24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
In a bygone era, parents and teachers provided the lessons and kids responded. With today's app generation, parents and teachers must take an entirely different approach. They are the ones who must respond, because electronic media have completely changed the locus and flow of information.
Does this book provide a recipe for what that response should be? No, but it does provide valuable insight into dealing with the app generation.
Typically, a book addressing social issues has an agenda. The drawback there, of course, is the book is intended to be a proof of a thesis rather than an open-minded exploration of the issue. The former can easily be a blind leading the blind situation, and that's why an agenda-less book like this one is so valuable.
However, the drawback of the agenda-less book is the reader isn't likely to walk away with a "correct answer" sort of conclusion. But if you need such a conclusion, you probably aren't ready to examine social issues because seldom do such simple conclusions reflect the complex reality. Things are more nuanced and layered than such conclusions permit.
This book didn't hit us with dire warnings that apps are turning kids into zombies. Nor did it herald a new age, in which app-enabled kids will run circles around their app-avoiding parents.
What the authors did was look at how different generations view the mobile app technology. They looked closely at the changes between the generations. It's a complex mosaic, and in that mosaic we find both good and bad effects. They provided some analysis of this also, without going very far down the opinion road.
If a reader can sense any personal opinion in this book, it's basically along the lines of "We want to look at both sides." It seems the authors are saying that technology can serve you or you can serve it; user discretion and judgment are the key. I agree with that.
Technology itself is actually neutral; it's how we use it that determines good or evil (can you say "atomic energy"?). Apps, like other technology, aren't always used wisely. But some uses are very beneficial.
The book seems to bear this out. If the authors were to belatedly slap an agenda onto their finished work, I think they would caution parents to actively engage with their children so that the devices don't become a de facto substitute for parents who are emotionally absent due to their own preoccupations.
Another reader might draw a different conclusion, such as the authors might warn parents that a dependency on apps is a real danger. Still another reader might conclude that the authors would say parents should encourage kids to expand their world with the many apps available today.
It's not that the book is confusing or its writing unclear; neither is the case. On the contrary, the book is informative and the writing is clear. It's that the subject includes positive and negative aspects, and their relative weights are still in flux.
We aren't finding kids drooling in mindless depravity while their IQs plummet to zero, nor are we finding them going to the other extreme, for example suddenly composing great literary masterpieces with their smart phone apps. What we are finding, according the the authors' research, is a change in skills, thinking styles, and other mental attributes.
This isn't new to apps. It has happened many times. For example, when calculators became ubiquitous, native math skills decreased but the ability to do more mathematical work rose. Or consider dressage. How many people today know how to properly saddle a horse? This doesn't stop anyone from traveling 500 miles between cities, does it? This mix of effects is pretty much what we are seeing with apps. This book brings us rich detail to help us understand the change, why it is occurring, and what its implications seem to be.
The authors do highlight the dangers of dependency, but they also highlight the opportunities of enablement. They provide evidence for both, and avoid hysteria in either direction. The changes are happening, and I think having an informed awareness of these changes is paramount for parents and teachers.
Readers of this book will gain that awareness, and not just at the summary level. Understanding specific changes and their implications makes for an actionable learning on the part of the reader. The authors sort the changes into three basic groups: identity, intimacy, and imagination. This seems like a logical grouping, and it certainly helped me stick with the subject matter as the authors went through it.
But how do they come up with their information? For example, how do they know how apps affect intimacy? They conducted extensive research. You can find out about it in the book's 10-page methodological appendix. They also tapped many written sources; these sources are provided in the 22-page bibliography. I did a spot check on the sources for quality, and was quite impressed. I often find authors tapping disinformation sources as if they are reliable, and these authors didn't do that. They used really good sources.
Including the Introduction, the actual text of this book runs 197 pages. The authors managed to pack quite a bit of insight into those pages.
on May 6, 2015
I chose The App Generation by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis because I wanted to understand whether the tech generation is actually that different from the ones prior to it or if it is just a matter of age related differences.
