Archive for September, 2013

Digital natives or just lost boys?

September 21, 2013

The industry reporting new findings in research into brain development often teams up with the commentators on what makes the generations different.  Recently Rhys Blakely in The Times quoting The Wall Street Journal and HR Magazine commented on a trait of the Millennial Generation, an unwillingness to leave home.  Well certainly my son has returned to live at home but I hadn’t noticed it was a major new trend.

The journalists in question, however, are agreed on a cause and an explanation.  The millennials are the first generation to be connected 24 hours a day. When the Woodstock Generation went away from home they might call once a week.  Now everyone has a phone and they call home three to four times a day.  This higher connectivity translates into hyperdependence.

HR magazine asserts that computers and cellphones have changed brain development by altering the development of the pre-frontal cortex.  Millennnials don’t leave home because they are not yet ready to do so.

Well, we’ve heard that line before, that computers have altered the way millennials brains are wired, although I’m not sure Marc Prensky was  specific about the pre-frontal cortex; nor did he express concern about his digital natives delaying the moment when they left home.

The theory exposes itself right from the start.  Millennials, when they go away from home ring up repeatedly. Hang about – isn’t the claim that they won’t leave home?  So they leave home, develop this hyperdependency and so can’t leave the home they just left.

Next, do we have neuro-scientists who support this view? Certainly Rhys Blakely quotes other journalists so I guess the answer is no.

Can medical imaging show us that the pre-frontal cortex hasn’t developed? Rhys hasn’t mentioned this trivial detail.  We can assume he is correct and dispense with the need for scientific evidence.

When I test the theory against what I know, I consider that for centuries, families spanning several generations lived in the same household.  They still do in traditional societies.  I can recall here in New Zealand stories of people reaching the end of their lives,  having continued to  live with their parents and eventually take over the family home.  People who were behaving like millennials a hundred years before the millennium and all without cell phones and computers.  Then there were parents who wanted the child to stay home to look after the parent in their old age.  My aunt stayed home to care for my grandmother, but I never enquired about the state of her pre-frontal cortex.

Many of us left home for further study in other towns or to seek job opportunities.  Young people still do.  They go home to their families because it is cheaper.  Other young people leave home to have more freedom. Still others quarrel with their families and walk out, a sort of divorce. In fact, it is possibly because their pre-frontal cortex is undeveloped, that they leave home, not the reverse.

Then there is the argument that cell phones make us more connected. I can recall parents who – before there were cellphones – purchased a separate telephone line for their adolescent so that child could spend every free moment on the phone.   Then there were the rural households sharing a party line.  What do Rhys Blakely and his fellows consider to be hyperconnectivity?  Certainly the cell phone made it possible to be on line before we get home but excessive use of telephones is not something new.

Let’s just say that this claim is not yet proven.