When I was a student many decades back, preparing for exams required solitary confinement. Cutting myself off from human society, I had to single-mindedly focus on the task at hand, to wit the cramming of the passages and the equations and the diagrams. Slightest of disturbances was enough to distract my attention and disrupt the flow of information into my sensitive brain.
Not so with my daughter now. When she is seemingly studying, she needs to have a galaxy of gadgets around her. Surrounded by her books and with music streaming into her cars from the iPod, she can keep text- messaging a friend on her mobile phone and chatting on the cordless landline with another, while catching some pieces of the action on the TV screen in front of her. Not only can she multi-task, she has to multi-task. Without the constant stimuli from multiple sources, her brain ceases to function, rendering her unfit to study.
The difference in behaviour, explains an article in Times (via) is due to the fact that I am a “digital migrant” while my daughter is a “digital native”, terms coined by the futurist Marc Prensky to distinguish between those who have merely adapted to technology and those who have grown up with it. As a first-generation immigrant, I may be reasonably proficient with computers, but I still need to print out hard copies, still need to check with recipient if he/she has received my e-mail and can’t figure out how to use the webcam properly. Natives, on the other hand, multi-task, thrive on instant gratification and claim to function best when networked.
According to research cited in the same article, we are in the midst of a sea change in the way that we read and think. Our digitally native children have wonderfully flexible minds. They absorb information quickly, adapt to changes and are adept at culling from multiple sources. But they are also suffering from internet-induced attention deficit disorder.
So, I have a wonderfully focused mind that can do one thing at a time well, but can be paralysed if asked to take on more than one task; Whereas my daughter has a wonderfully flexible mind that can multi task, but will start re-booting if denied simultaneous sensory inputs from, at least, a dozen sources. It’s all a package deal.