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Generations in the Digital Age

Generations in the Digital Age will seek to identify the differences in the degree to which technology is central to everyday life across different age groups. In our current landscape, most babies are born into an environment rich with digital technology, and will learn how to swipe their fingers on a phone before saying their first word. This baby belongs to a breed commonly known as the Digital Natives, characterised by their early exposure to technology, and a somewhat contrasting upbringing to their grandparents.

In neuroscience, we know that the brain’s period of development between birth and early childhood is crucial to its functional and structural organisation (1). Elements such as the environment, sensory stimulation and cultural influences play a huge part in this critical process of shaping the brain. This knowledge emphasises the significant role of digital handheld devices when introduced at an early age. In the event, we will explore the positive and negative impact of this interaction on functions such as communication, dexterity, problem solving and social skills.

Years later these Digital Natives become teenagers, with behaviours and habits born through the relationships with their phones. They prefer texting to conversation, and maintain huge networks of friends through online profiles that can be entered and exited with a few clicks of a finger. Psychologist Jean M. Twenge argues these teens are physically safer than previous generations, but more psychologically vulnerable (2). Independence is lagging with a decrease in dating, teen employment and driving licence obtainment, reflecting the tendency for teens to stay at home, keeping tabs on their social life on screens.

Collectively in the digital age, a large proportion of our personal information is available to others online. John Palfrey and Urs Gasser argue that the Digital Natives will pay the highest price in their decreased ability to control identity as others perceive it (3). Their relaxed attitude to sharing information with online communities may later affect their control over how they are represented online. What do we trade for the convenience of search engines and online profiles, and who maintains control of this information?

As societal processes are increasingly embedded through online practices, Digital Natives are able to navigate through daily life with ease. The elderly generation however are faced with issues in adaptation, having not been shaped through these practices from birth or gained a lifetime of digital literacy. In a study by Monmouth University exploring the generational digital divide, adults 85 years and older reported their frustrations with the ‘over-reliance of society on technology and the lack of human contact due to the increased usage of automated systems’ (4). They also expressed their feelings that ‘technology is too complex for them to fully understand’ (ibid). However, when this age group were given the opportunity to improve their digital skills, technology had an incredibly transformative and positive affect on their wellbeing, decreasing factors such as depression and loneliness.

Under the spotlight of this discussion, we will examine the current difficulties of the generational digital divide, the perceived challenges that we will be face in the future years to come, and how our behaviours and practices could be altered to avoid the issues we are developing.

  1. Wexler, B (2006) Brain and Culture: Neurobiology, Ideology and Social Change. MIT Press, p2
  2. Twenge, J (2017) Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? The Atlantic. [Online]
  3. Gasser, U, Palfrey, J (2008) Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. Basic Books (p31)
  4. Amaturo, V, Stapley, J, Van Volkom, M (2014) Revisiting the Digital Divide: Generational 4 Differences in Technology Use in Everyday Life. North American Journal of Psychology Vol. 16, No. 3 (p558)