The Digital Generation: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Article excerpt

Within the framework of the new and multiple literacies, we have witnessed an explosion of the use of digital tools and venues (Paul & Wang, 2012, ch. 3). This has resulted in an exponential addition of new words and phrases to our mental lexicon such as e-mail, e-book, vlog, blog,podcast, apps, Facebook, and Google, and the proliferation of gadgets such as the iPhone, iPad, and iPod. In general, if you are a digital native, that means you have grown up with this technology and have never seen a world without it - and you might not even be able to imagine a world without this technology. If you are a digital immigrant like me, that means you have become acclimated to the use of such technology - albeit you might not be as comfortable, fearless, and forthright as the natives (see, e.g., Bauerlein, 2008, 2011b). There are variations in the degrees and types of native and immigrant, due to education level, occupational and economic status, geographic location, aptitude and attitude, and so on.

Although there is some available research, it is time for scholars, most of whom are digital immigrants, to explore in depth the effects of this new epoch of digital technology on the behavior and aptitude of our children and young adolescents - the digital natives - in this brave new world of the 21st century. I have been intrigued and flummoxed by the constructs of floating brains and brains in a vat (Davis, 2002) and the multiverse (Hawking & Mlodinow, 2010). Nevertheless, I shudder just a bit when I consider that we now live in a world of multiple realities (Blackmore, 2004), which - for most digital natives and some digital immigrants - entails proceeding back and forth, and sometimes simultaneously, in a world that consists of real and virtual realities (Bauerlein, 2008, 2011b; Heim, 1993).

I am not a Luddite. Along with using my computer for word processing, electronic mail, and surfing the Web intelligently and flippantly, I enjoy the service of a cell phone (texting and voice) and, most recently, listening to music on my MP3 player. But the brave new world of today's digital natives seems to be a radical extension of the one envisioned and described by Aldous Huxley in his two best-known books, the 1932 novel Brave New World and an essay first published in 1958, Brave New World Revisited (Huxley, 2005). In these books, Huxley expounded on the vices of living in a world that had become fast paced and was rapidly evolving. Even more interesting, he proffered that our manner of thinking, mores, and habits were shaped pervasively and incessantly by the processes and products of the new technology of his time. Huxley was consumed with the negative effects of overpopulation, forms of population control, and the abundance and availability of recreational drugs and pleasures. In essence, this negative utopia contributes to the adoption of character traits that lean toward materialism, narcissism, and hedonism - particularly, instant gratification. More recently, these same traits were also decried by Postman (1985), who expounded on the decline of rational and reasoned discourse and dialogue prompted by the ubiquity of television, with its intense focus on entertainment, even for nightly news shows. However, Huxley, Postman, and, indeed, many of us, most likely did not imagine the enormous - and purported - mental, behavioral, and physical evolutions that have paralleled the development and use of the new computer technology.

I have little doubt that there are benefits (the good), disadvantages (the bad), and serious concerns (the ugly) that have emerged for aficionados during the digital age. There is a summary of the good, bad, and ugly in a recent book on children and adolescents who are - in our professional jargon - typically hearing (e.g., Bauerlein, 2011b). There have also been some articles on related topics such as the merits of using open captions (e.g., Strassman & O'Dell, 2012; see also the review in Paul & Wang, 2012, ch. …