The App Generation by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis takes an in depth look at the impacts of technology on different generations and how those compare to each other. Throughout the book, the authors review literature related to technology or technology impacts through the use of three relatable characters: Howard, Katie, and Molly. Howard grew up in the 1950s, a time when finding the answer to a question was not a google search away, but a long sometimes unsuccessful search through library bookshelves. Katie grew up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when technology was first starting it’s incline. Finally, Molly doesn’t remember a time when there were not cellphones, laptops, or television. She has grown up completely in the digital age. Gardner and Davis use these real life people as examples throughout the book to ground their research and discoveries in a way that is relatable to any type of audience.
Besides the core “characters” of The App Generation, the book opens with a description of generations. The new technological generation is a much shorter population that those in the past. Katie and Molly are only seventeen years apart, but they grew up in completely different worlds. In the past generations were defined by large political events, natural disasters, economic downturn or war. Sometimes they were defined by technology like the steam engine, but now the fast evolving technology is changing the landscape at incredible speeds. Seniors in college differ in their social media use from freshman in the same college.
The book touches briefly on applications, but more in a broad sense of their technological impacts. The books discusses app-enabling and app-dependent aspects of technology. If a tech is app-enabling it helps you create or complete something like google docs and their ability to help students write papers from their phones. On the other hand, google maps makes the user dependent on the application to find their way around. If they lost their phone they would not be able to find their way from point A to point B.
There are three main topics of differentiation this books focused on: identity formation, intimacy, and imagination. The technological generation creates a different identity than those that preceded them. They present a polished version of themselves online, showing only their ideal qualities that they want to represent to the public. Although, some of them may use the internet as a way to test out different identities or as Gardner and Davis refer to it: they use the internet as an “identity playground.” This plays into the idea that the tech generation is accepting of any identity, yet are averse to taking risks. The tech generation has a very packaged sense of self. They think that if they plan very carefully nothing will go wrong and they will accomplish their goals. The problem with this idea is that it’s unrealistic if something does go wrong. The generation is so coddled and protection they don’t know what to do if something does go wrong. On the other hand, those who don’t have a life long plan feel that they are losing out, when in fact they may have the upperhand. This generation also has a very narcissistic personality shown by an increase in the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) between generations. Finally, the book mentioned the tech generation and their relation to celebrities. Instead of parents or neighbors as role models this generation looks to Youtube stars and have the false idea that they can become instantly famous for nothing.
The second difference discussed in the book was intimacy. Technology has made it possible to always be in touch with the people in your life. Consequently, that means you are always expected to be available. This has created helicopter parents that demand their children respond immediately and hide phones in their sleep away camp bags. This kind of communication has also created less risky contact. People break up and enter relationships through text message. Although a lot of time immediate communication can facilitate spontaneous hangouts. The less risky contact methods augment rather than replace face-to-face interactions.
Finally, imagination has developed and changed with the new tech generation. Applications have the ability to eliminate barriers of time, money, and skill in the creation of art, but the code can also be very restricting. The medium matters. For the tech they are more imaginative when it comes to graphics than literally.
My critique of this book was that it was all correlation no causation. It’s nearly impossible to do an empirical study because there are basically no people in our society that do not use technology or haven’t been raised around it. It’s just frustrating that there seemed to be no conclusions. Because of this inability to actually prove anything, the book never answered my question, but did show differences between generations. They just couldn’t relate those differences empirically to technology. It’s also interesting that in the end the book accounted for the fact that parents could be contributing to the negative qualities of the generation. This book makes a point as to not blame the younger generation, just understand them.
