Elon University

The 2012 Survey: What is the likely future of Generation AO in 2020? (Credited Responses)

Responses to this 2020 scenario were assembled from Internet stakeholders in the 2012 Pew Internet & American Life/Elon University Future of the Internet Survey. Some respondents chose to identify themselves; many did not. We share some—not all—of the responses here. Workplaces of respondents who shared their identity are attributed only for the purpose of indicating a level of expertise; statements reflect personal views. If you would like to participate in the next survey, mail andersj [at] elon dotedu; include information on your expertise.

Milennials Survey Cover PageCredited responses to a tension pair on the future of teens-to-20s youth in 2020

This page includes credited responses to a question about people’s perceptions of the likely future of teens-to-20s youth between now and 2020. This is one of eight questions raised by the 2012 Elon UniversityPew Internet survey of technology experts and social analysts. Results on this question were first released by Pew Internet Director Lee Rainie and Imagining the Internet Director Janna Quitney Anderson in February 2012.

Many of the experts surveyed by Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center and the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project predicted this generation will be good at connecting, collaborating, and working quicklly, they also expect their characteristics to include a thirst for instant gratification and quick fixes and a lack of patience and deep-thinking ability due to what one referred to as “fast-twitch wiring.” There is a palpable concern among these experts that new social and economic divisions will emerge as those who are motivated and well-schooled reap rewards that are not matched by those who fail to master new media and tech literacies. They called for reinvention of public education to teach those skills and help learners avoid some of the obvious pitfalls of a hyperconnected lifestyle.

>To read the official study report, please click here.<

>To read anonymous responses to the report, please click here.<

Following is a large sample of the responses from respondents who chose to take credit for their remarks in the survey; some are the longer versions of expert responses that are contained in the official survey report. About half of respondents chose to take credit for their elaboration on the question (anonymous responses are published on a separate page).

Survey participants were asked, “Explain your choice about the impact of technology on children and youth and share your view of any implications for the future. What are the positives, negatives, and shades of grey in the likely future you anticipate? What intellectual and personal skills will be most highly valued in 2020?”

“I made the optimistic choice, but in reality, I think that both outcomes will happen. This has been the case for every communications advance: writing, photography, movies, radio, TV, etc. There’s no reason to believe that the Internet is any different. It will provide ways to save time, and ways to waste time, and people will take advantage of both opportunities. In balance, however, I lean toward the more optimistic view since a larger fraction of the world’s population will now be able to access human knowledge. This has got to be a good thing.” —Hal Varian, chief economist at Google; based in the San Francisco Bay area, California

“We are seeing aspects of each: short attention span and distraction and deeper learning and efficient dives for information. In 2020, we will more than likely continue to see examples that ride the fence of effective and unproductive. We have at our disposal incredible amounts of information that existed before but were not easily available for consumption or discovery. We were able to digest small amounts of information and aggregate, internalize, and process that information over time, leading to lifelong learning. As was said, ‘We are a sum of our parts.’ Today and in the future, we have incredible amounts of small bits flying at us all day and every day. We must process, internalize, and aggregate quickly to discern meaning and appropriateness. At the present, this has caused us to learn more quickly, expand with knowledge, but it has also challenged our preprogrammed methods of learning and ingestion. It is possible that evolution may make a great leap in 2020 by adapting to the new environment, possible but not likely. Evolution is responsive but in the longer term and not in response to something that is still so new. The next eight years will demonstrate that the ‘fractured’ state we now find ourselves in will continue. Perhaps in 2030 or 2040, we may see the results of the environmental impact to our evolution.” —Kevin Novak, VP for integrated Web strategy, technology, American Institute of Architects; co-chair, eGov Working Group, World Wide Web Consortium; speaker, author on Web, electronic government; consultant to World Bank on the eTransform Initiative; based in Washington, DC

“I really wish there was an option for: ‘In 2020 the brains of teens and young adults are not ‘wired’ differently from those over age 35 and overall it yields essentially identical results. They learn roughly the same amount, as for most people the speed of information access is not the limiting factor. In sum, the changes in learning behavior and cognition among the young aren’t significantly affected.’ It’s  a tradition for grumpy old men and women to sing verses of ‘What’s The Matter With Kids Today?’ And on the other side there’s always techno-hype. But I’d say that in 2020 the critical factor for the learning of the young (at least in the United States) is going to be whether they can afford to go to college at all. And further, whether public education is gutted as part of austerity pain economics. I’d rate those social changes as having far more of an overall effect on the general population than today’s version of whether the telephone is socially good because it’s easier to connect people or bad because phone calls sometimes replace personal visits (and those kids are chatting on the phone all the time, what will become of them, how will it change their brains).” —Seth Finkelstein, professional programmer and consultant; 2001 winner of a Pioneer of the Electronic Frontier Award from Electronic Frontier Foundation for groundbreaking work in analyzing content-blocking software; based in Cambridge, Massachusetts

“Young people are already able to deselect/forget chit chat and apply knowledge when required. Whilst they might only retain some knowledge for shorter periods of time, the electronic emotions invoked in using ICTs will mean that information that is emotionally important to them will most likely be retained, according to Vincent and Fortunati’s 2009 article Electronic Emotion. Skills likely to be valued: comprehension and assimilation of large amount of data obtained in multiple tasking situations; knowing how to check for accuracy/trusted source. There may be a digital knowledge divide along the lines according to where the information is sourced along the lines of the present-day tabloid vs. broadsheet; gossip vs. fact and so on.” —Jane Vincent, visiting faculty fellow, University of Surrey Digital World Research Centre; expert on emotions in social practices of ICT users; also an expert in mobile communications industry since 1984; based in Surrey, UK

“The notion of ‘thinking’ is not an absolute concept. If you look at history, you find convincing arguments that the nature of analytical thought has shifted over time, often as a result of technological innovation. Relevant examples include the development of writing and the development of printing in the West. Thus far, nearly all the experimental evidence on cognitive multitasking suggests that people really don’t do as well on cognitive tasks undertaken together as when they approach the tasks separately—even when people report they are good multitaskers. Clearly there are contexts in which multitasking is not only possible but necessary. Ask any organist, who must coordinate activity in both hands and feet, or any driver, who needs to look ahead as well as use both the side and rear-view mirrors. However, as in so many cases with the emergence of new technologies, we need to figure out when the technology can be used productively and when not. Listening to the voice of your GPS device while driving may be fine; making purchases on eBay while doing complex physics problems may not be.” —Naomi S. Baron, professor of linguistics and executive director of the Center for Teaching, Research, and Learning at American University, Washington, DC

“I call the virtual teens and adults the Game Generation. Game Generation teens will build, not lack, social skills online and they will be able to transfer them to the face-to-face world. They will also learn and work as if they are in a game. Game Generation teens and adults will have lasting problems with focus and attention. They find distraction while working, distraction while driving, distraction while talking to the neighbours. Parents and teachers will have to invest major time and efforts into solving this issue. Silence zones, time-out zones, meditation classes without mobile, lessons in ignoring people. All in all, I think the negative side effects can be healed and positive outcomes will prevail.” —Marcel Bullinga, futurist and author of Welcome to the Future Cloud—2025 in 100 Predictions; based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

“There is an inverse relationship between the human brain’s ability to produce value and its preoccupation with basic tasks. A brain occupied with finding and organizing information will always have a lesser ability to assess and analyse that information. As data becomes accessible in real-time, the brains of the youth of the future (and the rest of us for that matter) will have much more free time to produce value from that data.” —Ross Rader, general manager at Hover, a service of Tucows; board member of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority; based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

“I do not believe that the human brain is or can be very good at multitasking. Concentration is by definition the dedication of the mind to one thing, or a smaller number of things, by eliminating distraction. The positive effect of technology and modern life is to equip people to filter information from more sources more efficiently, and to allow us to work better within an environment of more stimulation than before. However this is only a continuation of developments over many decades (if not centuries). The Internet is a part of the accelerating advance of technologically-driven change, not a unique game changer in itself.” —Paul Wilson, director general, Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre, the Regional Internet Registry for the Asia-Pacific region; previously with the Association for Progressive Communication; based in Brisbane, Australia

“Children, youth and the rest of us still learn to do the same fundamental tasks relating to work and social life, just through different media than in the past. Instead of doing research in dusty library corners and endless card catalogues, we look at library holdings online, access journals online, read Wikipedia, read forums related to topics we’re interested in, and so on. At the same time, we’re listening to music and texting a friend. We learn how to effectively engage in all these activities simultaneously in such ways that are beneficial for us, i.e., in ways that allow us to multitask more effectively and to still maintain focus. In fact, we widen our focus when on a task by having access to all these other channels of information and communication. That’s great. Adults have learned to do this, so I can’t even imagine how kids will make use of all the information and communication tools for work and play at their disposal. We’re drawing more links and connections among things, have access to more perspectives than ever, and are learning how to navigate all this. It is such a useful skill.” —David Kirschner, PhD candidate and research assistant at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

“I chose the more negative option because I think on a shorter time scale this will be the case, but on a longer time scale it will not be.” —Steve Jones, distinguished professor of communication, University of Illinois-Chicago; a founding leader of the Association of Internet Researchers

“Physical action, emotions, and culture are deeply interwoven with knowledge creation. The pervasiveness of electronic communication will have consequences upon the ways of knowing among digital natives, but there is no evidence of this as yet, and scarce reliable research upon the positive and negative lasting effects of these practices. Except for what relates to present immature information culture (e.g., Google generation study).” —Michel J. Menou, visiting professor at the department of information studies at University College London; based in Les Rosiers sur Loire, France

“These two modes of thinking (rapid information gathering vs. slower information processing and critical analysis) represent two different cultures, each with its own value system. They can work together and complement one another but only with effort on the part of both sides. Ideally, Internet users across age groups take the time to develop critical thinking ability. We value these too cheaply today. The Internet, in its very nature, pushes and encourages feral information gathering, so no special training or attention is really required to instruct the ‘over 35’ set how to find what they want online quickly. The premise of the question, thus, is flawed. On the contrary, some of the best content aggregation out there is done by Baby Boomers. Quick pattern recognition and extrapolation is a natural mental state. The ability to focus, to analyze critically, these require learning and practice.” —Patrick Tucker, deputy editor of The Futurist magazine and director of communications for the World Future Society; based in Baltimore and Bethesda, Maryland.

“Evidence for long-term rewiring now looks overstated, but the replacement of memorization by analysis will be the biggest boon to society since the coming of mass literacy in the late 19th to early 20th century. Face-to-face interactions are enhanced and strengthened rather than damaged by lighter-weight electronic interactions. Most of the fretting about decline of quality of face-to-face is done by folks who are encountering young adults and teens for the first time. Kids today are kids of any day; they have their own ways. Ways that are odd to older folks for a reason that is timeless and not tech dependent.” —Paul Jones, clinical associate professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

“Although my current feeling is that it is headed toward a more negative path than positive one, I feel that can be changed. In terms of retaining information, I would look to evolutionary biology. One aspect of human biology that has been well documented is that humans are efficient. We tend to be efficient by achieving what we need to by using the least amount of energy, some call it ‘lazy.’ Being that we are efficient, it takes work (energy) and time to have gained enough knowledge that it can be retained and thus accessed. Depending on technology to retain our information is exactly in line with what we can expect efficient humans to do. An interesting aspect of our technologies’ ability to retain large amounts of data is that we can no longer forget in the same capacity as we have throughout time. Forgetting the lessons of the past is one of the biggest reasons we waste time repeating the same mistakes. The retrieval of information is changing to facilitate general informational types of data and we are really starting to see how easy it is. When I would like to quote George Washington’s farewell address I can easily find it online; when I would like to find social information, I can easily find it via my networks; I can quickly craft a short social message and broadcast it to get a response. When it comes to deep thinking however, if we don’t have an answer we can act as transmission lines and transmit out the information until it comes across someone who is able to think in a critical nature. The lack of deep thinking and our ability to easily retrieve information go hand in hand. Deep thinking and the types of social engagement we are used to were necessary in a time when we had to develop relationships to share information. Due to the fact that it is more traditional and our society is used to it, it is generally thought of as ‘better’ and any change to the paradigm is ‘worse.’ Our biology supports our traditional social engagement. I don’t think that our biology would evolve with in a span of less than 100 years to facilitate the capabilities of our technology, but I am no evolutionary biologist. I feel that there is a need for guidance and thought leadership in regards to humans maintaining a positive stewardship over the path that technology leads us down. Currently our drive toward technology is fueled by consumerism, there is no holistic thought by technology companies or our institutions to ensure that technology and its ability to affect society work towards the betterment of mankind.” —Kris Davis, user-experience designer for Webvisible; based in Costa Mesa, California

“The human brain is wired to adapt to what the environment around it requires for survival. Today and in the future it will not be as important to internalize information but to elastically be able to take multiple sources of information in, synthesize them, and make rapid decisions. A brain that stores more permanent memories has less flexibility and room to adapt to and make use of new information sources. Humans are beginning to use tools that extend the mental self instead of only the physical self. Memories are becoming hyperlinks to information triggered by keywords and URLs. We are becoming ‘persistent paleontologists’ of our own external memories as our brains are storing the keywords to get back to those memories and not the full memories themselves. Not only does storing memories externally aid in communicating those memories more easily with people around the globe, it frees up the mind for analytic capabilities and more strategic thought. It is becoming less important to internalize hard information but vital to know how to find the information rapidly when the need for that information arises.” —Amber Case, CEO of Geoloqi, a company that creates location-based software for commercial and enterprise use; cyborg anthropologist and professional speaker; based in Portland, Oregon

“There is no doubt that brains are being rewired—any shift in stimuli results in a rewiring of brains. The techniques and mechanisms to engage in rapid-fire attention shifting (there is no such thing as multitasking) will be extremely useful for the creative class whose job it is to integrate ideas; they relish opportunities to have stimuli that allow them to see things differently. The same cannot be said for those whose job it is to focus on mind-numbing tasks with great care. Concentrated focus takes discipline, but it’s not something that everyone needs to do. Unfortunately, it is what is expected of much of the working-class labor force. I suspect we’re going to see an increased class division around labor and skills and attention. As for face-to-face skills, if we keep restricting the mobility of young people (online and offline), we will be curbing their ability to develop social skills writ large. This has nothing to do with technology but with the fears we have about young people engaging with strangers or otherwise interacting with people outside of adult purview.” —danah boyd, senior researcher with professional affiliations and work based at Microsoft Research, Harvard Law School, New York University, and the University of New South Wales; based in Cambridge, Massachusetts

“How you framed the ‘baleful results’ option echoes my own sentiment, if not fears, about where technology is taking our collective consciousness and ability to conduct critical analysis and thinking, and, in effect, individual determinism in modern society. My sense is that society is becoming conditioned into dependence on technology in ways that, if that technology suddenly disappears or breaks down, will render people functionally useless. What does that mean for individual and social resiliency?” —Richard Forno, cybersecurity graduate program director at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC); visiting scientist, Software Engineering Institute, Carnegie Mellon University; based in Washington, DC

“On balance the changes in information acquisition behavior will be positive. I don’t agree with the premise of these two choices however that teen and young adults will have brains wired differently than others. It hasn’t happened yet and it isn’t likely to occur in just eight years. Evolution takes longer than that. They are using packet-switching technology rather than hard-wired circuit switching to absorb information. They take a quick glance at it and sort it and/or tag it for future reference if it might be of interest. This doesn’t, however, tell you whether the behavior will produce positive or negative results because it could produce either. When these young people remake our educational institutions so that they reflect this Internet-based architecture, rather than the broadcast, ‘expert in the center’ framework of today’s K-doctorate educational systems, then their ability to process, if not actually absorb, a greater amount of information will be used to produce positive outcomes for society. But that, too, will take longer then eight years to accomplish.” —Morley Winograd, co-author of Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America; senior fellow, USC’s Annenberg Center for Communication Leadership and Policy; based in Arcadia, California

“As with any new technology, there will be winners and losers. Certainly there will be some teens and young adults who will suffer cognitive difficulties from unhealthy use of the Internet, Web, social media, games, and mobile technology. These problems will arise not because of the technology but because of wholly inadequate adult guidance, training and discipline over young people’s use of the technology. But most teens and young adults will prosper as described in the first option. As opposed to yesterday’s and today’s PCs, tablet and mobile technology is transforming the way small children can use it. Even the youngest preschooler can easily and intuitively manipulate tablets and smartboards—and wiser educators are already implementing such tools as early as kindergarten. The learning and cognitive development made possible by tablets is much more ‘natural,’ more in keeping with the evolutionary-driven development of young minds because it is so much less dependent upon cognitive skills that the youngest children have not yet developed (e.g., advanced verbal abilities). It’s still early, but I believe we will see significant, positive, and even astounding improvements in the cognitive abilities of young people within the next five years.” —Dave Rogers, managing editor of Yahoo Kids; based in Santa Monica, California

“Changing the interaction from face-to-face to purely virtual will impact society as a whole (how groups interact, countries develop, etc.), but maybe not the productivity potential overall because of the need to interact virtually with the best people in a field, wherever they are. I do believe that the short attention spans resulting from the quick interactions will be detrimental to focusing on the harder problems and we will probably see a stagnation in many areas: technology, even social venues such as literature. The people who will strive and lead the charge will be the ones able to disconnect themselves to focus on specific problems.” —Alvaro Retana, distinguished technologist at Hewlett-Packard Co.; IETF Working Group chair; based in Raleigh, North Carolina

“The future is bright for the collaborators. The sharing, tweeting, and status updating of today are preparing us for a future of ad hoc, always-on collaboration. The skills being honed on social networks today will be critical tomorrow, as work will be dominated by fast-moving, geographically diverse, free-agent teams of workers connected via socially mediating technologies.” —Fred Stutzman, postdoctoral fellow, Carnegie Mellon University; creator of the software Freedom, Anti-Social, and ClaimID; based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

“The impact of a future ‘re-wiring’ due to the multitasking and short-term mindset will be mostly negative not because it will reflect changes in the physical nature of thinking, but because the social incentives for deep engagement will erode. When the emphasis of our social exchanges shifts from the now to the next, and the social currency of being able to say ‘I was there first’ rises, we will naturally devalue retrospective reflection and the wisdom it imparts. We will likely retain deep-thinking capability if we just reward it sufficiently in many of our social institutions.” —Stephen Masiclat, associate professor of communications, Syracuse University; based in Syracuse, New York

“The changes in how young people consume, explore, discover, and share information leads to a more engaged, flexible, and quick-responding mind. We will have to be sure to balance this with more long-form thinking, such as encouraging non-plugged-in reading of long-form writing and activities that reward concentration and long-term commitment such as martial arts and make sure that they are kept within certain realms during academic study so that they aren’t distracted by entertainment sites.” —Jean Westcott, co-author of ‘Digitally Daunted: The Consumer’s Guide to Taking Control of the Technology in Your Life’; based in Washington, DC

