David Ellis, director of communications studies at York University in Toronto, has a front-row seat to observe how hyperconnectivity seems to be influencing young adults. He said it makes them less productive and adds that most of them do not understand the new digital tools or how to use them effectively. “The idea that Millennials have a cognitive advantage over their elders is based on myths about multitasking, the skill-sets of digital natives, and 24/7 connectedness,” he commented. “Far from having an edge in learning, I see Millennials as increasingly trapped by the imperatives of online socializing and the opportunities offered by their smartphones to communicate from any place, any time.
“I can see this in the living experiment that takes place every week in the computer lab where I teach internet technologies to fourth-year communication studies majors. Students everywhere have become relentless in their use of mobile devices for personal messaging. Even good students delude themselves into thinking they can text friends continuously while listening to a lecture and taking notes and, in the process, retain information and participate in discussions. But good research has shown that even especially bright kids are less productive when multitasking, a finding resisted by plenty of grown-ups as well.
“Our fondness for thinking positively about multitasking, especially among the young, gets a lot of reinforcement from two other assumptions: that Millennials have a special aptitude for digital media because they've grown up digital; and that ubiquitous, seamless connectivity is a positive social force. The first assumption is baloney; the second is fraught with contextual problems. Of the hundreds of liberal arts students I've taught, not one in ten has come into my class with the slightest clue about how their digital devices work, how they differ from analog devices, how big their hard drive is, what Mbps (megabytes per second) measures. In other words, they're just like people who haven't grown up digital. And of course the immersive nature of 24/7 connectedness creates the illusion that Millennials can somehow tap into a form of collective intelligence just by being online, while looking impatiently for messages every three minutes.
“I don’t think there’s anything inherently bad or anti-social about smartphones, laptops, or any other technology. I do, however, believe we are entering an era in which young adults are placing an inordinately high priority on being unfailingly responsive and dedicated participants in the web of personal messaging that surrounds them in their daily lives. For now, it seems, addictive responses to peer pressure, boredom, and social anxiety are playing a much bigger role in wiring Millennial brains than problem-solving or deep thinking.”