The Impact of Hyperconnectivity

I’m not actually a super multi-tasker, I’d say I’m less productive when I am listening to music and trying to work at the same time, although many of my friends, including Alex Monk, seem to do this really well. I am more of a quick-tasker. I can do one thing with a lot of focus for a short period of time and then I will move on to something else, watch a video, check Twitter, text one of my friends, write another paragraph, Google something I was thinking about, repeat. I think this is actually a different thing than multi-tasking, and I’m not sure if it makes me better or worse off.

The Pew Research Centre recently released the results of a survey they conducted as part of their Internet and American Life Project among US technology experts from think tanks, research groups, universities and critics about the future of the Internet. Although the effects digital hyperactivity can be age-defying this is certainly more prevalent among today’s youth cohort of digital natives.

Some of these stakeholders see hyperconnectivity as a benefit to young people who they expect will become nimble analysts and decision-makers because of their embrace of the networked world, others warn that constantly connected teens and young adults will lack deep engagement with people and knowledge by being hyperconnected.

55 percent of the stakeholders who were surveyed agreed that the future for the hyperconnected will generally be positive. The Pew report summarizes the data on the positive performance effects, “the young are learning more and they are becoming more adept at finding answers to deep questions, in part because they can search effectively and access collective intelligence via the Internet.” One respondent described improvements to the way we learn, “we have gotten them out of the business of memorizing facts and rules, and into the business of applying those facts and rules to complex problems.” While I accept the positive effects of “crowd-sourcing” and digital literacy some technology leaders see the negative effects these social and technological developments may have.

42 percent of the stakeholders surveyed thought that this hyperconnectivity will produce more negative results. The Pew Centre summarized warnings for this behvaiour that were shared in this survey, “hyperconnected people do not retain information; they spend most of their energy sharing short social messages, being entertained, and being too distracted to engage deeply with people and knowledge.” Some expect that “constantly connected teens and young adults will thirst for instant gratification and often make quick, shallow choices,” and others threaten stagnation of innovation.

In a response blog MSNBC’s Suzanne Choney summed the Pew Center research to say that Millennials are “at risk of making poor life decisions based on findings from a fast Google search or a text message from a friend.” I will certainly look to my networks, relevant blogs and websites found through online searches to help me make decisions. I will ask questions when I have them and I would like a quick response.

Does this make me shallow? I don’t think so. When I search for information, I expect to find a variety of answers I expect to be part of a larger topic based discussion among my friends or with other interested people around the world. I connect with people to reach answers or information that they probably know more about. I’d say with this model of information search we have fewer absolute resources than ever before (we do not have only one daily newspaper or only one set of encyclopedias). If anything our risk of making poor life decisions would not be based on minimal information resources, but rather on information overload and the skills that have been described here as both positive and negative effects are necessary to help us navigate information and make the best decisions we can.

While some experts say that my “quick-tasking” might make me worse off, this ability lets us stay connected and collaboratively accomplish a lot more than we would otherwise be able. Google. Twitter. Facebook. Repeat.

 

Jaime is an Analyst at Abacus Data and a thought leader for its Canadian Millennials research practice.

Contact Jaime Morrison:

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E: jaime@abacusdata.ca

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