“The youth of 2020 will enjoy cognitive ability far beyond our estimates today based not only on their ability to embrace ADHD as a tool but also by their ability to share immediately any information with colleagues/friend and/or family, selectively and rapidly. Technology by 2020 will enable the youth to ignore political limitations, including country borders, and especially ignore time and distance as an inhibitor to communications. There will be heads-up displays in automobiles, electronic executive assistants, and cloud-based services they can access worldwide simply by walking near a portal and engaging with the required method such as an encrypted proximity reader (surely it will not be a keyboard). With or without devices on them, they will communicate with ease, waxing philosophic and joking in the same sentence. I have already seen youths of today between 20 and 35 who show all of these abilities, all driven by and/or enabled by the Internet and the services/technologies that are collectively tied to and by it. A new page is being turned in human history, and while we sometimes worry and most of the time stand amazed at how fast (or how slowly) things have changed, the future is bright for our youth worldwide, with the one exception being paying jobs and today’s standard of living being severely compromised.” —William L Schrader, independent consultant; founder of PSINet in 1989—largest independent publicly traded global ISP during the 1990s; lecturer on the future impact of the Internet on the global economic, technology, medical, political, and social world; based in Sterling, Virginia

“What we understand as multitasking is increasingly mediated if not enhanced by technology. In that sense, a significant part of the knowledge that anyone can discover will be processed by ‘third-party brains.’ Machines will learn from that processing, but I’m afraid the subjects won’t develop deep thinking based on this.” —Enrique Piraces, senior online strategist for Human Rights Watch, a non-profit organization

“Quite often, it seems these communications lack deep context. People post opinions based on gut feeling and immediate context rather than considering the breadth of human knowledge that they might have acquired had they enjoyed a full online and offline education.” —Mack Reed, principal, Factoid Labs, a consultancy on content, social engineering, design, and business analysis; COO, F8 Interactive, developer of life-like, non-violent games; longtime member of the WELL and the Burning Man community; based in Los Angeles, California

“We’re already seeing the impact of young people to intuitively adopt, embrace, and apply technology to make an impact in the world. A focus on nostalgia for print materials, penmanship, and analog clock reading skills will disappear as Millennials and the generation that follows us will redefine valued skills, which will likely include Internet literacy, how to mine information, how to read online, etc.” —David D. Burstein, founder of Generation18, a youth-run voter-engagement organization; author of FastFuture: How the Millennial Generation is Remaking Our World; commentator on millennials, social innovation, and politics; a senior at New York University

“The impact of technology on young brains will be a mixed bag: it will enhance some capacities and diminish others, and will probably help certain kinds of people perform better and others will end up performing worse. I checked the positive box because I am concerned that with all our hand-wringing about the way brains are being rewired, we are focusing excessively on the down sides. Yes, I expect that my now-8-year-old daughter will spend less time reading novels and more time playing video games, and that makes me sad: I have a generational and cultural bias that makes novel-reading seem like a more worthy pastime. The key is to recognize that our cultural and generational biases strongly shape our judgments about the way younger people think and spend their time. If we live in a world that values and rewards now-declining capacities—like the ability to sustain attention on a single subject for a long period or to write in full, grammatically-correct sentences—that world is not going to be around a lot longer, and it seems pretty clear that the new world is necessarily going to be driven by the skills and values of this younger generation. If we can stop fretting about what we’re losing, we can make room to get excited about what we’re gaining: the ability to multitask, to feel connected to ‘strangers’ as well as neighbours, to create media unselfconsciously, to live in a society of producers rather than consumers. The question we face as individuals, organizations, educators and perhaps especially as parents is how we can help today’s kids to prepare for that world—the world they will actually live in and help to create—instead of the world we are already nostalgic for.” —Alexandra Samuel, director of the Social + Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University of Art + Design; based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

“I tend to be pessimistic about such things. That said—without focusing on the supposed differences in the brains of the younger set, and giving greater consideration to the demands on attention that are likely to increase manifold without being productively filtered—I doubt that deep engagement with anything or anyone will be the result of the expansion in opportunities for distraction. Of course, we can be hopeful that at least some of the aids Ray Kurzweil has promised us will be socially productive.” —Oscar Gandy, emeritus professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania; based in Tucson, Arizona

“The idea that rapidity is a panacea for improved cognitive, behavioral, and social function is in direct conflict with topical movements that believe time serves as a critical ingredient in the ability to adapt, collaborate, create, gain perspective, and many other necessary (and desirable) qualities of life. Areas focusing on ‘sustainability’ make a strong case in point: slow food, traditional gardening, hands-on mechanical and artistic pursuits, environmental politics, those who eschew Facebook in favor of rich, active social networks in the ‘real’ world. These point to a intuitive human need for observation, patience, stillness, and other time-rich behaviors that are highly envied luxuries in the modern world today. Regarding the word ‘multitasking,’ cognitive, behavioral, and neurological sciences are moving toward a consensus that such a state does not actually exist in the human brain. We may make many quick ‘thoughts’ in succession, but human performance in any activity that is done without focus (often termed ‘multitasking’) is of significantly lower quality, including an absence of quality and consciousness. The word unfortunately perpetuates a false ideal of the human capacity to perform and succeed.”  —Annette Liska, emerging technology and visual and interaction designer

“Both of these are quite likely. The difference between the two scenarios will come down to the ability of our educational system (or its replacement) to teach people how to manage the flow of information, the interaction between personal and work, social and entertainment, fact and opinion. This does represent an evolutionary change, but the focus must be on the fact that learning means knowing how to filter and interpret the vast quantities of data one is exposed to—we must use the fact that the Internet has all of this information to spend less time doing rote memorization and more time on critical thinking and analysis of the information that is available to you.” —Wesley George, principal engineer for the Advanced Technology Group at Time Warner Cable; he also works with IETF; based in Herndon, Virginia

“The idea that Millennials have a cognitive advantage over their elders is based on myths about multitasking, the skill-sets of digital natives, and 24/7 connectedness. Far from having an edge in learning, I see Millennials as increasingly trapped by the imperatives of online socializing and the opportunities offered by their smartphones to communicate from any place, any time. I can see this in the living experiment that takes place every week in the computer lab where I teach Internet technologies to fourth-year communication studies majors. Students everywhere have become relentless in their use of mobile devices for personal messaging. Even good students delude themselves into thinking they can text friends continuously while listening to a lecture and taking notes and, in the process, retain information and participate in discussions. But good research has shown that even especially bright kids are less productive when multitasking, a finding resisted by plenty of grown-ups as well. Our fondness for thinking positively about multitasking, especially among the young, gets a lot of reinforcement from two other assumptions: that Millennials have a special aptitude for digital media, because they’ve grown up digital; and that ubiquitous, seamless connectivity is a positive social force. The first assumption is baloney; the second is fraught with contextual problems. Of the hundreds of liberal arts students I’ve taught, not one in ten has come into my class with the slightest clue about how their digital devices work, how they differ from analog devices, how big their hard drive is, what Mbps (megabytes per second) measures. In other words, they’re just like people who haven’t grown up digital. And of course the immersive nature of 24/7 connectedness creates the illusion that Millennials can somehow tap into a form of collective intelligence just by being online, while looking impatiently for messages every three minutes. Last August, the British regulator Ofcom published its annual Communications Market report with the cover slogan ‘A nation addicted to smartphones’—a conclusion based on what respondents told Ofcom in a large consumer survey. I don’t think there’s anything inherently bad or anti-social about smartphones, laptops, or any other technology. I do, however, believe we are entering an era in which young adults are placing an inordinately high priority on being unfailingly responsive and dedicated participants in the web of personal messaging that surrounds them in their daily lives. For now, it seems, addictive responses to peer pressure, boredom and social anxiety are playing a much bigger role in wiring Millennial brains than problem-solving or deep thinking.” —David Ellis, director of communication studies, York University, Toronto, and author of the first Canadian book on the roots of the Internet; his blog is titled Life on the Broadband Internet; based in Toronto, Canada

“Because everything is becoming integrated and interrelated, youth’s abilities for expansive thinking and public problem solving will dramatically increase. Youth are learning to focus on ‘what matters most’ with emphasis on leveraging social media as one’s personal learning network. Purposeful collaborative actions will leverage shared knowledge—if we all share what we know, we’ll all have access to all our knowledge. Peer-evaluated, crowd-accelerated innovation will be recognized as a new dynamic for our global hologram of shared imagination. Digital reputations will be judged by the level of leveraged meaningful activities one leads, and is directly involved in advocacy for. Just-in-time, inquiry-based learning dynamics will evolve along with recognition that the best innovations can be globally disseminated to billions in a day’s time. A must-see is the Chris Anderson video on the TED site – http://bit.ly/AtpiKP.” —Frank Odasz, president Lone Eagle Consulting, a company specializing in Internet training for rural, remote, and indigenous learners; speaker on rural 21st century workforce readiness, rural e-commerce and telework strategies, and online learning for all; based near Dillon, Montana

“Results are going to be mixed, but the result will be a net positive. Knowledge workers and those inclined to be deep thinkers will gain more cognitive speed and leverage. But, the easily distracted will not become more adept at anything. History suggests that on balance people will adapt to the new order. The greatest negative outcome will be that the split in adaptation will exacerbate existing trends toward social inequality.” —Barry Parr, owner and analyst for MediaSavvy; editor and publisher at Coastsider.com; based in Montara, California

“It seems easy to decry the attention span of the young and to mourn the attendant loss of long form content. Who will watch Citizen Kane with rapt attention when your Android tells you Rosebud was a sled? On consideration, though, I think the Internet has brought forward not only education, but thinking. While we still want to cultivate in youth the intellectual rigor to solve problems both quantitatively and qualitatively, we have gotten them out of the business of memorizing facts and rules, and into the business of applying those facts and rules to complex problems. In particular, I have hope for improved collaboration from these new differently ‘wired’ brains, for these teens and young adults are learning in online environments where working together and developing team skills allows them to advance.” —Perry Hewitt, chief digital officer at Harvard University; based in Cambridge, Massachusetts

“Technology is taking more and more of our children’s time, and not much of the Internet time is spent learning. Time once spent outside (as a child) is now spent on computers. Our children are becoming sedentary and overweight at an alarming rate. Weight gain and that type of lifestyle causes apathy in our children. Social skills will be lost, and a general understanding of common sense will be a thing of the past, common sense=Web search. Here is my 2020 prediction: 60% of children over the age of 15 are overweight in the US and the Web traffic to non-learning sites has grown threefold.” —Keith Davis, team lead for the S6 Community of Purpose—working on a knowledge management initiative for the Signal Center of Excellence—RLM Communications—Military Communications Expert Organization, US Army; based in Grovetown, Georgia

“The most impactful young adults in 2020 will be able see patterns and extract significant observations from their many touch points and thoughtfully apply their insights to difficult problems.” —Nancy Callahan, senior director, mobility, for a SAAS enterprise solutions provider; 25 years experience in business management, product development, risk management of information services; certified information privacy professional; based in New York City

“History is a progression of older people tut-tutting over the media production and consumption habits of those younger than them, and holding tightly to the belief that the technologies of communication they grew up with are intellectually or culturally superior. Every new generation finds creative and groundbreaking ways to use the new technologies to explore and illuminate human truths and to make dumb, sexist, horrifying schlock. Multitasking young adults and teens will be fine; they’ll be better at certain types of tasks and worse at others. Their handwriting will be horrendous. Their thumbs will ache. Life will go on.” —Jessica Clark, media strategist, for the Association of Independents in Radio; senior fellow, Center for Social Media, American University; media policy fellow, New America Foundation; based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“We are already seeing the effects of different cognitive abilities and perceptions from the information/communication tools people are using (and not just among the under-35). One thing these scenarios don’t speak to is the degree to which the tools themselves are likely to recede further into the background, where they become a part of a fabric for how people carry out tasks and communicate. This is likely to be a result of both technology (pervasive computing, context-aware interactions) and settling in of personal/social habits. As a result, the dominant social and information behaviors are likely to be influenced by other factors that we can’t yet see, in the same way current social and information behaviors are now being influenced by capabilities that are predominantly five years (or at most ten years) old.” —Duane Degler, principal consultant, Design for Context; designer of large-scale search facilities and interactive applications for clients such as the National Archives, the Social Security Administration, and Verisign; based in Washington, DC

“It is clear that the ‘digital generation’ is accustomed to manipulating and absorbing information differently than previous generations. This will have both negative and positive effects, but on balance the positive aspects will outweigh the negative ones. “First, as technological and organizational innovation comes to depend on integrating and reconfiguring existing and new knowledge to solve problems, digital and computational thinking will become more and more valuable and useful. Second, while digital thinking may lead to excessive multitasking and a reduction in attention span, the human brain can adapt to this new pattern in stimuli and can compensate for the problems that the pattern may cause in the long run. Third, online and digital interaction will make new forms of expression more important in social relationships, so that there is less emphasis on superficial attributes and more value placed on meaningful expression and originality of ideas.” —Jeffrey Alexander, senior science and technology policy analyst, Center for Science, Technology & Economic Development, SRI International; member, governing council, DC chapter of the Internet Society; based in Arlington, Virginia

“The truth is somewhere in the middle. Early experience and proficiency with these technologies and their uses will benefit younger people who grow up with them. We have already seen that. At the same time, we do see questions raised about deep thinking, so perhaps the issue is, how will deep thinking get done—including by whom—rather than will everyone be able to do deep thinking. In other words, division of labor may change.” —Marjory S. Blumenthal, associate provost at Georgetown University; adjunct staff officer at RAND Corporation; previously director of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academies; based in Washington, DC

“The changes in behavior and cognition in the future depend heavily upon how we adapt our pre-school through college curricula to encompass new techniques of learning and teaching. If we simply continue to use technologies to enhance the current structure and functioning of education, our young people will use the technologies to entertain themselves and engage in online socializing and shopping. We will have missed enormous opportunities to produce independent life-long learners.” —Hugh F. Cline, adjunct professor of sociology and education at Columbia University; retired from a position as a senior research scientist and administrator in an educational testing company; lives in Princeton, New Jersey, and works in New York City

“I had to pick one, but I don’t think its either/or. People must be taught to think critically and how to focus. If they are, then the network is a rich source of information. If they aren’t, then it will be a source of misinformation and mindless distraction. Individual differences will prevail and some will do well in the new environment and some will not.” —Larry Lannom, director of information management technology and vice president at the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI), a research organization based in the Washington, DC, metro area

“Since the 5th century BC, when Socrates complained that writing would weaken memory, we have experienced bouts of cultural deja vu, periodically revisiting the same dilemma—newer tools displace older ones, affecting everything from personal habits to social structures. So while our tools wire our brains differently, the more past history we bring to newer tools, the more we typically struggle, personally and collectively, to adapt to the new wiring and the social outcomes of that rewiring. Culture clashes will continue as digital natives think and see differently than traditional book-centric individuals and cultures. By 2020, technology will be so seamlessly integrated into our lives that it will effectively disappear. The line between self and technology is thin today; by then it will effectively vanish. We will think with, think into, and think through our smart tools but their presence and reach into our lives will be less visible. Youth will assume their minds and intentions are extended by technology, while tracking technologies will seek further incursions into behavioral monitoring and choice manipulation. Children will assume this is the way the world works. The cognitive challenge children and youth will face (as we are beginning to face now) is integrity, the state of being whole and undivided. There will be a premium on the skill of maintaining presence, of mindfulness, of awareness in the face of persistent and pervasive tool extensions and incursions into our lives. Is this my intention, or is the tool inciting me to feel and think this way? That question, more than multitasking or brain atrophy due to accessing collective intelligence via the Internet, will be the challenge of the future.” —Barry Chudakov, principal at Metalife Consulting and a visiting research fellow in the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, University of Toronto; based in Winter Park, Florida

“I have already met examples of both. I think that people who would in any case be inclined toward intellectual laziness (or intoxication) will find much more appealing circuses online, but will also be very easily bored. On the other hand, people inclined to learn and think deeply will not be ruined by modern communication, and will find lots of information to harvest. But I don’t think it’s particularly ‘multitasking’ that will benefit those who are benefitted; it’s more likely to be Wikipedia. That’s why I chose the second option.” —Brian Harvey, lecturer at the University of California-Berkeley; based in Berkeley, California

“On balance I do think there is a real possibility of a negative shift. As I am in possession of just about every technical device you can name and I am using just about every cloud service you can think of, you’d think I’d be all for this. But the truth is I’ve even started to wonder about how all this use of technology is affecting me. I strongly suspect that it’s actually making me less able to construct more complex arguments in written form, for example—or at the very least, certainly making such construction harder for me. Of course it might be other issues, stress at work, getting older, interests changing, any number of things—but underlying all these possibilities is the conscious knowledge that my information-consumption patterns have become bitty and immediate. I’ve noticed in my own habits how the instant availability of bite size data has led me away from deeper more complex texts, a form of intellectual procrastination—perhaps even addiction style behaviour. Of course this might just be temporary—more an effect of the current state of the Internet, as opposed to something that is baked into the very nature of the Internet itself. In the meantime, though, the immediate and bite-size nature of Internet exchanges will make it harder for multitasking teens and young adults to undertake deep thinking in particular, and that the ‘top-10’ effect, i.e., people selecting whatever Google proposes on the first page of search results, may lead to a plateau of intellectual thinking as we all start to attend to the same content.” —Rich Osborne, senior IT innovator at the University of Exeter, based in Exeter, UK

“The ‘baleful’ (a nostalgic term for a nostalgic argument) statement suffers from the old zero-sum, either-or fallacy that time and energy spent using online media necessarily detracts from and competes with that spent face to face. It also assumes that face-to-face is a superior medium in every way, from which all other media are ‘distractions.’ It ignores the fact that some people, to put it crudely, suck at face-to-face (look at the divorce rate). Rather, we should think about all communication media, including face-to-face, in terms of their relative strengths and weaknesses for different purposes, and think about them in complementary ways. And rather than ‘multitasking’ vs. ‘deep engagement,’ a better contrast is that suggested by Katherine Hayles, namely ‘hyper attention’ vs. ‘deep attention.’ Hayles suggests that humans have always been hyper-attentive, since those who weren’t were eliminated by natural selection back in the savannahs of Africa. Deep attention (such as that required to sit and read a novel) is only a very recent development in human history, and one that’s been available mostly to the elite. It’s also one highly valued by the academy. At different historical times (suggests Hayles), hyperattention or deep attention may be more or less useful. We are in a time—with the information fire hoses aimed at us—when hyper attention is very useful. That doesn’t mean we should throw out deep attention. How about ‘both-and’ instead of ‘either or?’” —Richard Holeton, director, academic computing services, Stanford University Libraries; co-leader, EDUCAUSE Learning Space Design Constituent Group; author of ‘Cyberspace: Identity, Community, and Knowledge in the Electronic Age’; based in Stanford, California