on November 22, 2014
Review of Gardner's and Davis' The app generation by Paul F. Ross
Clearly cultural influences are very important in each individual's life, shaping the individual's life and choices. Psychology measures personality characteristics and finds them to be influential in an individual's career outcomes as well as stable from relatively early in life - say the teens - into post-retirement maturity. Personality is formed from the time of birth. Notice the differences in personal style between a British, a Brazilian, an Indian, an Arabic, and a Chinese eighteen year old if you need to witness the importance of culture in point of view and approach in interpersonal relations or in the sense of what is possible in life. Culture can guide what societies and nations accomplish. Read Pinker (2011) to see how
Gardner, Howard and Davis, Katie The app generation: How today's youth navigate identity, intimacy, and imagination in a digital world 2013, Yale University Press, New Haven CT, xx + 244 pages
humankind, over the course of tens of thousands of years, has learned to be less ready to kill each other ... even to be less ready to be cruel to each other. Does that seem to be an unlikely trend given what we see of today's world? Look at Pinker's evidence. Since culture is important in shaping individual lives as well as societal outcomes, asking what effect the digital world - the world of smart cell phones, digital cameras, personal computers, the internet, texting, social media, and Skype - is having on the formation of an individual's sense of identity, how an individual handles intimacy (perhaps better named interrelationships for an individual with other individuals and with groups), and how our imaginations and creativity are shaped - Gardner's and Davis' three i's - is an appropriate and very important set of questions. Howard Gardner in the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University and Katie Davis, perhaps Gardner's student who is now in the Information School at the University of Washington, collaborate in forming answers. They bring Mollie, Katie's much younger sister who is still a teenager, into their trio of observers and so seek to develop a three-generation perspective on the influences of the digital world in the formation of our personalities and our individual and cultural futures. They address very important questions and bring to their task the methods and thought processes of the behavioral and management sciences.
Gardner and Davis ask important questions. Is individual and group imagination being improved by our technology? (Have personal computers in the workplace improved productivity?) Are interrelationships being changed? (Was the internet important in arousing the Arab Spring? ... the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong?) Is personal identity and risk taking behavior being affected? (Are the leaders of the future developing now in ways different from the ways they developed fifty years ago? Does that change the effectiveness of the leadership?)
The authors spend 59 pages introducing their topic, 33 pages discussing the development of personal identity in the digital age, 28 pages reviewing intimate relationships, 35 pages considering imagination as aided or limited by apps, and 43 pages reviewing their conclusions. They cite many studies from a variety of recent scientific literature drawn from the behavioral and management sciences including education. This feature of the work may be its most valuable contribution. The authors take a pro-cognition and anti-behaviorist position with respect to the psychological foundations of their work. They conclude "this is how the digital world helps and this is how it is harmful" for each of the "three i's," finding neither great joy nor deep worry about the personal and social impacts of the technological changes. They attach a ten page methodological appendix where some technical aspects of their several studies are explained briefly. The MacArthur Foundation funded part of the work, other funders not being mentioned. It seemed to this reader that the book is written largely in the voice of Katie Davis, not Howard Gardner ... but only the authors can tell us what their relative contributions to the work have been.
Examining their work's roots in psychological science, Davis and Gardner draw an early distinction (p 27 forward) between behaviorism and cognitivism (constructivism), contrasting the ping-pong playing pigeons of B. F. Skinner, behaviorist, who modified pigeons' behavior in accordance with rewards received, and young infants' playing behavior, in an experiment by Bonawitz and colleagues, constructivists, after being shown what a toy could do and, for other infants, simply being given the toy to explore on their own. Exploring the toy after minimum instruction resulted in a much longer play time and a greater variety in play, a valued outcome. Davis and Gardner come down strongly on the side of the constructivists with evidence supporting their preference and the resulting benefits to the reader, psychological science, and society not being clear. Meantime, almost a century of experiments have provided strong support to the universal applicability of behaviorism. Constructivism looks attractive and opens a new window for educators and managers. Why throw out behaviorism? Keep both.
Late in the book, while exploring the digital world's impact on development of the imagination, the authors describe an experiment in which they examine "354 artworks published in a teen literary and art magazine." Half the pieces were published in 1990-1995, the other half in 2006-2011. The purpose of the study is to see if the later works, clearly created during years in which computer-based digital apps were available to the artist, were different from the earlier works, created in years when apps for artists were less common. The authors find and report trends. This reader, however, is aghast that Gardner and Davis have designed the experiment as they have. All works studied were published by the magazine Teen Ink. The magazine was edited by the same husband-wife team for the whole history covered by these sample selections. Surely the young artists sending their work to the magazine could have been influenced by the prior artworks presented by the magazine. "That artist got published. My work is similar. Let's see if they'll publish my work." Perhaps the nature of the later works truly is different from the earlier works. Is this a change introduced by changes in methods and modes of thought used by the young artists or is it a shift in the tastes of the editors? Gardner's and Davis' description of their experiment in the methodological appendix is too brief to be sure that their error in thought and experimental design is as bad as it appears to be, but the fact that the work is published as it is means the publisher, Yale University Press, sought no competent scientific peer review of this work before its publication.
