Wednesday, February 3, 2010

More the Digital Nation

Last night, PBS's Frontline broadcast a 90-minute program called "Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier." The website has actually been up and active for months and was Frontline's first multiplatform project. You can watch the entire program online. Frankly, though, it is the website, with its multiple links, fuller-length interviews, stories submitted by the public on YouTube, expert roundtable, and self-guided online workshops, that offers a more impressive introduction to a host of social, cultural and psychological issues related to the proliferation of digital technologies. Much of the attention in the program itself is dedicated to younger generations of users, the digital natives, and how they learn (or don't) as constant users of multiple technologies. With the technologies being so new and the generation being so young, conclusions are hardly clear, but the consensus in the program and research beyond is that multitasking does not generally enable deep learning. (One irony pointed out here is that those who believe themselves most adept at multitasking, even among the natives, are in fact the weakest.)

Focusing on digital natives and their typical exclusion of analog media is a worthy and timely topic. Yet one does get the sense that many of the experts' fascination with the younger generation's distinctiveness stems in part, and not unimportantly, from their own parental curiosity about their children (on the "Digital Nation" homepage is thus a link to a "What is you Digital Parenting Style?" quiz). Whatever the ultimate motivation, by extending that fixation on the digital native, the program and website avoid what is a more complicated and also more widespread set of issues. How is learning or information gathering and processing across generations affected not by a categorical shift to digital technology use but by a mixing of digital and non-digital media? Perhaps this is a question that will be obsolete in only a few decades, but in the meantime, it seems much more pressing for making sense of how anyone over the age of 30 or so relates to diverse media and other people. That is also obviously a relevant question for media companies -- and neglecting it may betray yet again most media industries' characteristic over-emphasis on the tastes and habits of youth demographics.

The Frontline site is a great resource:

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