Archives For Technology

Short attention spans and socially isolated. The good and bad about this internet-in-its-pocket generation.

The Smartphone

The smartphone is perhaps the most significant factor that defines the distinctive behaviours of Generation Z. Some people are beginning to label it the ‘internet-in-its-pocket generation’. In contrast to the previous generations who experienced the exciting emergence of the internet and the ability to access it anytime and anywhere, for Generation Z, the internet has always just ‘been there’.

In his book, ‘Meet Generation Z’, James Emery White highlights that teenagers spend nearly 9 hours a day absorbed by media. Sparks and Honey found 91% of Gen Z go to bed with their phones. Moreover, Giselle Abramovich found 79% of Gen Z showed symptoms of emotional distress when they aren’t able to have their personal electronic devices.

In my work with Reign Ministries equipping youth ministers our students laugh at Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs and add their own “basic human needs” to the bottom of my handouts.

The impact of having a ‘supercomputer’ in one’s pocket is far-reaching. It has changed the way young people learn, where they gain knowledge, how they work and play, how long they can focus, who their friends are, how they feel about others and how they feel about themselves.

Changes in Learning

Similar to the revolution set in motion by the Gutenberg’s printing press that paved the way for information to be distributed and accessed by the common person, mobile internet devices have made knowledge and information constantly and immediately accessible to all. This carries with it many obvious blessings.

The author of this session has appreciated the way his own children have benefited from this immediate and free access to the internet when they are struggling to understand their Maths homework. Rather than trying to find time with the teacher between classes or after school, they can simply type their question into YouTube and search through a variety of instructors until they find one who can explain mathematical concepts in a teaching style best suited to their style of learning.

And, if they didn’t understand everything clearly the first time through, they can simply pause, go back and re-watch it as many times as necessary. This way of learning has obvious advantages over what the traditional classroom can offer. This ability to access information has led to a very important dynamic that is true of Generation Z…

“…the ability to find whatever they’re after without the help of intermediaries – such as libraries, shops or teachers. This has made them more independent and self-directed than generations before them.”

James Emery White, Meet Generation Z

Young people no longer need to track down an expert or find a place that sells or stores books, journals or periodicals if they want to learn about a particular topic; all the information we need is available in the palm of our hands. This ability to access seemingly limitless streams of information does not always make true learning easier, however.

“Like no other generation before, Generation Z faces a widening chasm between wisdom and information. Quentin Schultze writes that the torrent of information now at our disposal is often little more than ‘endless volleys of nonsense, folly and rumour masquerading as knowledge, wisdom and even truth.”

James Emery White referencing Quentin
Schultze (2002)

“The new task of education is to help students evaluate information.”

Chuck Kelley (2011)

Shorter Attention Span

In addition to completely transforming the way Generation Z accesses information and learns, constant connectivity to the internet has had major effects on our ability to focus on a task.

According to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, the average attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8.25 seconds in 2015.

“…to put that in perspective, the average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds!”

James Emery White, Meet Generation Z

Internet Browsing Statistics (White)

Average length watched of single internet video: 2.7 mins

Percent of page views lasting less than 4 seconds: 17

Percent of page views lasting more than 10 minutes: 4

Words read on web pages with 11 words or less, as a percentage: 49

Percent of words read on an average (593 words) web page: 28

Combine these facts with previous statistics that showed Generation Z can multitask across 5 screens, it becomes clear that this generation prefers to give attention to several things at once rather than focus on one thing at a time.

However, while conventional wisdom holds that multitasking accomplishes more, many emerging studies show that we severely overestimate our ability to multi-task successfully. Constantly switching attention between tasks is affecting our ability to problem solve.

Watch this Ted Talk by Manoush Zomorodi about “How boredom can lead to our most brilliant ideas.

Relationships

Because of Generation Z’s ability to access vast amounts of information and endless amounts of entertainment anytime, anywhere, many are concluding that this generation is the most anti-social and lonely age group to date.

However, how accurate are these conclusions? What do young people themselves have to say about the ways they would like to relate to their peers?

To answer these questions, Youth for Christ asked young people how they most like to spend their time socializing. They found 32% preferred spending time with friends outside. Moreover, 31% preferred spending time with friends at home.

In contrast, 24% preferred to socialize on the internet. But just 6% liked to spend time with peers at an out-of-school club/activity/group. Unfortunately for youth leaders like us, only 2% preferred to spend time with peers at a youth club.

We will pick up on the statistics regarding attendance at youth clubs and outside of school activities in a later session. But despite what most may assume, young people still prefer face to face interactions with their peers over interactions via a screen.

In fact, Pew Research Centre found 85% of young people love to meet up with friends in person. Only 15% of young people prefer talking through Social Media.

Globally Connected

Although Gen Z prefers socializing with their friends in person, online interactions have expanded their relationship networks. Young people use their devices to watch video content created by people from around the world, to game with friends from around the world and to interact with people from around the world. All this on a variety of social media platforms.

“…26% of Gen Z would need to fly to meet most of their social network friends.”

Sparks and Honey, 2014

This means they have not merely studied facts about other countries and cultures in a classroom, but they actually have friends from other cultures. These global friends will all have varied – and often conflicting – value systems and ways of living. And, all of these different behaviors, values and lifestyle choices seem to ‘work’ for them.

When languages and oceans separate people groups, it’s easy to become ethnocentric. However, it is much more difficult to critique a person’s worldview when you have regular personal interactions and friendships. Therefore, Generation Z is characterized by a strong sense of acceptance and inclusion.

Employers are beginning to grow more aware of these core values and are conscious to create work environments which foster them. This is shown by research conducted by Door of Clubs. In a survey, 5000 students were asked their most important value of a company when entering the workforce. Most importantly, equality was the No.1 value.

“Diversity, inclusion and belonging should be core values of your organization and can
impact your ability to attract and retain an entire generation of talent, not just talent
from underrepresented groups”

Pranam Lipinski and Sharon Florentine

In my post titled Understanding Gen Z’s Sexual Fluidity, we unpack what these tightly held beliefs may mean for the church. Also, what this means for our efforts to share the truth claims of Christianity with Generation Z.