“We have come to a point where we’ve seen that our fears of new media and technology are largely unfounded. Societal reaction to new media seems to fit into a pattern described by moral panic theory. Just as with older forms of media, from dime novels to comic books to rock and roll, some politicians and scholars can always be found to proclaim the new media to be harmful, often in the most hyperbolic terms. We may see the same pattern with social media. For instance the American Academy of Pediatrics claims for a ‘Facebook Depression’ already have been found to be false by independent scholarly review. New research is increasingly demonstrating that fears of violent video games leading to aggression were largely unfounded. Youth today are the least aggressive, most civically involved, and mentally well in several generations. Independent reviews of the literature by the US Supreme Court and the Australian Government have concluded the research does not support links between new technology and harm to minors. I think on balance we’ll eventually accept that new media are generally a positive in our lives. However the tendency to moralize and fret over new media also seems to be wired into us. Perhaps we’ll learn from these past mistakes?”—Christopher J. Ferguson, associate professor of psychology at Texas A&M University; research specialty is video game violence and technology effects on behavior; based in Laredo, Texas

“The first scenario will succeed only if the formal school system develops accordingly.” —Tapio Varis, professor emeritus at the University of Tampere; principal research associate with UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); based in Helsinki, Finland

“Unless the educational paradigms used in our schools are changed to match the non-academic world of the millennial student, I don’t foresee an increase in students’ abilities to analyze and use critical thinking. Students’ attention is increasingly being pulled into a myriad of directions—and arguably most of these ‘distractions’ are exciting, fun, and can be used to educate. However, despite schools’ best efforts to integrate technological materials and devices, they’re failing to completely redesign the education system to fit these students. Instead, they are creating drones who succeed purely on their ability to sit still for long periods of time, not use the technological devices available to them, and restrict their studying and research to strict parameters. Students are often unable to adapt when they enter college classrooms requiring them to apply processes and information, problem-solve, or think critically. They barely know how to use alternative words or phrases to complete a Google search. Since they’ve been taught that e-technology has no place in the classroom, they also haven’t learned proper texting/emailing/social networking etiquette, or, most importantly, how to use these resources to their advantage.” —Jeniece Lusk, assistant research director with a PhD in applied sociology at an Atlanta, Georgia, information technology company

“Choice two is just another flavor of ‘back in the good old days, we were smarter/worked harder/faced more challenges’ than today’s kids. People have been bemoaning the inadequacies of the young at least as long as we have written records.” —Dave Burstein, editor of DSL Prime and Fast Net News; based in New York City

“I don’t see any evidence of deeper thinking or greater cognitive skills among the young, simply different habits. Some of these habits tend in the direction of the baleful scenario. With an added repertoire of experiences and skills, it might be that technology could lead to a brighter future, but today’s young people generally do not seem to be gaining the added skills and experiences to make this so.” —Ken Friedman, dean of the faculty of design at Swinburne University of Technology; based in Melbourne, Australia

“As with all new technologies such as writing, TV, radio, records, and now the Internet, some critics claim it will transform education and the way young people interact, socialize, and learn. In some cases this will be for the better and some cases for the worse. But overall the impact will be very small compared to the evolutionary way teenage brains have been pre-wired. To my mind this is the bigger problem. Our species cannot comprehend long-term consequence of small effects such as global warming, or appreciate large numbers like national debt.” —Bill St. Arnaud, consultant at SURFnet, the national education and research network building The Netherlands’ next-generation Internet; research officer at CANARIE, working on Canada’s next-generation Internet; longtime Internet Society leader; based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

“The new ‘wiring’ creates the ability to be fluid in adapting to change. Experience with rapidly changing technologies, gaming environments, user interfaces, and environmental impact have established a new approach to thinking where ‘how things are supposed to be’ is a changing rather than fixed understanding. More importantly, the ability to act and interact, to synthesize and connect, can radically change an individual’s sense of agency. There is a new assumption about participation. It is not just the expectation to participate that we talk about in convergence culture, it is the belief that each person can participate in a meaningful way. Beliefs of agency and competence fuel intrinsic motivation, resilience, and engagement.” —Pamela Rutledge, director, Media Psychology Research Center, Fielding Graduate University, and instructor, UC Irvine Extension Business School; based in Palo Alto, California

“While there is a clear and present danger of some young people becoming more dilettante in their information-gathering skills and production outputs, the Internet resources will lead many young people to utilize these Internet resources in ways that enhance, rather than diminish, the quality, quantity, and range of what they can produce. This result is akin to what has occurred in the past with the advent of new resources; e.g., telephone, libraries, and new modes of entertainment. Of perhaps greater importance is the fact that the global Internet allows (at least for the nonce) individual-to-individual interaction and collaboration across global barriers. These one-on-one and group-on-group interactions allow individuals to develop their own international relationships, allowing for the development of their own individual assessments of international relations, rather than relying only on government-to-government assessments that can be torqued and twisted for respective ‘national interests.” —Donald G. Barnes, visiting professor at Guangxi University in China; former director of the Science Advisory Board at US Environmental Protection Agency; based in Alexandria, Virginia

“There is recent evidence (published by researchers Jayson Watson and David Strayer) that suggests that some people are natural ‘supertaskers’ capable of performing two difficult tasks at once, without loss of ability on the individual tasks. This explodes the conventional wisdom that ‘no one can really multitask,’ and by extension the premise that we shouldn’t even try. The human mind is plastic. The area of the brain that is associated with controlling the left hand, for example, is much larger in professional violinists. Likewise, trained musicians listen to music differently, using more centers of the brain, than found in non-musicians. To some extent this is obvious: we expect that mastery in physical and mental domains will change those master’s perceptions and skills. But cultural criticism seems to want to sequester certain questionable activities—like video gaming, social networking, multitasking, and others—into a no-man’s-land where the plasticity of the human mind is negative. None of these critics wring their hands about the dangerous impacts of learning to read, or the intellectual damage of learning a foreign language. But once kids get on a skateboard, or start instant messaging, it’s the fall of Western civilization. Perhaps most important, the sociality of Web use frightens many detractors. But we have learned a great deal about social cognition in recent years, thanks to advances in cognitive science, and we have learned that people are innately more social than was ever realized. The reason that kids are adapting so quickly to social tools online is because they align directly with human social connection, much of which takes place below our awareness. Social tools are being adopted because they match the shape of our minds, but yes, they also stretch our minds based on use and mastery, just like martial arts, playing the piano, and badminton. My friend Jamais Cascio wisely said that ‘technology is everything that was invented after you became 13.’ Our society’s concern with the supposed negative impacts of the Internet will seem very old-fashioned in a decade, like Socrates bemoaning the downside of written language, or the 1950’s fears about Elvis Presley’s rock-and-roll gyrations. As the Internet becomes a part of everything, like electricity has today, we will hardly notice it: it won’t be ‘technology’ anymore, but just ‘the world.’” —Stowe Boyd, principal at Stowe Boyd and The Messengers, a research, consulting and media business based in New York City

“Both research findings and my experiences with students show that performance on all tasks degrades with multitasking; the assumption that one can always find answers undermines any desire to learn with concomitant inattention to the skills needed in order to learn; and an inability to follow arguments and evaluate the quality of information. However, this question lumps so many different things together that it is also useful to unbundle them. We also know that active gamers, for example, clearly have the ability to sustain their concentration for extended periods of time and simultaneously track diverse narratives. Rather than coming up with a single positive or negative conclusion, I prefer to think in terms of various literacies. What is being lost are the skills associated with print literacy, including the ability to organize complex processes in a sustained way over time, engage in detailed and nuanced argumentation, analytically compare and contrast information from diverse sources, etc. What is being gained are hand-eye coordination skills, certain types of visual literacy, etc. Which literacies are dominant is of serious consequence for society at large. The practice of democracy is one among the fundamental elements of high modern society that relies upon print literacy, as are scientific thought and experimental science. There are two more issues. One is transferability. Are the deep skills acquired by those with a lot of gaming experience transferable to the meat flesh world? That is, do those who can track multiple narratives simultaneously practice that same skill in environments that aren’t animations and have buttons to push? The second is will. Do those who can, to stick with the same example, track and engage with multiple narratives simultaneously choose to do the same with the meat flesh political environment? The incredibly important research stream that we have not seen yet would look at the relationship between gaming and actual political activity in the meat flesh world. My hypothesis is that high activity in online environments, particularly games, expends any political will or desire to effectively shape the environment so that there is none of that will left for engaging in our actual political environment.” —Sandra Braman, professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; chair, Law Section, International Association of Media and Communication Research; editor, Information Policy Book Series, MIT Press

“First of all, this is not a clear question. What do we mean by ‘learning’? I do think youth will be more able to access information and complete tasks, but is this what we mean by ‘learning’? My fear is that though their cognitive ability will not be impaired, their ability to think critically will be, and they will be far more susceptible to manipulation.” —Jesse Drew, associate professor of technocultural studies, at the University of California-Davis; based in Davis, California

“I don’t buy the punchline but I do buy the joke. I do not believe technology will change our brains and how we are ‘wired.’ But it can change how we cognate and navigate our world. We will adapt and find the benefits in this change. Hark back to Gutenberg. Elizabeth Eisenstein, our leading Gutenberg scholar, says that after the press, people no longer needed to use rhyme as a tool to memorize recipes and other such information. Instead, we now relied on text printed on paper. I have no doubt that curmudgeons at the time lamented lost skills. Text became our new collective memory. Sound familiar? Google is simply an even more effective cultural memory machine. I think it has already made us a more fact-based; when in doubt about a fact, we no longer have to trudge to the library but can expect to find the answer in seconds. Scholars at the University of Southern Denmark have coined the wonderful phrase ‘the Gutenberg Parenthesis’ to examine the shift into and now out of a textually based society. Before the press, information was passed mouth-to-ear, scribe-to-scribe; it was changed in the process; there was little sense of ownership and authorship. In the five-century-long Gutenberg era, text did set how we see our world: serially with a neat beginning and a defined end; permanent; authored. Now, we are passing out of this textual era and that may well affect how we look at our world. That may appear to change how we think. But it won’t change our wires.” —Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism; author of ‘Public Parts’ and ‘What Would Google Do?’ and blogger at Buzzmachine.com; based in New York City

“The world is becoming more complex, and yet both old media (e.g., cable TV news) and new media (e.g., Twitter) are becoming increasingly simplistic. What passes for politics is increasingly a charade detached from actual governance.” —John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, former director of cyber strategy and other projects for the Federation of American Scientists; based in Alexandria, Virginia

“This outcome will result in the emergence of a class of people skilled at unitasking and focused concentration who will be valued for their ability to plan and manage complex tasks.” —John Laprise, visiting assistant professor at the Doha, Qatar, campus of Northwestern University

“I have seen young students going in either direction. Some are paralleling the class discussion using their laptops, iPods, iPads, smartphones, etc. I encourage them to find information related to our current lecture/discussion. For instance I might be discussing regional cost of living differences and suggest students find differences. We have a protocol that they raise their hand if they have something interesting. A student might be on the classifieds in New York or San Francisco and sharing their shock at the prices of apartments compared to Colorado. I have also seen them have trouble developing the kind of analytical thinking that comes from going deeply into a topic—usually something that comes from reading higher-level-of-abstraction books. I am optimistic because I trust that teachers will guide them into positive ways to use instant information access to expand their knowledge and thinking. Of course I also completed a MBA thesis proving that computer terminals at home would help junior high students better learn mathematics, and I did that in 1970—I am still waiting for widespread adoption by our moribund K-12 system.” —Ed Lyell, professor at Adams State College, consultant for using telecommunications to improve school effectiveness through the creation of 21st-century learning communities; host of a regional public radio show on the economy; based in Alamosa, Colorado

“The Internet has unleashed a tiger and the implications for the development of ‘abnormal’ personalities and general behaviour through this type of regular contact are potentially disturbing. Texting interactions are initially private (individual-to-individual) but the impact of such communications is tremendous due to the huge networks that young people who use the Internet and texting, are exposed to. The invisibility of actors that participate in social media sites like Facebook and those that invite personal comment, generally tend to encourage interactions of such a form that they would probably not express if the contact was face-to-face. Sometimes the conversations are less than healthy, but there is no monitoring of what is being said, about what might be appropriate or not. There is no consideration of the many others participants who are also being exposed to their inappropriate comments. It tends to indicate an immaturity with regard to how people might/should use the social media for communication purposes. Perhaps the implications of their participation in this type of media should be given more attention in school classes. Maybe because the Internet isn’t used as much as it could be where I live, the attention is away from the more positive aspects of research and gaining information that could be of value to people’s lives and futures. The newness of the technology creates an interest in what is not readily available so that they seek out the usually ‘taboo’ topics within the privacy of their homes, and it is well known that this interest is not limited to the young. But the young tend to focus more on social interactions and who or what is popular at the moment. Language is changing due to the texting phenomenon, and young people are being socially educated more by their peers through the constant contact that they have with each other through mobile texting and online social media sites. The young are developing their own style of language that is creating a separateness, even among the younger generation themselves, which parents and schools are finding difficult to control. Communication is often via short messages where misinterpretations can often lead to issues with relationships. Text-bullying amongst young people is another negative impact that has increased with the advent of text-messaging and the evident misuse of the mobile and Internet technologies.” —Maureen Hilyard, development programme coordinator for the New Zealand High Commission; vice chair of the board of the Pacific Chapter of the Internet Society; based in Rarotonga, Cook Islands

“These changes are principally behavioural and due to brain plasticity: I do not believe we see any changes in genetic/physical structures yet due to this apart from those that can be modified by environmental factors. Young people are deeply engaged with friends but not so much with older authority figures: a typical behaviour observed in teenagers irrespective of tech use.” —Alexa Joyce, senior corporate development manager for European Schoolnet; executive advisor to HP Stem catalyst grant programme; based in Brussels, Belgium

“Both are true, depending on the individual.” —Richard N. Zare, professor in the department of chemistry at Stanford University; based in Stanford, California

“The smart people who can adapt to the Internet will become smarter, while the rest, probably the majority, will decline. Why? The reason is simple. Current educational methods evolved to their current state mostly pre-Internet. The same goes for a generation of teachers who will continue to train yet another generation of kids the old way. The same goes for examination systems, which carry out assessment based on pre-Internet skills. This mismatch will cause declension in a few generations of cohorts. Those who are educated and re-educable in the Internet way will reap the benefits of the first option. Most of the world will suffer the consequence of the second. The intellectual divide will increase. This in turn fuels the educational divide because only the richer can afford Internet access with mobile devices at effective speeds. After 2020, more-enlightened educators will start developing curricula designed to tap a post-Internet era. After 2030 educational systems, primarily private ones, will demonstrate superior outcomes on a wider scale. After 2040, governments will start realising this problem, and public examination systems will emerge. The key lynchpin to watch for will be online testing systems which allow for the use of Internet access and all the issues of identity, security, copying, plagiarism, etc., some of which companies like Turnitin are starting to address for tertiary education. So during the next 20 to 30 years, there is appearing a digital divide in educational systems and outcomes in which the individuals, systems, etc., which can adapt will progress far more rapidly than those who cannot—and they will be the majority—will do badly and suffer. We are already seeing this manifested in the economic scene, where the rich get richer and the poor poorer.” —Tan Tin Wee, based at the National University of Singapore, a participant and leader in many Internet engineering efforts, including NUS, TECHNET, IRDU, APNG, STARTAP, SINGAREN, ISOC, ICANN, MINC, CDNC, AINC, MEDINFO, AIMS, ICDRI, INFITT, TISC

“Technical virtuosity may assist in searching for and accessing collective intelligence. However the knowledge of research methods and ways of knowing will be as important in 2020 as they are in 2011. After all how else would it be possible to identify fiduciary frameworks underlying the collective intelligence that has become so accessible? How else will the rules implicit in systems of knowledge be identified and challenged? It is the ways of knowing which change, and the skills to identify meta theoretical shifts are likely to become more important.” —Joseph Balbozar, anonymous ‘real life’ identity, a Second Life (virtual world) resident and photographer/explorer of the virtual world

“Humans will be able to sort out the best from this new situation. But in reality there are equal chances that brains will evolve in both directions. A lot will depend on overall trends and on what will be considered as more rewarding by society in general. If society between now and 2020 will not reward deep-thinking capacities, memory, and critical analysis, the prevailing scenario will be the second. If society (politics, economy, social acknowledgment, the web environment) will be able to reward those capacities, then scenario one will prevail.” —Giacomo Mazzone, head of institutional relations, European Broadcasting Union; based in Geneva, Switzerland

“Easy access to information and peer-to-peer communication among teens and young adults should be a net positive for their cognitive and social development. As with any setting that involves a group of children, adult supervision will of course be required to prevent phenomena such as bullying and to keep out predatory adults. However, the ability to wade through vast quantities of information and weed out the irrelevant or incorrect sources will be invaluable to their future careers. Peer-to-peer communication will lay a foundation for questioning the rigid hierarchical power structures of the past and building a better future for everyone.” —Peter J. McCann, senior staff engineer for Futurewei Technologies; chair of the Mobile IPv4 Working Group of the IETF; based in Bridgewater, New Jersey

“There will of course be individual differences. The highly familiar analogy to books and print must be raised: Most people would agree that the brains of teens and young adults who read heavily are ‘wired’ differently than those of the illiterate, and most of us would agree that some people read things that lead them down dubious or demonstrably tragic paths. But most would also agree that reading is essential to prospering in most cultures today. All of this will apply to the Internet and Web. The essential skills will be those of rapidly searching, browsing, assessing quality, and synthesizing the vast quantities of information that is available and is of importance or interest to each person. These skills were not absent before but were not needed when the available significant information was less, more heavily vetted in advance, and more difficult to access. In contrast, the ability to read one thing and think hard about it for hours will not be of no consequence, but it will be of far less consequence for most people.” —Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher at Microsoft; based in Redmond, Washington

“I disagree with the opening phrase: ‘In 2020 the brains of multitasking teens and young adults are ‘wired’ differently from those over age 35.’ I find it hard to believe that hard wiring, evolved over millions of years can be re-wired. We can learn to use tools that impact the way we view things, but to say this is wiring is incorrect. Please see: http://jimjansen.blogspot.com/2011/01/is-technology-changing-way-we-think.html.” —Jim Jansen, associate professor in the College of Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State University; sits on the boards of eight international technology journals; serves on advisory boards for three Internet start-ups; based in Charlottesville, Virginia

“There seems to be this assumption that technologies will remain as they are now when making dire predictions about the minds of our youth, especially those technologies related to entertainment and social activities. However, technologies change, and quickly. To make (an often unsupported) claim, or to imply, that new technologies, essentially, ‘rot’ the minds of our youth is irresponsible. The evolution of technology indicates that we create what we are inherently programmed to need (distraction from stress, comfort of face-to-face engagement, maintenance of social communities through mundane communications, etc.). In the transition between what we currently have and what is to come, some of these technologies are still in need of ‘tweaking.’ If we look at trending, we see that it all leads us right back to where we started—face-to-face engagement—only, this time, with more sophisticated mediation. For example, digital gaming was once a solitary, text-based activity. Then, images and sound were added. It became multiplayer. Now, it is highly interactive. With the promise of augmented and virtual realities, it brings us even closer to real-time, face-to-face engagement, even though mediated. The evolution of technology will always point toward the inherent needs of humans.” —Jon Cabiria, CEO of Teksylos Technology, a consulting company; psychologist and executive board member, American Psychological Association Media Psychology Division; based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“We will renorm to the new tools. We have always had mall rats and we’ve had explorers. Ideally, people will improve their critical thinking skills to use the available raw information. More likely, fads will continue.” —Bob Frankston, computing pioneer, co-founder of Software Arts and co-developer and marketer of VisiCalc, created Lotus Express, ACM Fellow; based in Newton, Massachusetts

