Review of The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination In A Digital World
Reviewed By Merri Rosenberg
(L-R) Howard Gardner & Lewis Frumkes
The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination In A Digital World
By Howard Gardner and Katie Davis
Published by Yale University Press: New Haven and London. 2014: 244 pp.
Forget the metaphoric hand wringing and finger wagging that those of us in the digital immigrant generation all too often display towards the digital native generation’s immersion in technology. Never mind the hyperbole surrounding the Cassandra-like prophesies of the end-of-civilization-as-we–know-it because the younger generation seems permanently attached to their smart phones.
Leave it to Howard Gardner and Katie Davis to analyze actual evidence, distill the research, and synthesize it all into a readable, insightful and important package. This work is invaluable for taking a step back, a deep breath and providing much needed context.
Gardner, the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and senior director of Harvard Project Zero, is well known for his work on multiple intelligences. His co-author, Davis, is assistant professor at the University of Washington Information School, with an expertise in the role digital media plays in adolescents’ lives.
As they write, “It’s our argument that young people growing up in our time are not only immersed in apps: they’ve come to think of the world as an ensemble of apps, to see their lives as a string of ordered apps, or perhaps, in many cases, a single, extended cradle-to-grave app.”
Like anything else, technology can be used for positive, or negative, ends. Certainly technology can be disruptive and threatening. The pervasive presence of apps means that many young people are indeed risk averse, reluctant to present anything negative in their carefully curated on-line identities, and are perhaps more pragmatic and less ideological than earlier generations. The need to present a positive, perfect image may indeed lead to a more narcissistic, self-absorbed personality. The authors acknowledge the Facebook phenomenon of feeling depressed because other people’s lives look so much happier and more successful.
Gardner and Davis raise the intriguing point that, thanks to GPS and devices, this has “never had the experience of being lost.” Parents are electronically tethered to their children in ways that would have been unimaginable for those of us who attended college in the 1970s and 1980s, which hampers independence.
So perhaps it’s not that much of a surprise to find out that creativity, or at least literary creativity, appears to be diminished in the app generation. There is perhaps less focus on a quiet, reflective, inner life.
Still, the picture isn’t entirely bleak or discouraging. This generation clearly has a greater comfort level with racial, ethnic and gender identities. When it comes to visual creativity and the visual arts, technology enables greater breakthroughs and enhances collaboration.
As the authors recognize, and argue, apps can be negative, reinforcing a generation’s desire for the “right” answers (what else can we expect after relentless standardized testing and accountability that’s informed younger people’s educational experiences?). But they hope instead that “the birth of apps need not destroy the human capacities to generate new issues and new solutions, and to approach them with the aid of technology when helpful and otherwise to rely on one’s wit.”
Amen to that.#