David Macias has five personal electronic devices: a laptop, smart phone, e-reader and not one but two iPods — one for his car; one for workouts at the gym.
“I have trouble sleeping sometimes,” the 19-year-old college freshman said while taking a break from watching a movie on his laptop in the College Of DuPage cafeteria. Macias said he sleeps with his cellphone, which wakes him when he receives a text.
“It’s crazy,” said Macias of Aurora, Ill. “I’ve got to turn it off.”
Macias and others his age and younger are a growing concern because of their “hyper-connectivity.” The word describes the constant connection to electronic devices as practiced by many of the so-called millennials, the generation born from 1981 to 2000 who came of age in the new millennium.
But a Pew Research Center survey released Wednesday shows that 55 percent of Internet experts and scholars believe that electronically connected youth “will be nimble analysts and decision makers” who benefit from the practice. Slightly more than 40 percent of those same experts had the opposite perception, contending that hyper-connected young people cannot retain information, are too distracted, and lack “deep-thinking capabilities” and “face-to-face social skills.”
Of course, both sides are hedging their predictions, saying that a combination of the scenarios is a more likely outcome.
Which is how Macias sees it.
“It could be positive because life becomes easier,” Macias said, “but negative because it makes you do less work.”
The survey, taken Aug. 28 through Oct. 31, asked 1,021 “technology stakeholders and critics” to chose one of two scenarios for the year 2020 — generally positive or generally negative outcomes from hyperconnectivity. Respondents were asked to explain their choices.
Some of the highlights:
—Optimists say data will be retrieved almost effortlessly for young and old.
—Pessimists argue that entertainment will trump knowledge and education; that the “compulsive nature of modern media” is similar to substance addiction.
—Optimists contend that widespread connectivity has produced “supertaskers” capable of handling several complicated tasks well.
—Pessimists believe that multi-tasking actually decreases productivity and that “shallow choices,” impatience, sleep deprivation and “stagnation in innovation” could be common outcomes of a hyper-connected future.
“Each side is right to a certain extent,” said co-author Janna Quitney Anderson, an associate professor of communications and director of the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University in Elon, N.C. ”We hope that the optimists end up being more right than the pessimists.”
Suze Weinstein would count herself among the optimists.
Weinstein, 23, from Naperville, Ill., owns a smart phone, e-reader, laptop and iPod. She had a second iPod until it was stolen. At home, she exercises with the direction of her Apple Wii and plays video games on an Xbox.
“I’m a big believer,” Weinstein said before entering class at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Ill, where she’s studying in the medical assistant program. “I’m connected all the time.”
Weinstein estimated that 60 percent of her connected time is spent texting or talking on the cell phone to communicate with employees — one of her three jobs is manager of a jewelry store — friends or family. Another 30 percent of her time is spent on Facebook and Twitter, again mostly related to her jobs, she said.
And 10 percent of her time on electronic devices is “personal, chit-chatting with friends,” or shopping online, Weinstein added.
Her electronic connections help her keep up with old friends, said Weinstein, who has moved eight times.
Whether it’s good for the brain “depends on how long you’re staring at the computer,” Weinstein said. “If you’re playing 6 hours of video games, that’s ridiculous.”
Children definitely can benefit from electronic connectedness, said Weinstein, who is working as a nanny to 3, 4 and 5-year-old girls.
The children have access to the e-world, which has taught the three-year-old how to add, point out colors and patterns and solve problems, she said. The child also knows her ABC’s, Weinstein said, and can speak a few words of Spanish.
For people Weinstein’s age, she said, hyperconnectivity allows them easily to access and act on news and information from across the world. As an example, Weinstein noted how quickly vast resources arrived in Haiti after the catastrophic earthquake in 2010.
At least two respondents in the survey shared Weinstein’s perspective.
Frank Odasz, a consultant from Dillon, Mont., said the digital tools are accelerating intelligence, which should lead to a dramatic increase in “expansive thinking and public problem solving.”
Perry Hewitt, director of digital communications and communications services at Harvard University, said the technological evolution has taken young people “out of the business of memorizing facts and rules, and into the business of applying those facts and rules to complex problems.”
But one anonymous respondent to the survey noted that accelerated intelligence might yield hyper-connected millennials who would be “missing the sheer joy of play, of conversation, or quiet, contemplative moments.”
Weinstein’s friend, Brittany Hyman was raised with strict limits on her screen time and she said she appreciates it today.
Hyman, 21, of West Chicago, ditched her Facebook page about two weeks ago. She joked that she “was spending too much useless time not getting updates.”
And even though she bought a laptop and iPod about six months ago, she declines to use an e-reader she received for Christmas. Hyman said people who spend too much time staring at screens miss “so many other things you could be doing” and could hurt their social skills.
Hyperconnectivity “definitely helps in terms of sharing information farther and faster than you normally would,” she said. “But for the most part, if you can’t keep it under control, then it controls you.”