“Your choices force us to assume there’s a new generation that’s wired differently from the old. What if we’re seeing a temporary blip in behavior because an Aleph has suddenly opened in the middle of civilization, a Borges-like hole through which anyone can talk to anyone, and anyone can see everything that ever happened and is happening now? Because this has never existed, all the way back through prehistory, of course we’re seeing addictive and compulsive behaviors. Naturally. The big question seems to me to be whether we’ll regain our agency in the middle of all this, or surrender to consumerism and infotainment and live out a WALL-E world that’s either Orwell’s or Huxley’s misanthropic fantasies in full bloom. I think we’re figuring out how to be human again amid all this, and that we’ll all learn how to use the new technologies to multitask as well as to dive deep into materials, weaving contexts of meaning that we haven’t seen before. Call me an optimist.” —Jerry Michalski, guide and founder, Relationship Economy Expedition (REXpedition); founder and president of Sociate; consultant for the Institute for the Future and corporate clients in many different industries; based in San Francisco, California

“Of course, the ‘truth’ lies somewhere in the middle. Earlier technological advances have changed our brains, and earlier critics have always warned of the outcome. Technology always presents us with a combination of loss and gains, but I believe the Internet gives more than it takes away. 2020 will yield primarily helpful results, especially if our schools and other institutions take steps to—in Howard Rheingold’s words—help develop ‘Internet literacy.’” —Melinda Blau, freelance journalist and the author of 13 books, including ‘Consequential Strangers: The Power of People Who Don’t Seem to Matter But Really Do’: based in New York City

“We don’t have to project to 2020 to already find evidence of the attributes you describe in anyone who is engaged heavily with multiple platforms of electronic media. I think many of the findings and ideas discussed in books such Nicholas Carr’s, The Shallows, and Norman Doidge’s, The Brain That Changes Itself, are worthy of very serious discussion. There are considerations of public health at issue—public mental health. These are issues that we have only begun to be articulated, as the effects of media—interactive and otherwise—and much of the science that is attempting to describe them are recent developments. The observations to date indicate that ‘you are what you do’ and there is evidence that continual exposure to particular modes of media condition the way your brain operates. So the concern in the young particularly is that by overloading different kinds of (distracted) media consumption, to the exclusion of others, while at the same time limiting face-to-face interaction, you are only training the brain to operate and process information in particular ways. This has behavioral implications. How negative the outcomes are remains to be seen. It is extremely important to find out as much as we can. It is important to begin work such as benchmarking studies now. Currently it appears that modern media habits may have seriously impacted many people’s abilities for memory retention, their ability to perform contemplative thought, and to achieve reading comprehension for anything that isn’t  articulated in bullet points. This obviously has implications for information and knowledge transfer not to mention planning and politics. The seemingly compulsive nature of modern media use and the distracted nature of users themselves have other serious interpersonal effects akin to substance addictions. We need to know much more about these phenomena. So to go wide and long on this let’s say in 2020 that the entire wired population has largely restricted its information flow through filtering and aggregators. People expose themselves only to information that conforms with their view of the world, from people they ‘know.’ Interpersonal skills have eroded to a point where many people no longer have a sensibility for exercising what might have previously been described as tact or social graces. The manner in which communications occur (or do not occur) allows people to artificially wall themselves off from anything that is unpleasant or unanticipated or complicated. There is an increase in mental illnesses related to disassociation and alienation. All communications must be short, visual, and distracting/entertaining. The intellectual attributes that may become highly valued are those that concern particular expertise in an area that requires study and the consolidation of information over time. On the other hand presentation and on-screen personality may trump expertise as people come to rely on people who merely present information in an entertaining and digestible fashion causing the least amount of cognitive dissonance. Branding and politics are ruled by those who can mount the most entertaining ‘noise’ on the most effective platforms. Education will have largely moved ‘on-screen’ in the class and online at higher levels. There is a decline in people’s ability to communicate verbally. Language will simplify to conform to the new requirement for bite-size messages. Libraries will continue to consolidate themselves into fewer outlets as crosses between repositories for ‘dead media’ and community centers for public Net access and entertainment. There will be a further emergence of virtual associations in things like game ‘clans,’ online special interest groups and groups formed through social networks. Personal skills like those that enable people to get others to cooperate in work settings will be more at a premium as are people with ‘people skills’ such as those required for psychiatric services, mediation and social work. Organizational skills that allow people to see the ‘big picture’ and to coordinate others may be even more highly valued than they are now. There will be an increase in accidents and things going wrong due to miscommunication and the widespread combination of sleep deprivation and fractured attention spans. In 2020 almost no one will remember a time when things were different.” —Sam Punnett, president of FAD Research Inc.; analyst for public and private funds supporting media and tech development; contributing writer to the Canadian Internet Project a part of the World Internet project run through USC; based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

“Educating and advising young adults for 30 years has given me a baseline against which I can base an answer. There have been some clear trends in what our students know and are able to do. There is certainly something gained by the ability to jump from topic to topic, and to make connections among disparate ideas. Some great works of creativity are the result of making unexpected connections among topics. However, there needs to be enough depth and preparation to take advantage of those connections—to develop and nurture them. The quick, superficial multitasking that is prevalent now does not help develop deeper mastery, patience, concentration, and perseverance necessary to master long-lived complex tasks. The majority of adults will need to address such tasks throughout their lives and they are being ill-prepared to do so by tweeting and web-surfing. It is also a concern that memory and deeper understanding of concepts seems to be impacted by the ‘always-on’ approach. Many problems in life—especially at times of crises—are best addressed by those who can quickly and correctly craft solutions from what they know. My impression is that many young adults are unable to function in a confident and direct manner without immediate access to online sources and social affirmation. Self-confidence and self-reliance do not seem to be as common as they once were. The ability to express opinion and emotion is replaced with flaming and emoticons, which are much less nuanced. Additionally, the level of knowledge of the world around many young adults—cultural, political, historical, scientific—seems reduced in favor of greater knowledge of pop culture among those with the most access. There is also a blurring in their minds between facts and opinions because both are presented in quantity with similar polish and forcefulness, and verification and reasoning have been replaced by search engine results. The resulting acceptance of bombast for fact is damaging in nearly all fields of formal inquiry.” —Eugene H. Spafford, professor of computer science and engineering, Purdue University; executive director, Purdue CERIAS, US Public Policy Council; based in West Lafayette, Indiana

“I disagree with the concept that in 2020 the ‘young’ and the ‘old’ will think differently—in fact I think they will all suffer from the problems mentioned in the scenario.” —Ian Peter, Ian Peter and Associates, Internet Mark 2 Project; longtime leader in global Internet governance and policy discussions; based in Byron Bay, Australia

“I’m lucky to know a lot of students; it’s my job. They’re curious, engaged, energetic, aware that we live in a diverse and complicated world, and constantly online. I agree with all of those who say that multitasking is nothing more than switching endlessly from one thought to another—no one can think two things at once—but I don’t agree that this kind of attention-switching is destructive or unhealthy for young minds. It’s just the way the world works now, and digital agility is a basic skill for everyone. At the same time, I have hopes for my students: I hope they’ll discover the flow experience of reading long-form works and won’t need distraction in order to concentrate; I hope they’ll go on finding ways to hang out that are meaningful and don’t involve devices.” —Susan Crawford, professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government; previously a leader on the ICANN board, President Obama’s Special Assistant for Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy, and founder of OneWebDay; based in Cambridge, Massachusetts

“Helpful results can emerge from young people’s future multitasking and technological abilities, but in order to prevent the negative effects, there must be a concerted focus on providing information literacy training at early ages. In middle school, we must ensure students learn how search engines work, why results are presented the way they are; they must learn the nature of Wikipedia, how its rules are determined, how entries are formed; they must learn why Facebook collects the data it does, its business model, etc.” —Michael Zimmer, assistant professor in the school of information studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

“Both will happen, I suspect, but I chose the former because I figure we’ve got adaptive intellects, so if we need to develop new ways of understanding and coping because of a supposed ‘rewiring’ of the brain, we will do so. Whatever happens, we won’t be able to come up with an impartial value judgment because the change in intellect will bring about a change in values as well.” —David Weinberger, senior researcher, Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society and Harvard Library Innovation Lab; based in Cambridge, Massachusetts

“We are definitely in the midst of a human experiment. But it is just as when the written word was invented—the big concern back then was that we would lose our memories (which we have but have gained so much with the written word). Young people will indeed think differently than we do, but ultimately we are evolving and we are going to be able to access so much knowledge and different perspectives that we will come up with new ideas and new solutions to our world’s problems. The key will be valuing when to be present and when to unplug. It is the core of what makes us human is to connect deeply, so this always will be valued. Just as we lost oral tradition with the written word, we will lose something big, but we will gain a new way of thinking. As Sophocles once said, ‘Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.’”—Tiffany Shlain, director and producer of the film ‘Connected’ and founder of The Webby Awards; Henry Crown Fellow at The Aspen Institute; based in San Francisco, California

“Both of these will happen, but it all sorts itself out. The question is really survival and sustainability. There are cognitive equivalents of evolution. When humans first began to write and when writing first entered cultures that were dependent on trained memory, strong concern was expressed that people would forget how to rigorously train memory. They were right. There were religious practices and philosophers who abhorred writing because of the belief and observation that people lost certain cognitive abilities as they grew dependent on memory tools. The same thing happened with the development of printing. With each major technological leap that has expanded information access it has also reduced the dependence on the skills of the individual brain, shifting toward a more distributed cognitive model. Over the past 3,000-4,000 years these changes have had dramatic impacts on humanity. Do I think that this type of change alone will result in the destruction of the human species? No. It hasn’t yet. At the same time, I do strongly recommend blending old and new skills in training. Have young folk practice rapid retrieval skills alongside quiet time, personal insight, attention to detail, memory. Develop the skills to function well both unplugged and plugged-in.” —P.F. Anderson, emerging technologies librarian, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Michigan

“The great challenges faced by individuals and by society as a whole cannot be easily dealt within the frame of mind of Twitter users and bloggers. Additionally, humanity needs no additional help in dividing itself into groups that exclude more than include. The best way to unite millions and divide billions is nationalism, but the reality is that religion, politics, and so many other mental frameworks can do it just as effectively, and the Internet enables much more narrowly targeted divisions so that we are not divided anymore into less than 200 national territories or three or four major religions, but into thousands or even millions of subgroups that challenge us to avoid the tragedy of the commons at a global level.” —Fernando Botelho, F124 Consulting, an international consultant on technology and development

“Multitasking is a misnomer in my opinion. While teens and young adults may have multiple applications running simultaneously on their desktop, they can really only effectively work on one task at a time. They may switch rapidly from one application to the next, and this can be done effectively. Learning what the application can and cannot do as a tool is a tool in and of itself toward more-effective problem solving and work effectiveness. The application(s) allow the individual to retain what is important and necessary in the completion of the task or project at hand. The individual then is better equipped to filter what information to retain and what information may be available for reference at some latter date.” —David Lowe, innovation and technology manager, National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, a non-profit organization based in Arlington, Virginia

“While I tend to agree with the second statement regarding young people’s ability to concentrate on important tasks as it relates to the ability of older people to do so, I don’t believe those differences are as vast as implied by the statement. Nor do I believe that this ability, or lack thereof, to focus on task is necessarily a function of how much time youth spend on the Internet. I believe the ability for deep-thinking, face-to-face social skills, and such are learned abilities, and have always been even before the emergence on such technology as social media on the Web.” —David Morris, managing director of research for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation; based in Lansing, Michigan

“I don’t believe young people’s brains are wired any differently from anyone else’s, nor do I expect those changes will occur within such a short time frame. On the contrary, it is not young people who are changing, it is the tools and toys we provide them that are changing. These changes are ones we have made as we continue to refine digital tools to more effectively augment our own brains and thinking. Just as we continue to refine paint applicators and fastener tools (e.g., hammers and screwdrivers), so we have also been refining our computers to make them easier for us to use. Young people did not create the Internet, cell phones, TV, or MP3 players, they are simply using something we created for them. We made the changes to make the tools easier for our minds to handle. We seem to have been successful, as they are pretty widely adopted by young people who have no work or life support reason for using them. We may be concerned about the way in which young people use the tools, but we have been concerned about the approach of the young to the new for thousands of years. Nevertheless, we seem able, as a society, to ultimately find the good patterns and begin controlling for the bad patterns, whether we are talking about automobiles or text messaging. For example, my phone company allows me to ‘turn off’ the text messages to my son’s phone between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. During the rest of the day, he is staying in touch with his friends in a way I could not do as a youngster, but at night, if he doesn’t sleep, it isn’t because he is texting (or computing). By the way, studies indicate that young people are not truly multitasking either. They are ‘time slicing’ just as a good computer operating system does when supporting multiple users or multiple applications. A few seconds of attention to the phone, now switch to the homework, now the TV, now back to the phone. Just as with a computer, this means it takes them longer to complete any one task, such as their homework. Unlike a computer, it also appears to affect the quality of their work. However, in my experience as a manager of only a few people, all of whom must interact daily with many more people, I am beginning to believe that this time slicing will become a skill that will help young people manage adult life better. The number of people who need our attention to answer a quick question or connect them to some resource is growing rapidly, and this requires my and I team to spend a lot of time switching contexts as part of our jobs. It appears that is one of the consequences of highly connected societies. We touch a lot of people for brief little bits of time, in an unpredictable stream of interactions. I suspect the kids will be fine.” —Nikki Reynolds, director of instructional technology services, Hamilton College; based in Clinton, New York

“The irony here is that I suspect our definition of ‘positive outcomes’ will shift. It’s a highly multi-dimensional question, and I don’t see how we can evaluate changes in the way we think as ‘positive’ or ‘negative.’ We will think differently, and a large part of that will be as a result of being capable of exploiting a new communicative environment.” —Alex Halavais, associate professor at Quinnipiac University; vice president of the Association of Internet Researchers; technical director of UCHRI Digital Media & Learning Hub; managing partner of Forward Memory; author of Search Engine Society; based in New York City

“Technology and interface design are now advanced enough that you do not need to understand how Internet and mobile technologies work in order to understand them. Exposure to these technologies does not mean deep mastery of them any more than being exposed to consumer electronics in the 1970s, as I was, makes me an expert on semiconductors. Most people live in a world where they do not need to know how to build houses or grow their own food and so building this knowledge into specialists and our technical systems is acceptable. However, search and retrieval of information is vital and this is what is being lost. As a result, teens and young adults are not learning exactly the skills they need to exist in a ‘wired’ world. Social media is leading to new forms of sociality, and on the whole I think these still show considerable promise, especially when compared to an era of broadcast, non-interactive media like TV. I am less willing to criticize emotional and face-to-face skills of ‘wired’ teens and young adults than I am their learning, search, and retrieval skills.” —Alex Golub, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii-Manoa; a founder and contributor to savageminds.org, one of Science’s top 20 science blogs; based in Honolulu, Hawaii

“Both trends are occurring and will occur; the overall effect will be negative, based on my own experience with technology, attention, and deep thinking (I am 49), and observing my children and others. I see the effect of television as a primary example, in which people voluntarily spend large amounts of time in mentally unhealthy activity. I also see our crisis of obesity as informative, as the wide availability of both healthy and unhealthy food ends up with many people eating large amounts of unhealthy food and abandoning healthy habits like exercise. While I am quite willing to believe that some ‘wiring’ differences are and will occur (I am not a biologist), I think they will be a modest effect compared to others.” —Bruce Nordman, research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; co-chair, EMAN, Internet Engineering Task Force; based at Berkeley, California

“In my own research I have seen the cognitive effects of the Internet, which seem to be already occurring though little understood, as a double-edged sword. Those of the demographic mentioned, of which I am a part, do seem to be undergoing changes in terms of brain patterns and thought cycles, most notably in memory retention. The negative side effect of immediate access to any information desired (to just use Wikipedia or google the answer) seems to be a reduction in long-term memory. It is the simultaneous outsourcing and crowdsourcing of memory. Whilst I expect this to be a continuing trend, I do not believe it to be much of a negative one. Every introduction of new media and information storage/access precipitates a reduction of memory capacity no longer used—for example the mass-introduction of books meant that people did not have to memorise and pass down stories any more. The Internet will simply augment young people’s memories. The Internet will actually improve young people’s deep thinking and ability to sift and organise masses of information. This will also make education more demanding to keep up with this access to mass information. Whereas before a paper could be expected to be written on the basis of several physical books and journal articles, nowadays the Internet has made available a wide variety the latest books, journals, and news. Education will need to adapt to the wide availability of information, and concentrate on teaching sifting skills. The Internet has changed the way young people consume information; the desire for instantaneous content should not be seen as a lack of patience or short attention span but as a liberation from timetables set previously by others. It’s simply a matter of demanding information and technology to suit the timetable of the individual, an overarching trend throughout human history.” —David Saer, foresight researcher for Fast Future, a consulting business based in London, UK

“I don’t predict that the brains of multitasking teens will be ‘wired’ all that differently. They may have better comfort with the tools. If the rewiring does occur, I don’t think it will be a net negative. The access to more information, and the ability to parse it more quickly, will likely only allow more opportunity for social connection, not less.” —Phillip Herndon, communications strategist for New Media Strategies, a consulting business based in Arlington, Virginia

“As an over 35-er, I can tell you that I’ve deliberately re-wired my brain and I can manage a more complex and rewarding life situation as a result of the digital skills deliberately acquired. I am more effective in my work. How we interact digitally is infinitely revealing of how our brains work with all the inputs we receive. I am more effective in my personal life because I can reach out and stay in touch with a much larger circle of friends and family and cultivate the level of intimacy I can achieve in those relationships.” —Debbie Donovan, managing partner and marketing in life sciences blogger for eGold Solutions; based in Mountain View, California

“Having technology so readily available will increase the ability to uncover new solutions to problems and innovations. Technology can do the ‘heavy lifting’ of calculation and research, giving more time for creative thought and experimentation. While there is some concern about short attention spans, there have always been lazy thinkers and followers, even without so much access to news and information. We all have to adapt to the onslaught of information around us, and practice critical thinking to uncover the truth.” —Lee Hurd, senior user-experience designer for the State of California; based in Sacramento, California

“It is true that real-life, hands-on experiences are critical to developing healthy minds—and a greater understanding of the physical world in which we live—at an early age. It is my hope that this fact will be recognized by our educational systems and parents, and that opportunities will be provided that provide real-life experiences alongside advanced technological learning and exploration. Having said this, technology used well holds great promise for significantly broadening the world views of our children, for educating them far beyond older generations on virtually every topic, and for helping them identify solutions to society’s most challenging problems. I remain positive overall about technologies’ role in our world today.” —Jane Healey, pediatric neuropsychologist with 30 years of experience, specializing in ADHD, dyslexia, NVLD; based in Ridgewood, New Jersey

