SHAPING GENERATION Z
No one has been more influenced and shaped by the rise of the smartphone than the generation of kids born between 1998 and 2016, known as Generation Z, or iGen. Unlike millennials, they don’t remember a time before the internet, and have grown up in an era defined by its technological advances. For them, the hallmarks of adulthood have shifted: getting a driver’s licence is no longer a symbol of freedom – you can just Uber. Teens are also no longer urged to get parttime jobs, but to focus on their studies instead, as higher education is valued more highly in this information age than building a work history.
According to the authors of a study published in the journal Science, smartphones have become a type of ‘external memory source’. There’s no need to memorise facts or phone numbers – they’re a Google search or scroll through your contact list away. And learning a skill like changing a tyre? There’s a YouTube video for that. ‘[Our study’s] results suggest that processes of human memory are adapting to the advent of new computing and communication technology,’ the authors write. ‘We’re becoming symbiotic with our computer tools, growing into interconnected systems that remember less by knowing information than by knowing where the information can be found.’
In her TED Talk entitled ‘We Are All Cyborgs Now’, Amber Case, a cyber-anthropologist and CEO of mobile platform Geoloqi, argues that smartphones have become a ‘digital extension of ourselves’.
‘This is the first time in the entire history of humanity that we’ve connected in this way,’ she says. ‘It’s not that machines are taking over. It’s that they’re helping us to be more human, helping us connect with each other.’
But the reverse is also true. Pew Research’s 2014 study ‘Couples, the Internet and Social Media’, found that about 25% of married or partnered respondents found their significant other’s phone use ‘distracting’, while over 40% of 18- to 29-year-olds reported feeling ignored.
The constant use of cellphones can also have serious long-term effects, especially when it comes to teens, whose brains are still forming. A recent study found that our attention spans are now just eight seconds long – less than that of a goldfish!
‘What’s even scarier,’ write Emma and Lizzie, ‘is that scientists are demonstrating that so much fragmentation of attention, especially when you’re younger, can permanently reduce your capacity to pay attention. Permanently.’ Lack of sleep and multitasking, both sideeffects of smartphone use, can lead to a 10-15 point drop in IQ. Not only that, being on your phone all the time can even lower your EQ. ‘We no longer do things face to face, so we don’t read body language, interpret facial expressions or see emotion, as we really should,’ write Emma and Lizzie. ‘Instead, we rely on digital interactions.’
THE IMPACT ON CREATIVITY
Those hours of boredom from your childhood were actually useful, long term. ‘We daydreamed and played “imagine, imagine” to our heart’s content…’ write Emma and Lizzie. ‘Turns out this daydreaming and space-cadet time was incredibly valuable for our creativity. So using your phone 24/7 to fill every dull moment is hampering your ability to think out of the box and be an innovator.’