Gardner and Davis write "Even if our description of today's young people has hit the mark, we can never prove that these features are a direct or even a principal consequence of the pervasiveness of technologies of a certain sort. It is simply impossible to carry out the proper experiment with the needed controls. ... in a democratic society, one cannot legislate the gold standard of randomized assignment to experimental groups" (p 162). Like nearly all scientists, Gardner and Davis see the experiment in which one variable is manipulated while all others are controlled, participants being randomly assigned to "experimental" and "control" groups (Person A takes the new drug, Person B takes the placebo, the participants having been randomly assigned to one of these two treatment groups) as the "gold standard" in experimental design. For the entirety of the twentieth century, statistical science has been developing a method for looking at many variables simultaneously (called factor analysis) and discovering, having observed many instances each of which is described by many variables, what each of the conditions contributes to the single outcome or to each of several outcomes. This multivariate view of the world, and design of experiments, fits the world much better than does the "classical, gold standard" experimental design and gains more information per dollar spent in research. When scientists think the "gold standard" of experimental design in science is defined by having an experimental and a control group, manipulating only one variable, they only describe their own ignorance of the advances in statistical science ... and waste their funders' money by doing science in a way much less efficient than it need be done. Gardner and Davis display that ignorance.
Gardner and Davis use focus groups to gather some of their data. Focus groups can be useful early in an investigation when the investigators are searching for a broad range of possible "explanations" for the phenomenon they wish to study ... the study then to be continued with more carefully specified and measured observations. But, despite opinions frequently found to the contrary, study using focus groups does not produce believable scientific results. While the authors avoid presenting their results from the focus groups as scientific findings, the lay reader is not likely to catch their distinction and will think otherwise, helping perpetuate the misuse and indefensible overconfidence in "findings" from the methodology.
Gardner and Davis emphasize the scientific roots of their work. They write for a lay audience, not for a scientific audience. This reader applauds science presented for the lay reader. Much, much more literature of this kind is needed. How does one know it is needed? There is extensive knowledge in the behavioral and management sciences, for example, that, if put to use, would deliver enormous benefits to humankind. The knowledge is not being used because even the graduates of the world's most famous universities emerge as near illiterates in the behavioral and management sciences. Those graduates become organizational leaders. They've never heard of this work. Presented with an idea they've not seen before, they say to themselves "I've been successful, making many decisions of merit for this organization. I've not heard of this notion before. No one I know has heard of it. It can't be any good. Let's forget it." So having Gardner and Davis writing about the behavioral and management sciences for a lay audience is, potentially, a very good thing. But their work is not soundly based in the sciences as is described here.
If you want to read a book addressing the question of the impact of personal computers, smart phones, tablets, digital photography, the internet, and the apps that can be downloaded free to one's own personal device from anywhere one can access the internet using wireless means, then Gardner's and Davis' work may be a book you want to read. The work is often thoughtful, sometimes entertaining. Understand, however, that it is nothing more than mulling about the issues being addressed and undertakes the mulling with less than a balanced and broadly informed view of the scientific foundations upon which answers to their questions must ultimately be based. While their work purports to be science, it is only occasionally what it says it is.
23 November 2014, a typo corrected on 25 November 2014
The lady who loaned to me her copy of Gardner and Davis, she like me in her eighties, read my review and, in conversation with my wife and me, said "I sit down to dinner with a good friend of my son's generation and, during our conversation, he picks up his phone-tablet and searches for something! That's rude! I hate it! I bought the book so I could get some insight into what is happening. I'm worried." Given her statement, I realized my review did not speak to her needs. So I sat down to write ...
