The New York Times has doctor and expert Perri Klass* reassure us (yes, even the childless — “Certain subjects make self-righteous parents of us all”) that all this texting and computing and what-not isn’t making children into dumbbells. Adults may not thrive while multitasking — or, as our ancestors knew it, being worked so hard you have to do many things at once — but as to kids, we just don’t know. Unlike the Halloween costume menace, divided attention is a grey area.
So the doctor asks her own son, and other reliable teenage sources, whether doing homework with an IM window open, and such like, was harming their studying, and what do you know — they said it wasn’t! The son “even conducted an experiment” which proved “he could go on reading for much longer stretches” with the modern equivalent of the TV or stereo blasting…
The doctor sighs that she, like the rest of us old farts, is a “digital immigrant,” who doesn’t know from all these newfangled gadgets, and maybe the kids know best. She’s right on trend; futurists like Malcolm Gladwell have already advised us that the “fluid problem solving that matters in things like video games and I.Q. tests” may be just as important as the fogeyish book-learning that was once considered the sine qua non of education. Maybe hassling kids about their study habits makes parents into amusing stereotypes from John Hughes movies. Nobody wants that.
We can only guess how the kids will feel about it when they grow up and, instead of yakking with friends, they are forced to field queries from their bosses while preparing reports, answering emails, taking phone calls, etc. Meanwhile we may expect the youngsters, empowered by technology, parental ambivalence, and targeted advertising, to keep on learning at the exalted level for which American students are known worldwide.
*Update: An enraged commenter kindly let us know that Dr. Klass is a woman, and we have altered the pronouns here to reflect that fact.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 13, 2009