a buzz, a ping or the loud theme song of the latest movie.
Sometimes the teen tries to maintain eye contact while they surreptitiously return the text or e-mail or Facebook posting. It can make you feel like searching for the Understanding Teenagers Translation app. (An app is an online application or computer programme, essentially.)
We don’t know of an app for that, yet, but Bermudian researcher Dr Katie Davis has co-authored a book with well known education researcher Howard Gardner called ‘The App Generation’. The book will be on store shelves in October.
The App Generation explores what it means to be “app-dependent” versus “app-enabled” and how life for this generation differs from life before the digital era.
“The most powerful idea in the book is the distinction between app-enabling and app-dependence,” said Dr Davis. “The roll of technology in young people’s lives can be great or detrimental to their development. It depends on how they use technology and how adults support them in how they use it.”
She said using technology as a spring board can be positive. For example, you could use it to prepare to explore new places or new relationships without technology. However, if you can’t explore, make friends or have a conversation without clutching some gadget, then you are app-dependent, not a good thing.
“App-dependence is when we first look to apps before we look inside ourself for answers,” she said. “It is when all of our actions, decisions and thoughts are wholly shaped by what a particular app suggests to us. That is a world we don’t want to see come pass. We see hints of it when we are looking at young people and adults.”
Dr Gardner and Dr Davis suggest in their book that one of the drawbacks of a life weighed down by apps is that they may foreclose a sense of identity, encourage superficial relations with others, and stunt creative imagination.
“On the other hand, the benefits of apps are equally striking: they can promote a strong sense of identity, allow deep relationships, and stimulate creativity” she said.
The writers found that many teenagers were using social networking sites to package themselves. In the book they stated: “They (these image packages) are developed and put forth so that they convey a certain desirable — indeed, determinedly upbeat — image of the person in question. This packaging has the consequence of minimising a focus on the inner life, on personal conflicts and struggles, on quiet reflection and personal planning; and as the young person approaches maturity, this packaging discourages the taking of risks of any sort.”
Dr Davis and Dr Gardner worried that young people may spend so much time wired to machines that their brains are constantly over stimulated and never get any downtime. Downtime is needed to process our experiences, reflect and grow.
In the early days of the internet young people were virtually alone as many adults had a hard time following or understanding their activities. Dr Davis said, today, more parents and schools are getting more savvy and offering more guidance and training in how to behave on the internet.
“There is a wide variation in how active schools and parents are,” she said. “More parents are involved in helping young people to figure out online etiquette. Some schools are building it into the curriculum. There is an organisation I have been involved with called Commonsense Media. They have materials for parents and for schools to use to help young people navigate online life in a safe and responsible way.”
The App Generation should be available on October 22. Dr Davis said she will be home at Christmas and would love to do a book signing at that time. She and her co-author already have book signings planned on the East Coast of the United States.
Now that she has finished writing the book she plans to continue with research into cyber bullying and looking at ways to leverage new technologies to improve teaching and learning, particularly in the middle and high school years.
“A book probably won’t come out of that,” she said. “Usually, in this profession, the result is publication in a journal. I would like to write another book though, maybe every couple of years.”
She is mainly involved in research at the University of Washington, but is currently teaching a course in research methods. Next semester she will teach a course in child development in the digital era.
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