Date of Award

Spring 2001

Document Type

Thesis

Department

Sociology and Anthropology

Abstract

Technology has become an accepted and pervasive element of society. Today, we are confronted with drastic changes caused by the on-going development of computers and the Internet. These innovations have revolutionized communication, education, business and research. Society has reaped the benefits of the Internet, but its impact upon the "Net Generation" has yet to be understood. The "Net Generation" is comprised of those who, "were the first to grow up surrounded by digital media ... to them, digital technology is no more intimidating than a VCR or a toaster," (Tapscott, 1998, p. 1). Because the "N-Gen" ranges in age from infancy to early twenties, there will be a focus on adolescents only. The effects of the digital immersion could be extremely influential during adolescence, since this is when teenagers are trying to develop their identities, morals and values. If digital media does influence adolescents, then there could be long-term effects as they carry these views into adulthood. The "N-Gen" is not only exposed to computers and the Internet, but they must also deal with other media, such as television and video games. It is for this reason, the "N-Gen" is forced to confront the compounding effects of modem technology. Young children must socialize themselves with the "culture of simulation," in addition to the real-time, American culture (Turkle, 1995, p. 68). Children need to understand that the simulations seen on the Internet, television, and video games are not accurate depictions of reality. It is important that the "N-Gen" be able to keep a realistic perspective of the social context. ?. Digital media has invaded and altered modem living. This is very apparent in television's impact upon community and family. Before television, neighbors would interact with one another on a regular basis. Once television was introduced, however, people began to face the beginnings of "social atomization," (Turkle, 1995, p. 235). According to Sherry Turkle, "increasingly we want entertainment that commutes right into our homes ... the neighborhood is bypassed ... we seem to be in the process of retreating further into our homes, shopping for merchandise in catalogues or on television channels, shopping for companionship via personal ads," (Turkle, 1995, p. 235). Not only have community and neighborhood ties weakened, but also family ties have suffered. Kenneth J. Gergen states, "differing television needs often thrust various family members into different trajectories even when they are at home together," (Gergen, 1991, p. 65). Clearly, television has offered great benefits to society, but it has definitely weakened the social ties between individuals. Through the perspective of the "N-Gen," television is considered old technology and it is not interactive, as is the Internet. Because they find the Internet to be more enjoyable and satisfying, younger people are spending less time watching television and more time on-line. According to a study by Teenage Research Unlimited, "the percentage of teens who say that it is "in" to be online has jumped from 50% in 1994 to 74% in 1996 to 88% in 1997,'' (Tapscott, 1998, p. 3). Whether the "N-Gen" is sitting on the couch, or surfing the Internet, the threat of "social atomization" still exists. Some technological optimists believe that the interactivity of the Internet would alleviate "social atomization." However Turkle is skeptical of this argument. "Is it really sensible to suggest that the way to revitalize community is to sit alone in our rooms, typing at our networked computers and filling our lives with virtual friends?" (Turkle, 1995, p. 235). Because the Internet does not promote social interaction in real-time, it is difficult to imagine that computers and the Internet are alleviating "social atomization" in any significant way. Whether seen as harmful or beneficial, computers and the Internet have become so integrated into society that they have become a necessity. It is difficult to imagine life without them, even though they have been user-friendly for less than ten years. Because computers, the Internet, and other digital media play such a large role in our society, it is pertinent that we look into their possible effects upon the "N-Gen." This generation will begin to lead society within a few years, and the influence of computers and the Internet could have a compounding effect upon all generations.

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