In the following correspondence, Howard Gardner answers a series of questions about his recent book, The App Generation:
Dear Howard Gardner,
Hello, my name is Alain Santoyo Lapinel, and I study Audiovisual Communication at the Mucia’s University, in Spain. First of all, I’ve read your App Generation’s book and it’s amazing, it has really helped me in an investigation project that I’m doing about social networks and new generation. However, I’ve got four questions for you, and if you’re able to answer them it would be great! Please, I beseech you to answer them if you’ve got time.
1) Do you think Social Networks are pushing away youth people from the real life, causing them psychological and adjustment problems?
2) As you say in our book: “youth people has never had the experience of being lost”. It seems to be that nowadays the youth are used to get things in an easy way. So, are the new generation less prepared to face problems than other generations because of their “comfort dependent”?
3) The way people interact with the world, and communicate with it has change because of the new technologies, that’s a fact, but could these “new ways of communication” make us feel more apart from the world? (I mean, we’re always interacting with people through the gadget, but after all, the mobile is not a person, you don’t interact face-to-face so it seems like the communication is empty)
4) While I was reading your book I felt in your word like nostalgia for the past time. Will these new technologies make humans be less sentimental, less empathic, which is from my point of view, the key of our humanity?
I hope answer me it won’t be a problem to you. Thanks in advance.
Alain B. Santoyo Lapinel
Thank you for your kind note and your interest in my work. Here are my answers to your questions:
1) From my point of view, as someone who grew up in a pre-digital era, there is something less ‘real’ about communication via the digital media as compared to communicating face-to-face over a significant period of time. But of course, for so-called ‘digital natives,’ communication via social media is quite real—perhaps even more real than personal encounters. I think that one can have problems in digital or non-digital environments but the problems are likely to be different. As just one example, there has always been bullying at school, but in earlier times, the bullying stopped when you went home. Now of course it can continue all day and all night.
2) One of the arguments in our book is that, in fact, many young people expect easy answers and quick responses and can get very frustrated when something takes a lot of time or involves a lot of invention on their part. At all times in history, people face problems, but perhaps a problem that would have seemed soluble decades ago, like finding your way home after you had gotten lost, may prove more traumatic in the era of the Apps.
3) I freely admit that I have nostalgia for the period when I grew up. (So do most people who reach the age of 70). That is one reason why Katie Davis and I compared the App Generation to the youth of fifty years ago; the era studied by my teachers Erik Erikson, the psychoanalyst and the sociologist David Riesman. I don’t think that Katie Davis shares this nostalgia, and it is certainly absent in most young people, including my grandson Oscar and Katie’s sister Molly, both of whom are represented in the book.
Katie and I do worry that more and more interactions among young people these days are transactional (A wants B to do something), rather than transformational (reading a book, taking a course, making a friend who may actually change the way that you are, etc.). Such accumulated transactional experiences take a lot of time, and if you insist on quick messages and responses, of 140 characters or less, than you may well miss out on important parts of life.
But not to end on a dystopic note, the digital media offer incredible possibilities and have helped to make young people more tolerant and, in certain media, more creative. The challenge for all of us is to use apps to allow us to do new and unexpected things (what we call app-enabling), rather than always being dependent on the next available app.
I hope that these answers are useful and I wish you the best of luck with your studies!
With best wishes,