“The best-case situation the first scenario is possible. However, I feel that the people that are able to do this might not be a large percentage of the population. The education system is likely not the place where youth pick up these skills. Instead they may pick them up on their own as self-learners or as well disciplined gamers. My comment is not that this won’t exist but rather the infrastructure to allow these skills to become widespread won’t be developed yet.” —Cyprien Lomas, director at The Learning Centre for Land and Food Systems, University of British Columbia; on the advisory council for the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative ‘Seven Things You Should Know’; based in Vancouver, Canada

“The toss-up you offer me is between those who follow the doomful world that Nicholas Carr portrays in his book The Shallows and the near utopia that Nick Bilton describes in his I Live In the Future and This is How It Works. I selected the negative option above because it is ‘more likely to happen’ than the positive option but in the real world I doubt it will be very likely at all. The real result will be somewhere in the middle. However the brains of the teens and young adults of 2020 will not be ‘wired’ differently that the brains of their current day peers; the brain just does not evolve that fast. I chose the negative option because the teens and young adults of 2020 will face more challenges in the form of distractions than their current-day peers face. A greater degree of discipline will be needed by them and their parents, teachers, etc., to guide and foster deep thinking. Face-to-face social skills won’t be damaged. I was shocked when I heard the son of a friend had asked a girl to the prom via text messaging. I’m sure the first man to hear that his son asked a girl to prom via a phone call was equally shocked. However teens calling on the phone for a date was the norm for many years, and at the end of the day they went to the prom—face to face.” —John T. O’Farrell Jr., vice president for interactive marketing at Pershing LLC, a subsidiary of the Bank of New York Mellon Corporation; based in Jersey City, New Jersey

“From research I’ve seen by Eyal Ophir (Stanford) and others the effects of multitasking are negative, even for those who think they are good at it. Matt Richtel [wrote about this topic in the 2010 New York Times article] Your Brain on Computers: Attached to Technology and Paying a Price and Helene Hembrooke and Geri Gay [wrote in 2003 for the Journal of Computing in Higher Education] The Laptop and the Lecture: The Effects of Multitasking in Learning Environments. The desire for constant stimulation and task switching is being inculcated in our youth, but not necessarily the ability to manage multitasking effectively to get more done. The end result will be negative. Concentration and in-depth thought may be skills that are rare, and thus highly valued in 2020.” —Devra Moehler, assistant professor Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

“I chose the first one, but really I don’t believe the statement ‘In 2020 the brains of multitasking teens and young adults are ‘wired’ differently from those over age 35.’ The brains of everyone will be ‘wired’ differently by 2020, although it is the advantaged youth and those in the professional workforce (now working into their 70s) who will be more effective at using and juggling the sources of information, capital, and social connection. I expect the net result of work to be different as well—connectivity will be the new productivity, again dominated by the elite. It may be a ‘renewed’ productivity as we see the re-rise of middle management, albeit wired and openly negotiating across multiple fields and domains.” —Caroline Haythornthwaite, director and professor at the School of Library, Archival, and Information Studies of the University of British Columbia, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

“There has always been a segment of the population who spend most of their time and energy ‘being entertained,’ and public intellectuals have always despaired about them. A more interesting question would be about the effect of modern search, multitasking, and connectivity on the intellectually engaged. Thinking ‘deeply’ requires fodder, and traditionally that fodder was the canon of thought found in books. But this is not the only way to obtain intellectual stimulus and, in fact, the traditional scholar struggled to obtain the broad field of view that today’s Internet user finds at the end of a well-conceived Google search. The outcome of current changes in behavior and cognition will be quite different from what we’ve seen in the past, but it will certainly not be negative.” —Walter Dickie, executive vice president and managing partner, C+R Research; based in Chicago, Illinois

“The right answer is ‘both.’ Brains will be different as a result of the stimulation that young children are exposed to today and through their adolescence. In most cases, it will be baleful, as the ability to engage in a sustained conversation will be degraded, having an overall negative impact on relationship. And in some cases, it will be helpful, as I believe that there are thoughts and ideas and creations that are only called forth very agile minds.” —Matt Minahan, consultant in organization design and development; adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University and American University; previously a senior management consultant with The World Bank; based in Silver Spring, Maryland

“The youth of the wired future will cherry pick for their needs, in positive and negative ways. In education they will use the technology available to speed up learning or results, in the same way a calculator helps in maths; in a negative way, much in the way social networking helped rioters in London recently. They will create digital spaces and groups that only they understand, similar in the way teens of the 1950s started to use there own slang and create youth ‘teen’ identity.” —David Corrie, Web designer and developer based in London, UK

“Old people have been complaining that children are inferior now compared to ‘how we were’ since the beginning of time. I don’t think either of these statements is strictly true. Young people’s brains are not wired any differently. One of the great things about the Internet is that it frees up people’s memories. You don’t have to remember information, you only have to remember how to find the information you need. Most of the information we need, we don’t need all the time. There’s no reason to actually remember it at all. But this is no different in ‘wiring’ that what we all do anyway. We don’t bother to remember things we know our spouse will remember for us. The Internet is the same thing on a larger scale. I remember 15 years ago when people were terrified that kids would not be able to write because of the text-message shorthand that they had invented for themselves. It turns out that kids who use (and invent) text-message shorthand have better verbal skills than us oldsters do because text-message shorthand is inventive word play. The kids aren’t smarter or dumber than we were; technology helps us free our brains for more useful things.” —Tracy Rolling, product user experience evangelist for Nokia, based in Berlin, Germany

“I chose the former because it is the less negative outcome. We have already seen, in the past 20 or so years, that new advances in technology have led to greater understanding, communication, and activity across cultures, societies, and nations. This is due to people having the tools—not that the tools themselves have done so (in some determinist way). Taking a more sociotechnical view, the ways in which people are adapting/evolving is not hindered by technology. Being able to learn more about other cultures, ideas, and progressions is one benefit to this technology.” —Liza Potts, assistant professor of digital humanities, Michigan State University; a leader of ACM’s SIGDOC; formerly worked as a user-interface program manager for Microsoft in the early 2000s building early Web apps for them; based in East Lansing, Michigan

“Just as word processing allows writers to focus on content rather than retyping or cutting and pasting to change content or correct errors (or, letting errors stand because it’s too much trouble to make changes), I believe the technology allows more young people to become better informed on a broader range of topics. The technological tools have also enable a flowering of creativity in the arts, lowering the bar of exposure to the arts and entry to production of artistic works to anyone who has Internet and, increasingly mobile, access. One of the downsides I’m observing is the lack of awareness of personal space in the real world. With so many focused on hand-held screens, there is a selfishness developing within public spaces.” —Alyce Myatt, director of media arts at the United States’ National Endowment for the Arts; based in Washington, DC

“I don’t believe technology is what will change young minds by 2020. Rather, I think technology reflects already existing social conditions and can help play out the trajectories for which there is already momentum. Accordingly, I think we have a strong commitment to curiosity and advancement that will yield helpful rather than baleful results by dint of technology.” —Kevin Gotkin, PhD student at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

“Though young people may or may not be wired differently, there is too much hype associated with such evolutionary changes, and not enough attention paid to the dynamically complex issues that provide context for such generational changes. Major forces that affect how we are ‘wired’—and how we evolve in hopefully healthy ways—include the implications of: family life; the health and demosophia [wisdom of the people] of societies; technological consumerism as driving influence; failing economic infrastructure and understandings which do not account for the necessary balance between competition and cooperation; and our largely misdirected educational systems, which do not foster lifelong learning and an ecology of mind. Without positive outcomes in these and more, we will be caught up in the tensions and disruptions of technology-mediated imbalances brought on by greater noise-to-signal among more than 7 billion people worldwide.” —Richard Lowenberg, director, broadband planner 1st-Mile Institute; network activist since early 1970s; prepared State of New Mexico’s ‘Integrated Strategic Broadband Initiative’; integrates rural community planning with network initiatives globally; based in Santa Fe, New Mexico

“I don’t believe that the collective cognitive ability of a population can be effectively measured. I don’t think we have a baseline, so I don’t think we’ll be able to measure how it’s changing. That said, I am a technology optimist and I think that distributing and sharing knowledge more efficiently will lead to ‘deeper thinking’ that is less hampered by inefficient flows of information. I look to the future of networked knowledge as a continuation of developments that have been happening since the advent of the printing press, the book, the written word, and the spoken word.” —Peter Pinch, director of technology for WGBH, a public media company – including television, radio, and online programming – based in Boston, Massachusetts

“Brains of multitasking teens and young adults will be wired differently. I see evidence of that happening already, for instance: the teen grocery clerk who has time to send a text message while we both wait for my credit card transaction to process; the young adult looking down at a smartphone while walking down a city street trying to locate a restaurant using a GPS app; and so forth. And while I believe they will be able to cycle and multitask quickly, I do not have confidence they will be able to quickly assess the information found through the Internet as credible or not. Wikipedia and other collective intelligence products are fraught with misinformation yet they get cited repeatedly. Search algorithms appear to be so ‘personalized’ that I wonder if it will be easier for individuals to find the meme that supports their cause rather than encouraging careful consideration. I agree we will begin communicating in a sort of new shorthand but I do not view this is a negative outcome; it represents a natural cultural shift. While face-to-face social skills may be reduced, online social skills will be enhanced. I do not view this as an especially negative outcome but one that could in fact improve the ways we work. The negative learning behavior and cognition I see occurring by 2020 is rooted in our society’s ability to assess information at a deeper level and to determine what is fact and what is fiction. It’s an issue that is not unique to future generations, but one I imagine will become more challenging as we generate more collective ‘intelligence.’” —Megan Ellinger, user experience analyst for a research organization based in Washington, DC

“Human brains are remarkably plastic and encouragingly resilient. Communicating and task-juggling are useful skills, and by engaging in these activities much of the time, our young are wiring their brains to be extremely adept. With people in constant contact starting so early in life, future leaders have much more time to hone their skills. It is not hard to imagine many of them accumulating the mythical 10,000 hours practicing leadership required for true expertise at a very early age. Overall, the skills they are practicing will yield positive results.” —Mark J. Franklin, director of computing services and software engineer, Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire

“The scenarios posit a popular binary debating point: Our digital lifestyle will make us smart—or not. Whether it be extensive training in the use of an abacus or a paper-based library catalogue or Twitter, frequent use of a knowledge-retrieval tool will allow anyone to be an effective searcher of collective intelligence. But neither use of an abacus nor the use of Google, in and of itself, makes one more intelligent. Similarly, were one to eschew the use of an abacus or Google, one would not be less intelligent. ‘Positive outcomes’ are based on being able to teach young people to be curious. And so far, I know of no technology with that wonderful magic built it into it. That’s still something only one human being can pass on to another.” —David Akin, national bureau chief, Sun Media; technology reporter and editor, based in Toronto and Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

“Young people are very adept at navigating the Internet and other techy resources, however, they have become and will continue to become less able to manage the information coming their way. The Internet, for the most part, seems to encourage a sound-bite mentality. Once a brief answer appears to settle a question young people move on to the next best thing. Unless something changes in the way we handle the Internet and use the Internet in general—unless, for example, something better than Facebook and Twitter comes along—I don’t believe the use of the Internet will be the means of deeper and more thoughtful reflecting on the part of young people.” —Nancy Brown, author and media manager for The American Chesterton Society; based in Chicago, Illinois

“I am severely sceptical to any notions that adolescents’ brains develop differently now than earlier. I do think, however, that young people develop habits that are different from their parents. They are quite skilled in using new media, and I hope this outweighs the fact that many lack training in sustained concentration, which I think will be necessary at all times.” —Anders Fagerjord, professor of media and communication, the University of Oslo; based in Oslo, Norway

“Habits between people who are fully engaged with social networking and immediate communications and those who are not are certainly different. This is not an age-related issue nor is it a physiological one.” —Carol S. Bond, senior lecturer in health informatics at the school of health and social care, Bornemouth University, based in the UK

“Brains and humans are adaptable and will adapt to the best outcome. Students are resilient and I have no fears that suddenly technology will become demonic. We are driving the change, not victims of it.” —Tina Passman, associate professor of classical languages and literature and director of peace and reconciliation studies at the University of Maine; based in Orono, Maine

“I don’t really think the wiring of the brain will change much—or has ever changed much, except in obvious, trivial ways because of different life experiences. I certainly don’t think there will be any cognitive shortcomings as a result. This is classic ‘nostalgia ain’t what it used to be’: the older generation muttering about new stuff and the fact that younger people seem to cope pretty well anyway.” —Glyn Moody, self-employed author, editor, and journalist; active voice in online social media networks; based in London, UK

“Human brains are changing because of technology. These changes are for the most part positive and they will effect how we deal with problems. There are only nine years until 2020. I have been working in technology in education for about 20 years. In that time I have seen huge changes in how people think and how people do things. I have worked with older adults who really don’t think the same way as young students I work with. The changes happened slowly. The positive scenario is too positive. Students who multitask do lack in focused thinking. Being able to focus and concentrate on one thing is important. We need to value both types of thinking. In time we and young students will excel in both.” —Janice Friesen, a technology businesswoman with I’m not a Geek.com, helping people do what they want to do using technology; based in Austin, Texas

“The scenario is somewhere between the two options, but much closer to the first one. Teens, with the passing of time, become adults. Continuing learning will become normal and widespread in Western societies. Teens and young adults will need to learn to stay concentrated when they need to. Schools and universities will need to share information and create knowledge in an overloaded exposure to information world. Technology, which is not good or bad per se, will remain at the service of the human being, not the other way around.” —Miguel Alcaine, head of the International Telecommunication Union’s area office, Tegucigalpa, Honduras

“The ‘cybernization’ of thinking, and ultimately of cognition, expands capabilities and increases choices. Just as the family adjusted to electric lights, the radio and then the television set (each of which changed profoundly the meaning of ‘an evening at home’), individuals will adjust to the opportunities for increased stimulation and higher productivity brought about by new technologies. Some skills will be lost or diluted; no doubt we are not as good today at telling fireside stories as most people were in the 17th century. But the tradeoff is well worth it.” —Jeff Eisenach, managing director and principal, Navigant Economics LLC, a consulting business; author of numerous books and articles on technology and economics; formerly a senior policy expert with the US Federal Trade Commission; based in Washington, DC

“This may be an optimist/pessimist test, but I believe overall we will find ways to cope with the enormous amounts of data coming at us in a constant stream. While it likely won’t be as clear-cut as the options described, the most likely outcome is that bright young people will absorb what they need and learn to navigate the information flood, while the less gifted—or less educated—will struggle to focus and think deeply. It’s not that different today, where we see both coping mechanisms happening at opposite ends of the scale.” —Regina McCombs, faculty lead for multimedia and mobile news coverage at The Poynter Institute, a teaching, consulting non-profit organization based in Saint Petersburg, Florida

“Teenagers are not adults, so they will need to have competent role models depicting for them what meaningful interactions and deep connection and thinking looks like. I just wonder if adults are not abdicating their responsibilities to provide that baseline to younger generations.” —Kelly Richmond, self-described ‘occasional dilettante, sometime educator’; worked in marketing at America Online from 1992-1998; based in Washington, DC

“Young people will adapt to the changed environment better than older people have. The world is going all-digital, and information overload is a big problem. It is a valuable skill to be able to quickly and concisely summarize the main message points. Improvement in search technologies will allow us to quickly pinpoint information we need. Entertainment and gaming will be more prevalent in the future so gaming skills will be in demand. Deep personal engagement will always be more powerful than virtual engagement but I don’t fear that young people will not acquire those skills as they spend plenty of time in unwired situations schools, playgrounds, sports, and recreational activities. Augmented reality tools may even provide them with greater insights about locations and people and allow a different conversational perspective to occur.” —Stephen Murphy, senior vice president for business development and digital strategy at IQ Solutions; based in Rockville, Maryland

“Finding answers to deep questions is a goal for a limited number of people in a population at any given time. So no matter the technology and tools that are available to a given cohort, some of them will pursue deep questions, because that is what they are driven to do. They are the artists, writers, singers, sculptors, scientists, and experimenters in any age. So, yes, in both process and product, the art, writing, songs, sculptures, studies, and phenomena they create will be affected by technology, created with—and will respond to—the new technologies of social media, collective online intelligence (and ignorance). They will indeed be quicker at collecting facts than the over-35s. They already are. The key for society is to also teach these under-35 brains to think as they play, and to question the facts they find online. I am optimistic, because my fifth grader came home from public school and explained to me how to discriminate among sources. I have no doubt that youth will hold onto their skills at questioning authority and their passion for improving our world. Whether anyone ‘quickly cycle through personal and work-related tasks’ is dependent on the individual, no matter the technology surrounding them as they work a task.” —Ann Mosher, communications officer at a US government agency whose specialty is public education; based in Washington, DC

“Google as a search engine for the Web is an amazing resource. It is extremely useful for research in school projects, finding quality content to put a presentation together, or looking up more information on a particular topic. Unfortunately, the majority of Google’s searches are not composed of deep, meaningful questions, rather society has used the Internet to find answers to questions like, ‘Are Irish people white?’ The anonymous persona allows individuals to ask questions with zero risk to their reputation. Being able to access worlds of data could be used to solve large mysteries, but won’t likely be utilized in that manner. Today’s fast-paced world has been the cause of short attention spans and immediate gratification, and it only gets more severe. Personal skills and intellectual skills will be very much appreciated, as more and more services are becoming automated, people skills in general will be more highly valued than they are today. We’re also living in a world that’s increasingly individualistic. It’s called postmodernism.” —David Kimball, student at Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington

“The amazing plasticity of the brain is nowhere as evident in the rapid adaptations humans are making in response to our unprecedented access to electronic information. Those who bemoan the perceived decline in deep thinking or engagement, face-to-face social skills and dependency on technology fail to appreciate the need to evolve our processes and behaviors to suit the new reality and opportunities. Young people and those who embrace the new connectedness are developing and evolving new standards and skills at a rate unprecedented in our history. Are there bumps along the way? Yes. Are there misuses and abuses? Of course. But overall, our ability to connect, share and exchange information with other human beings is a strong net positive for humanity.” —Susan Price, CEO and chief Web strategist at Firecat Studio LLC; TEDxSanAntonio organizer; Austin FreeNet cofounder; Knowbility board member; based in San Antonio, Texas