Gardner and Davis try to understand an important topic. They mull (think about, ruminate about) three aspects of information technology's impact on people by trying to understand how these technologies have affected grandfathers, parents, and children. Professors that they are, they look at the peer reviewed literature of science to try to find answers. While they find many different studies, they don't use peer-approved methods for trying to integrate (pull together) the findings from many studies. They pick up and talk about ideas that appeal to the authors. Gardner's and Davis' own data collection simply doesn't stand up to the yardstick of "best methods," not even the yardstick of "acceptable methods," for gathering new information on their topics.
You've already noticed, with respect to developing one's own sense of identity, finding and maintaining intimate interrelationships with others, and giving expression to one's own imagination, that Gardner and Davis sit on the fence ... they say "Maybe these technologies help, maybe they harm." What else can they do? Their methods are not rigorous enough to detect the direction of developing knowledge and experience on these matters. Their world is so small that they confine their thoughts to the psychological space of an individual (what happens to an individual?), failing to look at group formation and performance, failing to look at societal, cultural, political impacts, failing to examine the across-the-world impacts.
Certainly dictionaries and encyclopedias have been replaced. Telephone communication has been transformed (into Skype, for instance). Paper mail as a long distance means for communication has nearly been put out of business. The cost of telephoning has been reduced to the point that lots and lots of exchanges are within most people's budgets. Digital photography has made the recording and sharing of pictures very easy and a favorite means of sharing information and emotions. Shopping has been transformed. Publishing has been transformed. The spread of news has changed from the province of the professionals alone to the province of everybody. These have to have big impacts on life. The frauds now possible as well as damage from cyber attacks clearly are negative contributions. But the positives, I strongly suspect, vastly outweigh the negatives.
In science we can communicate and collaborate across distances never before possible. I can send data to places thousands of miles away with the press of a button and no extra cost at all. There it can be analyzed and criticized, the products returned to me. Analytical tools available through computing surpass our fondest dreams of a mere fifty years ago. I can collect data from around the world ... not just in my neighborhood, my school, my place of work. The new capabilities outrun our capacity to understand them and use them. They beckon us to run faster. It's simply wonderful.
It is a bit disappointing to find those one knows best, one's age peers at our mature ages, those who now have or have recently had major leadership responsibilities, unwilling to learn and unwilling to have kept pace in the world of information technologies. It's deeply harmful to have leaders today (those leaders being almost universally of the older generation, typically for good reason) not appreciate what is possible and not embrace the changes. It's simply wonderful to see children using the information technologies. It's deeply encouraging to see the school classroom change from everybody-in-step procedures to an individualized experience with each individual racing ahead as fast as the individual can go.
Individuals have not lost, and will not lose, their need for connection to others. Any grandchild, aged two, learning that they can gain your attention by playing with their electronic tablet - whether your attention is expressed by your applause or your scolding - , will reach for that tablet any time they want your attention. Little humans can be counted upon, teenage humans can be counted upon, young-adult humans can be counted upon, mature humans can be counted upon to need and want the attention of others. The means for gaining that attention may change a bit. There will never be a time when we stop wanting our fellow humans' attention and approval. There may be a time when, sitting at dinner with the US President and world leaders at the White House, it becomes OK to pull out one's smart phone and gather some information appropriate to the exchange of the moment. The means for getting there may be tweaked as the technologies and time extend into the future ... but the purpose and goals will remain the same.
My personal mulling - I having perhaps as much right to mull as do Gardner and Davis - finds no reason to want to stop the advance of information technologies. They are not destroying the best parts of life. They are, in fact, enhancing them. Gardner and Davis, in academic caution, remain on the fence because they have not looked far enough and deep enough. Yes, conversation over dinner or around the living room may change ... but the underlying purposes and driving needs for those conversations will not be changing. Nor will the important links between people - shaping our sense of personal identity, reinforcing who we are through our connections with others, incentivizing and challenging our imaginations - be weakened or lost. They will remain in place.
24 November 2014
Copyright © 2014 by Paul F. Ross. All rights reserved.
Gardner, Howard and Davis, Katie The app generation: How today's youth navigate identity, intimacy, and imagination in a digital world 2013, Yale University Press, New Haven CT
Pinker, Steven The better angels of our nature: Why violence has declined 2011, Viking, New York NY