FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, November 11, 2005

Kids Living in "Connected Cocoons"

Back when I was growing up (the Stone Age), any teen who spend hour upon hour locked away in his room would have been considered extremely -- and perhaps dangerously -- antisocial. That's hardly the case anymore, as the average teen's room is now a hub of digital activity, and the portal through which he stays connected with his friends and personal interests.

In trying to get a handle on its core audience of 16-to-24-year-olds, the music channel MTV has dubbed this practice "connected cocooning." While they physically might not be out and about as much as previous generations of teens, today's "MTV generation" can connect to more people than every before through the Internet and an array of devices. Today's teens can network with peers throughout the world, and have access to information (music, games, movies, trends, etc.) that my generation could only dream about.

Of course, such absorption in technology has its ups and downs. On the positive side, kids have a greater access to knowledge than ever before, and their technical skills will serve them well once they enter the workplace. Through social networking tools, even the most isolated, lonely and alienated teen can find kindred spirits. But on the downside, they face risks that earlier generations never faced -- easy access to pornography, identity theft, online predators, gambling. Despite its array of information, the Internet also allows fine filtering, preventing teens from hearing multiple viewpoints and being exposed to different types of people. Plus, every hour spent in front of a computer is one less hour spent outside, getting exercise, or interacting with others face-to-face (how 20th century!).

Even when teens are outdoors, their interactions are shaped by technology. Researchers in Japan have noted that cell phones are causing young Japanese to blur the lines between public and private space, lose the ability to speak face-to-face, and to be oblivious to their surroundings. As a result, they are said to be forming dearuki-zoku (out and about tribes), which, one research claims, resemble the social patterns of chimpanzees... or street gangs. These "tribes," combined with the loss of social context, can lead some to violence, as seen both in Japan and in the UK through its "happy slapping" craze.

The "connected cocoons" will have profound implications in marketing, business, politics, family relations and even religion as today's teens mature. They will certainly shape teens' social skills, affecting the fundamental ways in which they interact in a variety of settings.

Sources: The Guardian, Mainichi Daily News