BLOG POST: The Mind of the 21st Century
Whenever my 5 year old twin nephews come to visit me I could not help thinking that a child born at the dawn of this century will never know a world without the web, but most significantly, it will increasingly become a web that reacts. The freedom of the web might chaotic and discomforting. Yet, for the young of the 21st century, there will be an unquestioned confidence to of access to instant information. As the journalist Kevin Kelly writes in Time magazine:
“Screen culture is a world of constant flux, of endless sound bites, quick cuts and half-baked ideas. It is a flow of gossip tidbits and floating first impressions. Notions don’t stand alone but are massively interlinked to everything else; truth is not delivered by authors and authorities but is assembled by audience.”
The People of the Book, according to Kelly, fear that logic will give place to code, that reading and writing will die. He claims that we might create whole new gardens of interconnected text and graphic for the user to explore. However, we don’t know yet whether this new type of environment might be ultimately beneficial or deleterious. It could be the case that multimedia stimulation facilitates faster cognitive processing.
Perhaps, rather than judging new minds by old values, we should simply face the fact that the new generation of brains will be fundamentally different from ours, in that they will be especially suited, both cognitively and physically, to computers and a cyber-world. The essence of the human brain has been for years adaptability to new external demands. Of course, for those born at the beginning of this century like my nephews, technology will be changing even faster; more than ever. Succeeding generations will need to adapt to technical innovation. However, one fundamental question is whether new generations will be able to integrate material that they can understand intellectually but not necessarily appreciate emotionally. Will the new way of life in the 21st century mean that young people are more mature, or less?
The impact of the Information Age is not simply that of the technological revolution but also an educational one as the maturing of the Information Age is to revolutionize all aspects of education from how we learn to what and where we learn with. In essence, learning as we know it might vanish in favour of a free-association hypertexting that is gradually rationalized. Yet, even in order to hypertext, we all need to have an appropriate knowledge-base first. How will that knowledge be obtained in the minds of the new generation? Information is not the same as knowledge, and somehow core concepts will have to be in place in the young mind in order for them to assimilate incoming information. While interacting with each other from the other side of the screen, they may never take time to reflect on ways of putting those facts together in a way that we would currently characterize as understanding.
So, what do we want of the new minds of the 21st century? They will inhabit a world of experience, more specifically, screen experience, rather than abstract thought; answers will crowd onto their screens and compete for attention, no longer linked to any clear questions. There may well be nothing about this new world that they need to ponder. These minds might no longer believe that the truth is out there waiting to be discovered, let alone that it is beautiful. Is this intellectual heresy really what awaits them?