“Research studies and comments from academics suggest that the ready access to a Wikipedian world has changed how young people learn. One characteristic that has both positive and negative aspects is what might be called the ‘superhighway conceit,’ in which it is assumed the road ahead is paved, well marked, and built for speed. This provides enormous confidence that whatever is needed in the way of an information search can be found. Students with this attitude do in fact, learn emerging technologies more rapidly, are not shy about asking for help in mastering some technical issue from anyone, and in many ways, are much more efficient in their pursuit of the new. They also are more experimental with technology; they know that whatever they do, it is not going to ‘break’ the device or erase their work. They understand, to continue the motoring metaphor, how to cruise at high speed. Thus, technologies will be adopted rapidly, and just as rapidly, dropped and replaced with some new thing. The flip side is that they are not as adept at working in a linear world, whereby it takes several chapters to really identify what is really going on, that requires the ‘slipability’ of constant revising one’s view as new information is offered, that slightly modifies one’s original viewpoint as further information is presented. Thus, analytical tasks in the social sciences and humanities are likely to be more difficult for this generation. Possibly, there will develop, as a result, more game theory design tied to these problems, since gaming would likely fit into their skill sets. One aspect of this development is that short social messages are increasingly used for political advantage. A sure contrast, for example, was the first great American bestseller, a 36-page pamphlet outlining why the colonies should become independent, written by Tom Payne. A high percentage of the literate people read it. I don’t believe you could get today’s teens and young adults to work their way through any 36-page pamphlet, even if, like Payne, the new document called a political leader a fat bastard.” —Don Hausrath, retired from the US Information Agency; previously worked abroad installing information centers, providing information about the US for policy makers in foreign governments, media, and related groups; based in Tucson, Arizona

“I see it already—too many people who can’t seem to focus attention on any one thing for more than a short period. Sometimes ‘breadth first’ is valuable, but we’re losing people who can deep dive into issues.” —Miles Fidelman, principal and founder of Protocol Technologies Group, LLC; president and founder of the Center for Civic Networking; based in Newton, Massachusetts

“It will take far longer than 20 years for the human brain to accommodate multitasking. Though kids may believe they are well adapted to multitasking, the truth is they simply become poor at handling any tasks well and their lack of ability to remember the tasks they were assigned delude them into thinking they have accomplished something. Over-diagnosis of ADD and inadequate parenting have resulted in society accepting underachievers such as these multitaskers, thus setting a downward spiral path for society. Fortunately, not all parts of the globe are afflicted thusly. Those areas in which parents still assert tight control and push their children to achieve are still producing kids capable of critical thinking and productive endeavor. The most-valued personal skills in 2020 will be the ability to communicate with large portions of the world’s population. At minimum, Mandarin and English will be required of any child on an achievement track. They will learn very early that everything they say and do could be read back to them for their entire lives. For many, this instills a deep-seated understanding of matters of privacy and security, a bit of distrust, and an innate awareness of what the grid of personal devices and the cloud behind it can do.” —Rob Scott, chief technology officer and intelligence liaison at Nokia; based in Sunnyvale, California

“The Internet is no different than any other revolutionary new device in that it will have obvious benefits and drawbacks as well as unforeseen ones. When the gas-powered car was invented the obvious benefits in regard to speed of travel and the potential impact of roadways on landscapes or of the car’s use in warfare could probably be predicted, but I doubt many saw the issues of how the car would lead to drunk driving or perhaps help to pull the US out the great depression via public-works projects like the interstate system. The Internet is similar. It will alter the way people think, communicate, and acquire information. However, the needs of most people to maintain a certain ingrained amount of knowledge necessary to the performance of the jobs will likely not change. Knowledge is extremely useful but not often practical by itself. For example a great dancer cannot simply know a great deal about the biomechanics and history of human movement, she must also practice the skill and use it. The Internet will provide unprecedented access and perhaps broaden the scope of knowledge people have and the speed with which they can access it, but it will not replace memory and we will continue to retain frequently used bits of information. The biggest consequence I foresee is an expectation of immediacy and decreased patience among people. Those who grow up with immediate access to media, quick response to email and rapid answers to all questions may be less likely to take longer routes to find that information, seeking ‘quick fixes’ rather than taking the time to come to a conclusion or investigate an answer. This may only be a minor exaggeration of what already exists, since most of us lack patience anyway.” —Dana Levin, student specializing in emergency medicine at Drexel University College of Medicine; based in Philadelphia and New York

“People report having more difficulty with sustained attention (i.e., becoming immersed in a book). Today, we have very young, impressionable minds depending on technology for many things. It is hard to predict the ways in which this starves young brains of cognitive ability earned through early hands-on experiences. It is likely to continue to contribute to the rise in childhood obesity as well, which further hinders cognitive function.” —Melissa Ashner, student at The College of William and Mary

“The first statement describes the most productive, most intelligent, curious, inventive members of the future generation just as it describes that category among the current generation. Yes, there are and will be those whom the second statement describes now and will describe in another decade as well. There are always more and less creative and more and less intelligent people.” —Lisa Mertz, associate professor of healing arts at City University of New York; based in New York City

“We need to be careful about simple assertions concerning younger and older people—since older people’s brains are plastic as well and can be rewired. Equally, the idea that the brain changes because of technology is more metaphoric than real. That said, the way people learn and think is closely related to the technological context in which they operate: the skill and sophistication of future generations is best judged relative to their own context and not to some earlier time. Intergenerational fears (and, indeed, hopes) are more of a comment on our own times than what will actually be valued or distrusted in future.” —Matthew Allen, professor of Internet Studies, Curtin University, Perth, Australia; past president of the Association of Internet Researchers

“The evidence, at this point, is really inconclusive, either way. In the absence of evidence we can observe the fragmented behavior described, leading to degradation of the ability to focus. The countertrend is the widespread, growing popularity of the (mis)use of drugs like Ritalin to improve students’ abilities to concentrate.” —Mike Liebhold, senior researcher and distinguished fellow at The Institute for the Future; at one time or another, a consultant for the FCC, Congress, the White House, OSTP, NTIA, the Internet Society, IETF, Internet2, and other key organizations; based in Palo Alto, California

“The bodily social will always trump the virtual social, for the oldest of biological reasons: we like and fancy each other, and the majority will continue to spend a lot of time enjoying their biology. I think, however, that the gulf will grow between those who have managed to grow up relatively balanced and those who emerge damaged or needy. This will increase the need for intermediaries who can work with the latter and encourage them into the mainstream. The majority will prosper if they remain able to adapt and appropriate continuously changing technologies into their lives and work, and carry their balance into the virtual so that they are as effective in global media as they are in their face-to-face lives.” —Pete Cranston, digital media, knowledge sharing and ICT4D (information and communication technologies for development) consultant; based in Oxford, UK

“Humans have always multitasked, from the time when they simultaneously did the manual labor required for paleolithic life, monitored the safety of their surroundings, interacted with family and neighbors, and cared for each other. The change in multitasking through the millennia relate to the media and context of the multitasking activities. Today much of life occurs in the digital context, so naturally multitasking includes digital tasks alongside analog tasks. The challenge is that brain rewiring, being carbon-based, does not speed up in keeping with the changes in tasks in the light-speed-silicon-based environment.” —Cathy Cavanaugh, associate professor of educational technology at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida

“The scenario above may well be accurate, if education adapts well to digital society. Young people still need a base for extrapolation to new learning. However, there is still a deep-seated resistance to these new behaviors and modes of thought, even though schools and universities seem happy to spend money on any technology that sparkles. When educationalists start seeing technology as something that can augment and enhance teaching, rather than something that can replace it, we will see positive change.” —Sharon Collingwood, lecturer in English at The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

“I don’t subscribe to the view that the changed behaviour and cognition will be generally negative. My opinion stems from teaching courses that have a strong element of cyberliteracy embedded. By and large the students are savvy computer users and social media participants. What they lack however is a critical perspective on the programs, platforms, and apps that they use. They also have heard the doom and gloom stories about the Internet and have decided that the moral panic is overhyped and so basically ignore most negative aspects of the Internet use. On the upside however, once they begin to take a critical perspective on their use of the Internet and various online environments, they begin to be much more aware of how the Internet shapes them and how they shape the online environment. They begin to pay more attention to the forces that intersect with their online participation and what impact that may have on them individually and on society. So the future may not be so baleful if we begin the dialogue with young people at an early age. The caveat to all of this is that I teach at the graduate level at a major university and am talking about a small, elite sample.” —Sherida Ryan, lecturer in adult education and community development and director of the Social Economy Centre at the University of Toronto; senior research analyst for Metaviews Media Management; based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada

“The first paragraph takes discipline. There is no discipline, and there are no repercussions or negative results (yet) for acting like the second paragraph.” —Mark Walsh, cofounder, geniusrocket.com; chairman, board of trustees, Union College, Schenectady, New York; board chairman, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, University of Maryland; board member of many start-ups, angel investor; based in Washington, DC area

“The ‘wiring’ change is real, but the effects are dwarfed by the social, cultural, and educational response to these changes. Learning opportunities could easily continue to be lost unless educators, venture capitalist, taxpayers, volunteers, and businesses all make concerted efforts to leverage the potential of new technology to enhance the critical thinking skills of young people.” —John N. Kelly, consultant with the Monitor Group, The Hub, Hawthorne Consultants; specializing in the incubation of social start-ups; based in Berkeley, California

“The world is the classroom! Students can learn from the best and brightest from around the world daily.” —William J. Ward, professor of Social Media, school of public communications, Syracuse University, based in Syracuse, New York

“Each generation finds its successors’ approach to learning, socialization, and fun disturbing. In the 1950s, admissions of our sexual nature—which in todays’ hypersexual climate feel tame and sweet were shocking (think Elvis, dancing, drinking, motorcycles). The idea in the 1960s of unstructured, unguided, collaborative contribution was considered anathema, yet it brought us one of the most important human inventions, the Internet, un-imaginable within the previous mental model. The most important thing to bring about the positive vision of 2020 is to steer the next generation towards results—meaningful, measurable results, with less focus on how they is arrived at—and to build stronger social, moral frameworks to replace those roles previously held by power structures which relied on the previous models.” —Richard D. Titus, a seed funding venture capitalist at his own fund, Octavian Ventures; producer of documentaries, including ‘Who Killed the Electric Car?’; chairman of the board for European video tech start-up Videoplaza; based in San Francisco, California, and London, UK

“Of course the changes in the wiring of teen and young adults will be positive in aggregate—technology will augment and extend their ability to learn and process information, or they won’t bother to use it. Seeing as they have more than a few options and are adept with living in the present and near future, it’s the rest of us who will need to scramble to keep up.” —Lee W. McKnight, professor of entrepreneurship and innovation, Syracuse University; founder of Wireless Grids; co-founder of Summerhill Biomass; president of Marengo Research; principal investigator of Wireless Grid Innovation Testbed (WiGiT); based in Syracuse, New York

“Different outcomes will hold for different individuals but, on balance, the results will be marginally helpful. It seems that the potential disadvantages in the second scenario are most harmful in a minority of occupations—those at the more professional end of the spectrum—whereas fast access to collective intelligence extended across the population may bring substantial benefits (this could be undermined, though, by fragmentation of networks caused by targeting of content, meaning that the collective intelligence that an individual accesses is essential only the knowledge of people ‘similar to them’ rather than the wisdom of the population at large). There seems little reason to expect social skills to be affected negatively, since increased online interaction likely leads to increased offline interaction and more effective offline interactions as a result of faster development of relationships facilitated by online communication.” —Mark Watson, senior engineer for Netflix and a leading participant in various technology groups related to the Internet (IETF, W3C) specifically dealing with video standards; based in San Francisco, California

“By 2020, we’ve moved into a ‘net neutral’ effect of the Internet on the teen and young adult brain. In 2011, we’re still in the ‘net negative’ effect. This is the Kuznets curve effect. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuznets_curve. First-generation tech usually causes ‘net negative’ social effects; second-generation ‘net neutral’ effects; by the third-generation of tech—once the tech is smart enough, and we’ve got the interface right, and it begins to reinforce the best behaviors—we finally get to ‘net positive’ effects. We’ll be early into conversational interface and agent technologies by 2020, http://www.accelerationwatch.com/lui.html so kids will begin to be seriously intelligently augmented by the Internet. There will be many persistent drawbacks however. By late 2020s we’ll be into net positive effects. The biggest problem from a personal development perspective will be motivating people to work to be more self-actualized, productive, and civic than their parents were, in a world of accelerating change. They’ll be more willing than ever to relax and remain distracted by entertainments amid accelerating technical productivity. So as machine intelligence advances, the first response of humans is to offload their intelligence and motivation to the machines. That’s a dehumanizing, first-generation response. Only the later, third-generation educational systems will correct for this. Bright Horizons daycare, for example, is an example of a successful, Montessori-style educational environment that can create kids who are smarter and more self-actualized than their parents. But BH will remain too expensive for the average kid for another 20 years. By then, however, we can expect it to outcompete and be more cost effective than parenting at home.” —John Smart, professor of emerging technologies at the University of Advancing Technology; president and founder of the Acceleration Studies Foundation; based in Mountain View, California

“In fact, I am not able to choose between the two extreme alternatives. The reality will be in the middle and cannot be generalized for each person. I expect that 10% of the kids will answer the optimistic forecast, 25% will be in the negative one, and 50% will be in between.” —Daniel Pimienta, director of the Networks & Development Foundation (FUNREDES), a nonprofit organization based in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

“I’d like to choose the first scenario but it goes a step too far in suggesting shortcuts to ‘finding answers to deep questions.’ Assembling deep context takes lived experience and we have built a society determined to save teens from experience.” —Tony Smith, secretary for the Kororoit Institute Proponents and Supporters Association; publisher at Meme Media; Open Source Developers Club; based in Melbourne, Australia

“While I agree that multitasking teens and young adults may yield helpful results for our future, I am wary of those who claim that teens who grew up with the Internet can ‘search effectively.’ They may be more adept at navigating the three- and four-dimensional contours of the Internet, but there is no guarantee that the critical-thinking skills needed for searching effectively for quality information are inherent. The drill-kill design of too many educational settings can obliterate the results of our youth’s new cultural acumen—so we cannot rely on some magical application of new knowledge on old ways of teaching. Instead, we should relish and cherish our youth’s abilities—wherever they may lie—and allow them the dignity of learning the depths of knowledge required for good critical thinking skills from those they hold as important mentors in their lives.” —Randolph Hollingsworth, assistant provost, University of Kentucky; webmaster for Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice and other organizations; member of H-Net (Humanities and Social Sciences Online) Council; Wikipedia editor; based in Lexington, Kentucky

“Evolution is clearly an accelerating process that exposes the speed of change at its leading edge. On Earth, it is technologies being created and developed by human beings that reflect the emergent edge of evolution. The humans coming into and growing through the culture of rapid change created by technological advances are best situated to cope effectively with the new reality. It is building relationships between peers that attracts young people most powerfully. Email, social media, text messaging and even new methods of reaching out in kindness through greeting cards and gifts created online and sent through global delivery services are examples of the impact emerging technologies have in connecting people. Personal heartfelt interactions build relationships and promote shared values. We are witnessing the expanding connections that flow from these interactions and the world is struggling to adapt to this new hyperconnected reality. It is the next generation that will work out changes in culture to reconcile the competing interests and take human values into a transformed culture where intelligence reigns and serving the whole dominates the actions of individuals. —John Davis, independent distributor; based in San Diego, California

“I frankly don’t believe in either beyond the apparently-accepted fact that our brains are changing. It will have some positive effects and some negative. For the most part, I don’t think we have a sense of what these unintended consequences will be, so we are not in a position to judge whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad.’” —Ruby Sinreich, director of new media strategy and the Digital Media & Learning Competition at the Humanities, Arts, Sciences, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory based in Durham, North Carolina; lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

‘‘Helpful’ or ‘positive’ versus ‘baleful’ or ‘negative’ is too simplistic a division. I agree with the fundamental premise, but I would conclude that young people in 2020 will simply think and interact differently—faster, more collectively and yes, perhaps more superficially.” —Reva Basch, a communications consultant who was active in early social media (The WELL) and has been adept in pioneering information retrieval systems; based in Portland, Oregon

“Actually I don’t think either result is likely. Increasingly, we will realize that distraction is problematic. If we look at a key environment sensitive to distraction, the car, we can see the evolution of technology. Automobile designers continue to struggle to create a singular driving experience where the driver of the car simply drives the car. Through the use of heads-up displays and voice-activated technology, the manufacturer is designing a car that operates with the driver fully focused on what he is doing. Instead of multitasking, I would not be surprised to see technology advance that promotes productivity and focus. And yes, coffee breaks (distractions, going to social media, chatting) can be very conducive to productivity. The job market and the marketplace for ideas is going to become increasingly competitive, and those who are good at their jobs will be able to use technology to excel. Those who do not want to do their job and who tend to enjoy the distractions, will increasingly find themselves at a disadvantage. Those gaining small advantages will take them. Those wanting to play Angry Birds, can do so on the bus.” —Robert Cannon, founder and director of Cybertelecom; senior counsel for Internet law in the Federal Communication Commission’s Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, Washington, DC

“The ability to use technology is, on balance, helpful. The harms caused by paper medical records are well known. If similar harms are caused in other organizations but are less well documented or studied, we can extrapolate a significant quantity of societal harm overall, caused by faulty paper records.” —Alexander Goldman, Brooklyn Law School student; consultant for the Wireless Internet Providers Association; based in New York City

“I work with freshman and sophomore undergraduates in an informatics program, and the lack of critical thinking skills is most obvious in their writing. They often lack logical reasoning ability, and fail to understand why citations are so important. They are unable to distinguish between the New York Times online and Gawker.com in terms of information source credibility. However, when we ask them to collaboratively create video presentations, they’re brilliant. Almost all of my students complain about producing work in groups, which seems to fit the ‘lack face-to-face social skills’ description. Also, of course, the scenario above fails to address issues of socio-economic class, which influence technology access and use, as well as technology policy issues. Frankly, if Net neutrality isn’t cemented ASAP, neither scenario will likely be an issue, as an increasing number of all Americans, including teens, find their technology use restricted and monitored.” —Natascha Karlova, PhD candidate in information science at the University of Washington; HASTAC Scholar; based in Seattle, Washington

“The effects of technology on brain ‘wiring’ will be small. There has always been a tendency in teenagers to be easily bored, socially awkward, and avoiding deep intellectual endeavours. Technology may simply reinforce this. This may be ameliorated by an increased ability to access collective intelligence to find things out.” —Z. Sroczynski, software engineer at ION Geophysical; based in Edinburgh, UK

“Both will be true. Some people will be more effective—and better conditioned and trained—than others, just as some humans today are more literate than others and process information more effectively than others. It’s important to focus on those who are more effective, study why this is the case, and consider how to make that effective use of information more pervasive than the alternative. Digital literacy is important, and methods for teaching it are not well evolved that I can see. Howard Rheingold has been doing good work in this space. Studying and teaching digital literacy is where we can have some control, some hope of producing more rather than less effective use of digital technologies.” —Jon Lebkowsky, Internet pioneer and principal at Polycot Associates LLC; consultant and developer for mission-driven nonprofits and socially responsible companies; president of the Electronic Frontier Foundation-Austin; based in Austin, Texas

