As a technologically advanced and connected society, we have a plethora of information and resources at our disposal. While some argue that this advantage only makes us lazy as a generation, the World Wide Web is really just a tool — how efficiently we navigate it and how we learn from it arguably makes the Millennial Generation the most shrewd. Still, our engagement with technology seems to come at a cost.
Millennial interpersonal and verbal skills may be suffering. A few weeks ago, I spent an evening with my goddaughter, Nia, and her family. Nia is five and a half years old and has just started kindergarten. Of course, I was excited to see her, but what struck me the most when I walked through the door was what I saw clenched in her hands: an iPad.
While it’s not out of the ordinary for Baby Boomers and early Generation Y’ers to make high-tech investments for their children, my goddaughter’s parents are actually quite traditional, practical people who don’t go out of their way for the newest, shiniest gadgets. With this knowledge, I knew their had to be an explanation.
When I inquired about Nia’s iPad to her parents, they explained to me that they were issued by her public school. Having never given much thought to the use of technology for education at such an early stage, I formed a quick opinion about it based on what I saw that night.
I was almost instantly unnerved by the undivided attention the children gave the eight-inch screen. Even with four other children to play with, Nia’s twin brother sat glued to the device with the volume on full-blast for extended intervals of the afternoon and evening. Not only was I annoyed, but I was disturbed to see that with a houseful of toys and others to play with, these children were more interested in screens than in interacting with each other.
Let me be clear: I am not anti-technology by any means. We are more knowledgeable and resourceful individuals because of it, and in that way, we can be considered the smartest generation. However, our obsession with the screen has yielded a lack of essential verbal skills.
Some argue that this behavior is actually okay — that these face-to-face communication skills are not as important as the complex analytical and technical abilities we are obtaining from Millennial culture. Talking about how we do in fact thrive in today’s revolutionary, complex and information-centered environment, historian, economist and demographer Neil Howe told the Washington Times that, “Today’s kids watch ’24’ and ‘Law & Order,’ which have multiple plot lines. We watched ‘The Flintstones’ — one level meaning. They watch ‘The Simpsons’ — multiple levels of meaning. We used to play Monopoly… They play SimCity in real time, trying to manage thousands of variables to keep the city moving.”
So, what’s my takeaway? Technology is a double-edged sword. Howe’s point that Millennial youth is more intellectually advanced based on their ability to navigate new-age tools may be correct, but the way so many Millennials become so engrossed by these tools still seems unnatural. We can say that verbal communication and face-to-face conversations are just becoming less of the norm, but we are still human. We still need to embrace the ways of speaking to one another and learn the flow of a face-to-face conversation. Teaching Millennial youth to balance virtual and in-person interaction will foster the smartest generation yet.
You can reach HAYLEY PROKOS at email@example.com or on Twitter @haroulii14.