Digital natives approach their online experiences differently to most of us who are somewhat more mature. I recently had a profound learning experience, delivered to me by none other than a 12 yr old girl, (whom I had offered to “help” with her homework)! It gave me an insight into the world of teens (or pre-teens) and the way they operate with technology.
The girl in question, let’s call her Talia (not her real name), was given a homework assignment that had a series of challenges to accomplish, with each task accruing points (so cleverly, the teacher was using gamification as an incentive), to a total required minimum point count.
Talia was motivated to collect the points, and the assignment task was a research task on whaling. She had several choices to select from, in terms of which of the tasks she would do and naturally, the point count mattered! So her choices were influenced by those tasks carrying the most points. This was so she could minimise her efforts and being the smart little girl she was, of course this was her goal – to get it done efficiently in order to make the minimum points required in the shortest possible time.
So she chose to do a Prezi presentation and Talia asked Google about whaling. She got a series of responses and was able to surf to the relevant sites. She chose to cut and paste sections of information from the various sites and then decided to group them under their headings (also provided courtesy of Google).
Then she searched images from Mr Google and found a number of images that she could use to illustrate her points, which she had cut and pasted from Google earlier.
She did spend some time distracted, with a new app that allowed her to play with the images and present them with some attractive “special effects”, and inserted them cleverly into the Prezi. After this, Talia then spent more time experimenting with layout and effects, to get it looking just right.
At this point in time, I began to wonder just how much she was actually learning about whaling and began to query her. It didn’t matter, she said, as long as the information was correct and she cited the sources, all would be well.
But my point was that she had only scanned the information and the aesthetics of her presentation seemed to overshadow the substance of the information.
And so, I began to ponder just how much (or how little) was her generation actually engaging with the content? How much was the allure of better and better apps taking away from the excitement of actually discovering knowledge about subject matter that was of a more cerebral nature. (Beyond how to use an app!)
Satisfied with the Prezi, Talia now moved on to a series of questions she had to answer in order to accumulate more points. I was simply shocked and horrified when she cut and pasted the questions, one at a time into Google search.
Three of the questions were answered for her and she then cut and pasted those answers into the assignment answer boxes, without even reading them!
When I pointed out that perhaps other students would come up with the same answers, (especially if they did the work in the same manner), Talia said that she could change some of the words so they would not be exactly the same.
And so it went on. The assignment task was completed by Talia and Mr Google – and (unlike me) she was satisfied with the results.
So what was my profound learning curve from this experience? That the way digital natives are adapting to technology in their everyday lives and the way they engage online, is actually so different to the way we used to operate in the earthly world! In fact, as I spend many hours online myself, I pondered over the question of whether our brains are in effect, changing, and what this would mean to content writers like me (and you, dear reader).
The implication for writers is that we will have to work so much harder to engage the minds of younger readers – and indeed that the internet is changing our thinking patterns, and the way we operate in the real world is also affected by these changes.
My digital native 23 yr old, shared with me some scientific evidence of this here, when I shared this story with him – it’s pretty mind-blowing really, and as content writers, we’d better take note!
So, for content writers, does this mean that more engagement may be possible through vodcasts and podcasts, rather than relying on the written word? And if this is true, what does this mean for the future of writing? Would love to hear your thoughts….