“Whilst I do believe that the teens of 2020 will be very different, and that they will multitask, and they will have better abilities to search for and use information and all of this will generally add up to positive outcomes, I am not so sure all will necessarily be able to critically process the information. I do believe some will develop a sense of laziness—’Why store the information in my brain, when I can search it when I need it?’ I am also concerned about the lack of face-to-face contact this will breed, and a lessening of physical social interaction that may change the whole social fabric of future generations. Than again, perhaps this is just human evolution.” —Rajnesh Singh, regional director, Asia, for the Internet Society; founder or co-founder of multiple companies; based in Singapore

“While there have been a number of examples of cognitive disconnects among youth who became enamored of relatively empty intellectual activities in the late 2000s and early 2010s, that steadily changed during the period leading up to 2020. Communications technologies began to be effectively applied to accelerate education of youth. This is certainly not universal in 2020, but America is beginning to reemerge as a leader in intellectual capital. On the negative side unemployment is a continuing problem as more and more jobs become subject to smarter and smarter automated systems. Those who could not change have been left behind and there is an ‘underclass’ that is perpetually looking for employment. The key to advancement is adaptability to an ever-accelerating rate of change in everything.” —Charles Perrottet, partner at the Futures Strategy Group; author, speaker, and a leader on the Millennium Project Planning Committee; based in Glastonbury, CT

“It’s been shown that humans don’t truly multitask, we switch our focus and attention from one task to another with varying speeds and varying quality of result. Increasingly, we are seeing acquired attention deficit problems in young adults and even the older generations when they spend more and more time becoming habituated to this style of cognition. I think one significant result of this trend is a diminishing ability for people to execute tasks, instead they are too focused on absorbing multiple streams of data, and lack the initiative to break the habit of multiple focii in order to effectively accomplish any one tasks—especially when the task to be completed requires a great degree of focus and well-ordered execution. Further, with the reliance on crowd-sourced knowledge and instant access to databases of information, many will suffer from an inability to truly analyze the data they see and to find the truly relevant patterns and to arrive at useful insights because they won’t have at hand in their minds the foundation of knowledge and wisdom necessary to see the patters and derive the insights. There will be exceptional individuals who defy this generality, of course, but I believe this will plague our younger generations.” —Rich Tatum, research analyst for Zondervan, a religious publishing house; based in Grand Rapids, Michigan

“Both outcomes are true—kids will learns more and find questions quicker, but they’ll have a tougher time with deeper thinking and concentration. Just one example: We note that when interns start here—usually in their 20s—they give up quickly when what they need is not on the Internet. They have a reluctance to use the phone, to engage an expert rather than simply read what he or she has posted on the Internet.” —Peter Mitchell, chief creative officer at Salter-Mitchell, a company that builds behavior-change programs, relying heavily on inventing digital products; based in Alexandria, Virginia

“People raised on the Internet think differently from people raised in the analog world. They are aware of and can tap into all the connections made possible by the Internet and will benefit from the sharp rise in collective intelligence.” —Cheryl Russell, editorial director for New Strategist Publications and author of the Demo Memo Blog; based in Beaufort, South Carolina

“I do not believe that the results will be quite as negative as the second scenario portrays but to me that one is closer to what the reality will be than the first scenario. In order to develop complex thoughts, research objectives and programs, a long attention span with deep engagement is needed. This is not being cultivated with today’s ‘Twitter’ society.” —Darlene Thompson, program administrator at N-CAP, a non-profit corporation that encourages the use of ICTs in Canada’s remote north; participant in ICANN secretariat, NARALO; based in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada

“In recorded history, each generation laments the younger generation and imagines a world that’s either completely better or worse than the current one. You can go back to writings from hundreds and thousands of years ago and hear the same conclusion. While most aging adults don’t want to admit to their own calcification or rigidity, nor how their memory of past events may be romanticized or simplified, there seems to be a perennial need to imagine a starkly changed future. So, this statement is less about the Internet and technology per se, and more about human development. The under-35 group is more likely to fully use the tools and technology around them and incorporate them into their lives. In the main, as people age, they will choose to use what they’ve learned for ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ outcomes.” —Dan Ness, principal research analyst at MetaFacts, producers of the Technology User Profile, now in its 29th year; based in Encinitas, California

“The more positive version of this scenario depends on whether schools and parents begin to demand more from students and are more open to the kinds of changes technology and technology access means for the kinds of learning that goes on at school or in an online situation. Teachers at this point are still teaching the way they were taught, formulating assignments that disregard the volume and depth of information available to students. It should be that the student who does well is not just the one who can find and regurgitate the information but the one that actually knows how to do something with it and knows how to use the information creatively. Learning does not end when the students’ reports come out of the printer. What can be done with this information students are being asked to find?” —Diane Kendall, editor at Children’s Software Press; primary columnist for Power to Learn, part of Cablevision; based in Houston Texas

“There is a considerable amount of research that shows frenetic multitasking is detrimental to the ability to engage in analytic reasoning and impairs executive functioning within the brain. The human brain is simply not wired to effectively multitask and technology is progressing far more rapidly than human evolution/adaptation.” —Marcia Richards Suelzer, senior writer and analyst (tax and business) at Wolters Kluwer, an international information provider; based in Riverwoods, Illinois
“My take is that younger generations will always use new technologies to do better than their previous generations.” —Raimundo Beca, partner at Imaginacción, a Chilean consulting company, and longtime ICANN leader; based in Santiago, Chile

“Students take opinions from the Web as their answers. Gaming and socializing on the Web have become a primary place to meet people for privileged youth. As this trend continues, unless there are strong social groups in communities, e.g., religious groups, activity groups, family groups, etc., to attract people, more and more teens might be trapped in the Web and fail to develop face-to-face social skills. Of course, the Web is not all bad; teaching young people the ability to turn data into information might be one of the most important jobs in education in the decade to come.” —M.C. Liang, National University of Kaohsiung, Taiwan

“First, I take issue with the ‘wired’ differently conception. While there is some interesting neuroscience research that points to differences in the way that people’s brains develop in the presence of multitasking and through the use of online technologies, these studies don’t fully convince me. Second, I take issue with the imposition of a generational lens: I am an early adopter of computer technologies and at 56, am more given to multitasking and exploration of Web 2.0 technologies than many of my students. Third, I don’t believe that multitasking is a new phenomenon: My father, a corporate editor, used to watch television, read magazines, and listen to the radio at the same time long before computers, cellphones, or iPads. But, thinking just about the impacts of technology on the cognitive functions of younger people, I opt for the first view more than the second: On the whole, I believe access to information and to new techniques for manipulating data (e.g., visualization) enhance learning and understanding rather than negatively impact them. Like Diderot’s encyclopedia, which freed up knowledge that had been locked in guilds, the Internet and World Wide Web have freed up knowledge that was locked in proprietary databases, archives, and other difficult-to-access sources—and this has far-flung implications, not just educational but socioeconomic and cultural ones. I believe that the best students will use these technologies to carry out higher-level cognitive tasks (those at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy—synthesizing, analyzing, evaluating—in ways that we cannot yet imagine). I envision further moves away from the constraints of disciplinary boundaries that give us a much more diverse toolkit and lessen over reliance on quantitative methods. Like Bent Flyvbjerg of the Said School, I believe that especially the social sciences need to re-emphasize qualitative assessments, and greater understanding of how social networks function, how social change occurs from both bottom up and top down, will be afforded by Web 2.0 and beyond. Visualizations in particular, including dynamic models, are likely to give us optics that shift our understanding as profoundly as light microscopes did in the early scientific era. Naturally, there are risks, as with any technology, but the mistake is to assume that the technology fundamentally alters our social makeup. Although philosophers such as Ellul and others have made such arguments, I tend to think that behaviors and attitudes do not arise from technologies, although they can be enabled by them; e.g., the impulse to control others has probably been around as long as we have been human, although certain technologies can make it easier to enact and extend such control.  Probably the most highly valued intellectual skills will be those that one might broadly call ‘creative’ or ‘resilient’ (as in the ecological sense of the term advanced by Holling, Gunderson, and others). Probably the most highly valued personal skills will be cosmopolitanism, in the way philosopher Kwame Appiah conceives it—the ability to listen to and accommodate to others—and communitarianism, in the way sociologist Amitai Etzioni has outlined—an awareness that there must be a balance between individual rights and social goods.” —Gina Maranto, co-director for ecosystem science and policy and coordinator, graduate program in environmental science and policy at the University of Miami; based in Miami Beach and Coral Gables, Florida

“The ability to find and access information will change the way we look at learning, that does not mean that they will not have social skills or the ability to retain critical information. The central question here is, does the absence of access to the Internet create a situation where we are less intelligent? What I would counter with is that young people will develop new skills that will allow them to have access to more sources of information.” —Cole Camplese, senior director for teaching and learning with technology at Penn State University, based in State College, Pennsylvania

“Generations weaned on high-technology consumer devices are not worse off; they are adapted to their environment. Their thinking is not deep in the context of the question, instead they are rehearsing for the workforce, culture, and social communication systems that will be more fleet than today. They will not be deep, but they won’t need to be. Compared to Thomas Edison, St. Augustine, or Shakespeare modern man is not a deep thinker. These kids will process information and learn in ways that are on different planes than textbook-trained thinkers. Social skills will be replaced by media skills.” —Edmund Carey, vice president for sales/channel partnerships at Undertone, an advertising network; adjunct instructor of new media at Fordham University Graduate School; based in New York City

“As an educational tool, as a learning tool, and as a tool to connect with others who have insights and experiences that will help shape opinions, the Internet will expand intelligence and awareness. The next generation of teens will have unparalleled insights and the ability to immediately get the information they need to interpret events and form opinions.” —J. Clarke Price, president and CEO of the Ohio Society of CPAs; based in Dublin, Ohio

“The teens of 2020 will actually process information faster and better. They probably won’t be as highly detailed (or micro) as their predecessors from the 1980s or 1990s but their overall understanding of an issue might be greater and more complete.” —Patrice Leroux, director of public relations and applied communications certificate programs at Université de Montréal; based in Quebec, Canada

“Clearly, there will be (and are) both benefits and threats to a change of such magnitude. Already, my eight-year-old grandson has a tremendous amount of knowledge in his brain and at his fingertips, and he is able to apply and interpret a lot of this. But social skills will definitely drop. New virtual communities are being formed, but face-to-face intimate interpersonal fellowship, empathy, and perhaps most importantly the induction to values and culture are eroding at a staggering rate. My sense is that the social threats will be greater than the intellectual and innovative benefits.” —David A.H. Brown, executive director, Brown Governance Inc., a consulting business based in Toronto, Canada

“Is the brain really wired different, or is the technology more normative because they grew up with it? We need lots more research before we can make such suggestive statements. If we had brain researchers at the turn of the century, I imagine a similar thing would have been said when ‘young people’ stopped communicating mostly by letters delivered by post and started talking via telephone. Yes, a form of artful communication was lost, but other things were gained.” —Tim Olson, vice president for digital media and education at KQED, a public media company – including television, radio, and online programming—based in San Francisco, California

“In the short term the results will be more negative than positive; in the longer term we’ll figure out how to harness the new technology for the most productive uses. The main disconnect will be between young people so conditioned by technology to quick information retrieval/quick answers and teachers who deliver content in ‘traditional’ ways (even if the tradition is only 10 to 15 years old). This disconnect will lead to frustration among young people, reducing educational attainment. On average, they may lack deep thinking capabilities (again, in the short term) but I do not worry about them being distracted from deep engagement with people—it’s too fundamental a human need to be diminished by much of anything.” —Rebecca Leet, principal, Rebecca Leet & Associates, a consulting business based in Washington, DC

“Young adults will acquire multitasking proficiencies. Whether they will use these abilities to find answers to deep questions depends on how the adults in their lives challenge them. Except in science and math, undergraduate education is a fiction thinly masking four years of partying. I find it amazing that it apparently has few detrimental effects (beyond liver poisoning). The young college grads I know are responsible, level headed adults, if more than a little ignorant of the complex issues in the world around them. It is hardly their fault they were never expected to grasp these complexities or acquire the knowledge base that would equip them to do so. I do not expect changes in technology to fix this situation.” —George Christian, executive director for Library Connection, Inc., a non-profit consortium of academic and public libraries with a common catalog and common technology needs; based in Windsor, Connecticut

“While I agree with the basic premise that young people will be ‘wired’ differently in terms of the ability to access collective intelligence, I am less sure that there is a direct connection to cognitive ability or deep thinking. Critical thinking is largely dependent on discursive skills that are developed outside of technology, such as abstract reasoning and comparative analysis. I do not agree that they are ‘learning more’ in the classical sense of gaining self-knowledge, or that ‘learning’ can be significantly enhanced or diminished by Internet technology.” —Mark Callahan, artistic director for Ideas for Creative Exploration (ICE) at The University of Georgia; based in Athens, Georgia

“We will see both outcomes, the same way we have a digital divide today. Technology augments brain development within the social environment.” —Janet D. Cohen, self-employed futurist, writer and Internet specialist; assignments include work for World Future Society publication, World Future Review; based in Minneapolis, Minnesota

“Sound bites flit through your brain. Occasionally you think about one, but you quickly move onto another because you’re unsure of what might really be important for you to think about. Shades of Harrison Bergeron? Maybe. Except it doesn’t affect everyone. It affects the young, the vulnerable, and eventually the ‘rulers’ to whom we hand our future. For conspiracy theorists, the beauty of this is its unintended consequences, the baleful part. We have information instantly, we have updates instantly—at least those of us with smartphones. Effectively, the smartphone divide creates the has/has not world that can so effectively be exploited. The potential for exploitation via the rapid rise of rumor and innuendo disguised as news and worse, accepted as valid, brings to mind ‘first-strike’ possibilities. Not every teen/young adult will be as accepting as the scenario presents. But it’s a definite wake-up, now, call to all educators, parents, people: critical thinking skills and thought-filled reactive skills are more urgently needed than ever before. Our future depends upon it.” —Cyndy Woods-Wilson, high school teacher in Flagstaff, Arizona; adjunct faculty member at Rio Salado Community College in Tempe, Arizona; content manager for the LinkedIn group ‘Higher Education Teaching & Learning (HETL)

“Assuming multitasking becomes a dominant life/workstyle of the under 35, those who fail to adapt and develop multitasking competencies will become competitively deficient. Those who master the techniques and hardwire the processes will complete common tasks much more efficiently. Given that most tasks are not that deep, multitasking skill will become an important competence. Not everyone has to be deep thinker, and most today, are not deep thinkers. In the future, we’ll likely have as many deep thinkers as we do now and society will push forward on the backs of the multitaskers, guided by the light of the deep thinkers.” —Glenn Omura, associate professor of marketing at Michigan State University, based in East Lansing, Michigan

“One thing I’ve seen—something noted in studies I’ve read as well—is that kids are taking in more information than ever before because it is available at their fingertips on the Web. The problem is that they do not use critical thinking skills to determine if the source of their information is correct, if the site they’ve come to has a political bias, nor do they apply any critique to the content they’ve read. They accept it at face value. This could be an age thing; teens may have yet to develop such critical-thinking skills. This may be an outcome of the education system they are in. I also believe that the amount of knowledge available is a good thing—if people want to learn new things, they are not walled off from information. Regarding the social aspect of things, I believe teens know much more about each other than in the past. They share things and are in constant contact—via mobile phones and social networks. This can be both good and bad.” —John Bobosh, digital media strategist, American Institutes of Research, a consulting business, based in Washington, DC

“Interconnectivity at pretty much all times will be assumed, and will be treated as a living condition much like the weather. It will have no more of an adverse affect than the advent of mass media and mass advertising; kids will figure out how to put it in its place and still live normal lives. The concept of privacy will be completely different than that held by people a generation ago: privacy will refer to personal actions and inner emotions only, and not to other information about oneself.  Biometric information, addresses, physical locations, friends, tastes, education, politics, etc., now at all previous times in a person’s life will be assumed to be public.  True anonymity will be impossible but limited anonymity (permission to use pseudonyms) will be fairly common and pseudonyms will be identified as such, with true names subject to disclosure under sets of rules.” —Robert Ellis, partner, Peterson, Ellis, Fergus & Peer LLP focusing on Internet law since 1989; a co-author of ‘Internet and Online Law’; based in Columbus, Ohio

“I base my concerns on experience with teenage grandchildren, discussions with family members who are teachers, and what we are learning from survey research about how younger people make political decisions. On the positive side, the breadth of knowledge among young people in 2020 will be greatly expanded, giving them the context for multitasking and performing productively in some areas. But this knowledge may be dangerously shallow because of the ease of finding ‘the answers’ on the Internet rather than reading many resources and forming their own opinions—a tendency exacerbated by the media already. Consequently, reading/watching/listening only to what one already believes, and citing blogs as factual sources, may be even more widespread. I hope that we will proceed with caution in replacing traditional forms of education with technology. (Ask any grade school teacher with a smartboard, and he or she will say, ‘I’d trade it in a heartbeat for smaller class size.’) For example, as arts education rapidly disappears from our public schools, young people may well lack the cognitive, creative, and social skills for meaningful 21st century jobs. High-paying management and leadership jobs will always require imagination, vision, collaboration, and communication skills. All of these come from participating in the arts: writing poetry and short stories, drawing, singing, acting, etc. I remain somewhat optimistic, however, because history teaches us that human beings adapt to change. Somehow, we not only survive, we prevail. (A theme of Faulkner’s, but, sadly, in 2020 most people won’t have read his books!)” —Daryl Glenney, a specialist in leadership training for women, WomanPower Campaigns, WomanPower Global; a consultant based in Hedgesville, West Virginia

“Clearly the answer is somewhere in the middle. I believe the research shows that people, not just teens do not rely on their memory for information that can be found quickly on the Internet. For young people, digital natives, technology is a standard part of life. This is generally their communication mode. Their engagement is not necessarily solitary, but is done via technology in groups, small or large.  Regardless of what can be found on the Internet, critical thinking, integrating information, reading and math will still be valued and respected.” —Janet Wall, president and founder, Sage Solutions, online learning development, data collection, program evaluation

“Teens will defiantly place themselves in the first category, but their consumption of ephemeral snippets of information without real reflection or discussion doesn’t bode well in terms of their ability to apply knowledge to future problem solving and creative endeavors. Technology is the means to the right answer, period. Consider Orwell’s 1984; Wikipedia and Spark Notes provide the novel’s storyline and controlling themes, but applying those facts to anything more than a multiple-choice exam is folly, because the value is on the information, not on the experience of reading and deliberately considering the story’s ability to foster societal change, political participation and intellectual growth.” —Pat McKenna, president at MojoWeb Productions LLC; teacher of Web design, principles of e-marketing, and social media for small businesses at Waukesha County Technical College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

“First, neuroscience studies have found that the brain cannot multitask; the illusion of multitasking is created by shifting attention rapidly among several tasks. Profound changes in means of communication like we are currently going through are bound to have both positive and negative impacts. Overall, increasing the bandwidth of communication will have more positive than negative effects.” —David Salisbury, senior science writer at Vanderbilt University; based in Nashville, Tennessee

“It is easier for us to predict with at least some accuracy the cognitive behaviors in the year 2020 among this group. However, I do not think we are ready to predict social behavior, which is more complex. Many ethnic and economic changes will interact, perhaps dramatically, with the newly acquired multitasking behaviors.” —Jeanne Brittingham, principal at Brittingham Associates; former consultant for USDA, USEPA; based in Tryon, North Carolina

“This generation will have grown up online, as parents encouraged digital interaction via laptop and mobile devices at younger and younger ages. Their social skills will still be shaped by early and elementary educational experience—in other words, in school—where these devices are not always in use, or even allowed. If anything, they will socialize with each other more than previous generations that did not have access to the Internet as they grew up.” —Lisa E. Phillips, senior research analyst at eMarketer, Inc., based in New York City

“There is a great advantage to having access to and adept skills at accessing the wealth of knowledge available on the Internet. But in tandem with the great possibilities, my serious concern is that everyone must learn critical approaches to apply to information available online. This means knowing: what is a valid primary source, a secondary source and a source which is manipulating information or interpretations? Those critical discovery and evaluative skills will be highly valued and much needed going forward.” —Martha Adams, independent freelance writer, editor, journalist, poet, photographer, Internet activist and blogger, Toledo, Ohio

“There are eight years before 2020, and in that time we will see a major shift in the delivery of information where students will not be ‘hanging out on their devices’ looking around for information. Data mining will create such a user information profile that information will be ‘delivered’ to the person, perhaps on an information river flow. With the delivery of information, student’s online behavior patterns might actually change from the fragmented continual interruptive mode they operate in now.  In the book iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, Gary Small lends credence to how Millennials will innately evaluate information correctly, quicker. However, I believe the first will only be true, if education makes a major paradigm shift to inquiry based learning, and gets away from the old research model of information hide ‘n seek. If education evolves alongside the information evolution, a model could be customized to migrate to a student-centered, student-responsibility model where the user is in charge of his or her own destiny. Greater responsibility will lead to greater focus and persistence—both desperately needed. You will not get focus and persistence by ‘regulations’ but via responsibility.” —Paige Jaeger, coordinator for school library services for the WSWHE Board of Cooperative Educational Services; adjunct instructor at the State University of New York-Albany; based in Saratoga Springs, New York

“We have not yet begun to tap the capacity of our brains. Growing up digital allows our youth to leverage the power of their minds in ways that differ from ‘traditional’ thinkers. Through collective intelligence, they can find more points of view, data, facts; trends move faster and information is processed in non-linear ways forming different connections and outcomes. The challenge for them will be changing the core approaches of education and business to leverage their power.” —Rebecca Bernstein, digital strategist, University at Buffalo-The State University of New York.

