The Power of Technology

Posted by: eric on October 13, 2009 at 5:54 am

Generation We is the first generation to have been raised immersed in the immense power of new information and communications technologies—computers, cell phones, cable television, PDAs, and the Internet. As numerous comments in our focus groups demonstrated, they’re well aware of the impact these technologies have had on them, and they view themselves as a generation where technology and instant communication is central to every aspect of their life, relationships, jobs, and education. One focus group participant put it especially well:

We’re like a cusp generation. Unlike our parents, we grew up with technology, so we’re comfortable with it and can take advantage of it. But unlike the kids today who are younger than us, we remember the world before the new technology, so we don’t take it for granted. And we don’t let it disconnect us from one another or from the world. We know why it’s important to get out of the house and be with people face to face. So we have the best of both worlds.

Millennials assume they have unlimited and free (or virtually free) access to information. For them, the Internet has the effect of obliterating the boundaries between what can and cannot be known. For many, it even demolishes the boundary between what is and is not possible. As one of our focus group participants remarked, “The Internet has made me feel I can do anything. Once I go online, there’s always a way to figure it out.”

Furthermore, they are a generation that loves instant messaging and social networking. They constantly text each other and use the Internet to stay continually connected to their peers. They use online file-sharing, video streaming, blogging, and gaming as ways to socialize and compete with people from all over the world, without regard to race, class, or educational background.

Of course, the elimination of information barriers hasn’t really made the Millennials all-powerful; it has simply brought them up against a new set of barriers, defined by economics, time, and social structures, that prevent them from accomplishing what they could achieve. But the sense that the Internet and other information technologies now make all of human knowledge instantly available to anyone with a computer has nonetheless had a profound impact on today’s youth.

It means that, in theory, they believe they should be able to do anything. And that means that the societal, governmental, and economic barriers that are preventing them from achieving their dreams—for example, the massive efforts at censoring the Internet currently being mounted by totalitarian regimes around the world—are all the more frustrating to Generation We, and subject to being eliminated by the power of their social and political force.

Having been immersed in technology their entire lives, Generation We will have greater potential than any previous generation to innovate and benefit from other new and emerging technologies, from bioengineering to nanotechnology. They will seek hard technological challenges and be comfortable in doing so. As a result, they have a huge opportunity to improve life for millions of people.

Of course, technologies can be a mixed blessing. Some of the new healthcare technologies created over the past decades have saved and extended many lives. But this heroic role of technology masks other issues that must be addressed. Technology has helped drive healthcare costs through the roof, and competition among hospitals and healthcare providers to have the latest and fanciest equipment contributes to price escalation and the neglect of more basic yet more effective means of disease prevention and improvement of human health—things like better nutrition, exercise, and a cleaner environment.

There’s another danger—that Millennials have become so accustomed to communication via computer, PDA, and cell phone they have forgotten how to engage with one another in the real world. Online social-networking is fine, but when it comes to political and social activism, it’s no substitute for community-building and grassroots organizing. Some Millennials view activism and speaking out as something one does behind the safety of the computer monitor. The world is not so simple. Nothing replaces the power of direct human interaction, eye-to-eye contact, and public assembly. Generation We needs to translate its social consciousness into real life action. Happily, there are many signs they are beginning to do just that.

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