“I have contact with teenagers between 11 and 18 years and have noticed that they use computers well to communicate and socialize (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), but when they have to study, seek information, or delve into different topics, one might say they do not know how to use the usual tools (e.g., they can find and watch a video of Shakira on YouTube, but they don’t recognize that they can search the same site for an explanation of atomic theory). In short, they are experts of ‘cut and paste’ but without analysis of content.” —Daniel Ferrari, system analyst based in São Paulo, Brazil

“Public schools used to have typewriter classes to prepare students to use typewriters for high school, college, and their careers. Typewriters are now doorstops. We think that 2011 communication skills of using the Internet via fixed computers, smartphones, and tablets is cutting-edge, the same thinking that considered typewriter skills necessary. In 2020 we will see the power of digital communications help build movements and change society. Instead of relying upon those in your apartment building, your neighborhood to interact and discuss and shape the future, 2020 communications will bring a new set of social interaction skills, building communication communities where face-to-face interaction will be the goal. No couch potato action, rather interaction. The 2011 Arab Spring used the current Internet social communication tools to build awareness and movements. In 2020, the forces that drove that movement will be driving daily life and decision-making. The most highly valued intellectual and personal skills in 2020 will be the ability to effectively communication an idea and build on it.” —Stephen Schur, director of online communication at Ramapo College of New Jersey; co-founder of the New Jersey Higher Education Webmaster group; lives in Shawnee on Delaware, Pennsylvania, and works in Mahwah, New Jersey

“There will be a combination of these two scenarios. Our brains are deeply wired to engage and be social. This along with cultural and societal influences other than Internet technology will balance any ill effects. Looking back over the development of human society and technology (and having the perspective of now being in my mid-50s), it seems each generation mourns some aspect in the development of technology and society that will make the next generation different from their own. The technological changes for 2020 youth will be the ‘new normal.’ The apple may fall further from the tree, or in a different place, but it will still be an apple. I believe we are physical, ‘incarnate’ beings who need to literally ‘reach out and touch someone,’ to borrow from the old phone commercials.” —Mike Newton-Ward, social marketing consultant for the North Carolina Division of Public Health; based in Raleigh, North Carolina

“I see the negative scenario building in the classroom now. Students are not thinking critically; they want shortcuts to get work done; they are more vocal about not wanting to think through more challenging assignments; they choose convenience interviews rather than good reporting (friends, family, friends of friends); and they are forever texting when they walk, when they sit, when they are on the computer, when there is a lecture, when there is anything. Then when you ask them a question, more likely than not they want you to repeat the question and then they cannot answer it. As little as five years ago, students were more interested in learning about everything so they could start their professional careers; now the big focus is what can one learn to get a job, any job, but not one that really challenges but one that pays lots of money.” —Leara Rhodes, associate professor of journalism and international communications at the University of Georgia; based in Athens, Georgia

“Brains are evolving toward a universal mind. By effectively using search and the Internet, the next generation will have a crowd-sourced brain. There are huge benefits to how technology is changing the neural pathways to enable better multitasking. Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan note in the 2008 book iBrain. Young children begin using the computer in preschool or earlier, and numerous computer programs, such as Kurzweil, Leapfrog, Fast Forward, and Draft: Builder, are designed to help kids learn to read and write earlier and to develop their hand-eye coordination at a younger age. They also prepare kids to multitask more effectively.’ However, there is a danger that deep thinking can be sacrificed by skimming information, so it is important to recognize some of the trade-offs that occur as different portions of the brain take on new assignments.” —Brian Ahier, health IT evangelist, Mid-Columbia Medical Center, The Dalles, Oregon

“It’s a mixed bag for positives and negatives. On balance, there are advantages in the ability to navigate and find large amounts of information. But there are also impairments in the ability to focus, reason, and solve problems. There is a lack of understanding that the effort of thinking and writing is far different than that of simply sharing or copy and paste communications. However being of the older age group and having been in the digital world for my whole adult life, I have to say that we should not be too quick to trash the youth. In recent history, adults are often unsettled by the behavior of younger generations, only to find later that they are productive and competent members of society. The question here will not be answered for another decade, when the younger adults have a chance to step up and perform. In the meantime we should look for tools and programs to help create a balance between tech-induced ADD and deeper thinking.” —Steven Swimmer, self-employed consultant; previously worked in digital leadership roles for a major broadcast TV network and a major museum; based in Los Angeles, California

“This is the obvious next stage of evolution, and both descriptions will be recognizable in societies all over earth. Societies that more closely conform to the former scenario will be outpacing societies that find their adaptation more consistent with the latter.” —Jim Hokom, Web manager, Crossroads Urban Center, a non-profit organization; based in Salt Lake City, Utah

“There will be some degree of undesirable side effects of the increased comfort that technology has brought into our lives. Before calculators, an average person shopping in a store would be prone to mentally total up at least the approximate value of goods purchased; simple tasks like multiplication, addition, or subtraction were common abilities, made possible by repeated practice. Today it is not uncommon to find a customer at a gas station using the calculator function in his phone to multiply 5 gallons at $3 a gallon. In the same way, young adults could become more and more removed from skills that were ordinarily commonplace in the pre-high-tech era and they may be prone to cognitive shortcomings and limitations in social skills, among other inevitable adverse effects. We must pay attention to possible adverse syndromes related to technological progress and find a balance between native abilities and technology-related skills. It may require a system of education that will raise its students as graduates skilled in pedaling a bicycle in a world of track-guided, high-speed automobiles; it will be wiser to design an ecosystem where children will learn to walk barefoot before getting accustomed to high-tech shoes.” —Sivasubramanian Muthusamy, president of the Internet Society-India Chennai; founder and CEO of InternetStudio, a Web development and IT services company; based in Erode, Tamilnadu, India

“Clearly, the choices are too black-and-white. I expect that there will be shortcomings, but these may be made up by new skills. The real questions are what aspects of the brain are rewired and how well we will be able to engage them positively.” —Guy Wilson, a history PhD and educational technology specialist at the University of Missouri-Columbia

“Positives: All visual and auditory learners will be better supported by an environment that atomizes and contextualizes information and effectively supports how all humans learn. The process of legitimate peripheral participation—the movement from surface engagement to deeper interest because of relevance to self and personal community to deeper interest, to amateur expert, to expert—will be better supported. If the technology and practice support this trajectory well, then learning will be supported. In other words, people will not change their cognitive processes, the technology is responsive to existing cognition, and that’s why it has been adopted so widely. I am intrigued by the change in the creation of personal ‘neighborhoods’ and how that can be translated to transforming education. Environment is likely to foster lifelong learning, and there is an ability to become an amateur expert throughout life in different arenas. Gray areas: I am not sure if kinesthetic learners and those with other styles are necessarily supported well. I wonder about the ‘flattening’ to two dimensions and the loss of perspective. Negatives: I am concerned about the loss of deeper expression and use of the beautiful range of our languages when so much is boiled down to the text phrase. I am also concerned about the narrowing of points of view with interactions narrowed to homogeneous groups (although wider geographic range may mitigate this).” —Vicki Suter, director of California Virtual Campus; PhD in educational technology, MBA, MIS; based in Sacramento, California

“Technology has many positive impacts on children and youths but in the wrong hands it can become dangerous. Technology is a valuable tool but it is somewhat misused by today’s teens. The two main forms of technology affecting teenagers—cell phones and the Internet—have brought about major changes in our lifestyles. This technology has allowed teens/youths to have inane communications and in doing so, contributes to the ‘dumbing down’ of society. We spend more time corresponding with our friends on cell phones and the Internet than we do working or participating in activities that expand and challenge our minds. Our fixation with technology makes us oblivious to the social implications. Teens/youths today are lacking basic social skills because of an absence of face-to-face communication assisted by this technology. On average, a teenager uses his or her cell phone more than 100 times per week. Technology is becoming an addiction. Today’s youth crave instant satisfaction, and their desires are met by broadband Internet and text messaging. Our society no longer has time or the need to have a good old sit-down and chinwag; we can communicate via intricate networks and satellites. The art of personal communication is being lost as it gives way to a new era of interaction. The introduction of cell phones and the Internet has challenged our notions of space and time by putting communications into hyperdrive. However, because we are in this constant state of communication, our time becomes someone else’s. People are able to instantly correspond with us at any time they choose, wherever we may be. This technology has had a major effect on teen/youths life, because we have come to expect instant gratification and results. Many young people are very independent due to their reliance on the computer to help them play and learn; computers take place of teachers and therefore children will not rely on a teacher but instead take comfort in being helped by a machine. Children have lost all trust and confidence in teachers due to the lacking need of them. Computers hinder the healthy growth of children by taking them away from their outside play; many are becoming obese because of little to no exercise. Technology is good in many ways, it helps with the business world, it educates kids, and it connects the world in a faster way. However, when given to children without moderation it is harmful. Children cannot see the effects of no exercise, or not learning basic communication skills, but as adults we can. Not to say technology should be taken away from children, but their dependence on it should be greatly reduced. Let’s change the way children view technology, no longer as a need but as a helpful tool, and by doing this we change the outcome. Despite the negative influences technology has, it will continue to play an important part in the teen/youths lifestyle. We should critically embrace new technology, always keeping a wary eye on possible destructive effects it may have on our society.” —Ikechukwu John, director of Internet Cyber Café in Abuja, Nigeria

“Even now I can see so many people already so addicted to the Internet, they don’t go outside to have fun with their real friends. Instead, they spend time with their Net friends. Nowadays children have easy access to Internet and they can play games, watch TV shows, play in social network Webs, and most of the new technologies are not as useful as they are expected in the behavioral and cognitive development among the young generation.” —Anqui Lu, student

“Today’s richness of resources sometimes seems to stop students as they multitask and cycle quickly to find the answer to deep questions. What a difference from listening to a lecturer and/or reading static facts. Searching is a skill, and the learning is enhanced by embedded assessment, next-generation assessments for measuring complex learning in science. Those of us who teach have known that there are children sitting in classes who need to expand, enrich, examine, and elaborate using ideas like those of DaVinci. We were previously harnessed by text and old models of pedagogy. When we move to transformational teaching it is hard to explain to traditional teachers what we are doing in a way that allows them to understand the beauty of using transformational technology. Many ways of learning are involved, and the work is not all done by the teacher. Resources abound from partners in learning, in advocacy, and academia. The technology makes it all possible, and we can include new areas of learning, computational thinking, problem solving, visualization and learning, and supercomputing.” —Bonnie Bracey Sutton, technology advocate at the PowerofUS Foundation; an international education consultant who has done work for the George Lucas Education Foundation and SITE.org as a volunteer; based in Washington, DC

“The more a person is able to multitask, the easier it will be for him or her to adjust, and use various communication tools simultaneously. That said, if a tool for obtaining information is built properly it will assist its users to gain further intelligence that may not be readily available. It is quite likely that our younger generations will be more adept at dealing with, and caring for worldly situations as a result of the information they can obtain online.” —Elliot S. Volkman, online community manager and social media manager, Play This Media; a communications and marketing consultant; start-up founder at Bigfoot Careers; based in Falls Church, Virginia

“Recent scientific studies as well as ones from several decades ago show that multitasking—even among today’s youth—results in lower recall of information processed. Evidence from Danowski and Ruchinskas (1975), using time-series cohort analysis, supports the idea that it is the medium that is the highly popular new medium when cohorts are in their early 20s that they continue to use most throughout later life. So, it is possible that these negative effects will plague only those in the Generation Y. Younger cohorts may not use such media as much as newer media that will be developed in the future and may not involve such negative effects.” —James A. Danowski, professor of communication, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois; co-editor of ‘Handbook of Communication and Technology’; program planner for European Intelligence and Security Informatics 2011 and Open-Source Intelligence and Web Mining, 2011

“The truth will be somewhere in between these two extremes. We will, as a society, lose the ability to think deeply about things as a whole—giving those people who develop that skill a serious advantage in many situations. I see it in my college classroom. There are advantages, though.” —Tom Rule, an educator, technology consultant, and musician who holds down seven different jobs; based in Macon, Georgia

“Asking the most educated and brightest people of any generation what they think of the next is bound to yield a number of ‘after us, the deluge’ comments. While the immediate availability of an unthinkable amount of unsorted information constitutes a challenge for educators, it also offers students unprecedented freedom to form their own opinion on virtually any subject. Multitasking does reduce the quality of performance of any single task, but anyone can learn to switch back and forth between multi- and single-tasking. The brain seems to be permanently wired the way it was 40,000 years ago, but apparently this entails a great deal of flexibility.” —Charlie Breindahl, part-time lecturer, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen Business School, Danish Centre for Design Research, Copenhagen, Denmark

“The world is changing and just because my older brain that was wired in the 1960s and 1970s feels like a disconnect doesn’t mean that the brains that are wired in 1990s and 2000s are wrong. If the teens/young adults didn’t seek entertainment and just did the laser focus of work, they’d quickly become burned out because of the sheer volume of info available now. If you’re racing a computer with endurance, you’ll never make it. You’ve got to jump over to the entertainment part of your brain to balance the work part.” —Christine Brown, principal, Marketing Resources & Results Inc.; blogger and branding and marketing group leader in the Akron Bloggers Community (ABC); Hudson, Ohio

“There are many confounding factors, but it does seem that the Internet is being used more for entertainment and socializing among their peers of ten years ago here in Taiwan.” —Stephen Hoover, lecturer at Minghsin University of Science and Technology, Taiwan; lives in Chunan, Taiwan, and works in Hsinchu, Taiwan

“The second, more negative scenario above is the one that might seem dominant today. As I work with college-aged students, I see that they seem easily distracted and Internet-dependent for their social and intellectual engagement. The more positive outcomes mentioned in the first scenario seem more likely to result, however, if educators and media find ways to engage the learning potential of the ‘wired’ generation. I witness a tendency toward more collaborative, group-oriented learning and perhaps a preference for synthesis rather than analysis, which might be a more appropriate way to deal cognitively with a global, interconnected world than with an analytical model that deconstructs meaning and knowledge. It’s important to recognize some changes in cognitive styles and to find ways to engage those, rather than bemoaning a decline in intellectual abilities.” —Emily Rogers, university reference and instruction librarian, based in Valdosta, Georgia

“Anyone in higher education can testify to the negative changes you have described in our students’ behavior and cognition. I was reluctant to choose the second paragraph, because the implication is one of causality, and while I believe the Internet may exacerbate changes in behavior and cognition, I am not certain it is the cause. A convergence of factors is leading to the decline of critical and deep thinking among youth; for example, I don’t believe that Internet technology is leading people to be more isolated and less social any more than the development of the telephone did. But it accompanies other sociological shifts, such as neighbors isolated from one another when people drive into their garages and don’t interact outside their homes or when children are kept inside because of dangers or perceived dangers in the wider world. Similarly, if school systems ‘teach to the test’ and don’t emphasize critical thinking or discussion, it may follow that students learn to get their information in short bursts that don’t go beyond their immediate need to know, and that they don’t think too hard about the quality of the source. Other media cater to short attention spans and the need for frivolous entertainment; why shouldn’t new technology follow suit? We have to be careful about attributing causality to a medium that may in fact be an expression of effect.” —Karen Hilyard, assistant professor of health communication at the University of Georgia College of Public Health; based in Athens, Georgia

“Nine years out is a very short time to produce substantial differences in the ‘way brains are wired.’ There is a lot more than simply technology that impacts that. Also, ‘face-to-face social skills’ have been adapting since long before the Internet—think before telegraphy when communities were small to TV as the boob tube—and that’s just the technology part. On balance, I’m hopeful that the ability to easily search quickly and deeply will help to speed inquiry and understanding. ‘Multitasking’ is a catchy word. Doing it quickly and well, (without ‘thrashing,’ which often is what actually is going on) can be useful. Technology can help people do that longer and better. Consider the ability to use a smart phone to get the answer to a question that comes up in group’s discussion, without interrupting the discussion, and being able to do that fast enough to inform the discussion while it is in process—and while it is still pertinent. It happens all the time now. The Internet and social media have also simply made it easier to get more mundane tasks done faster, allowing more time for personal interaction, while social media is opening new avenues to stay connected with more people. People will learn how to use that for positive gains.” —Heywood Sloane, principal at CogniPower, a consulting business; based in Wayne, Pennsylvania

“I disagree with the distinction between those under and over 35. Some of us who are already wired differently are already in our 60’s and beyond and have not only embraced current technology but have created the theoretical and practical foundations for it, and the Boomers in particular have had the purchasing power to create demand so that large number of people can purchase and use it. Although I chose the more optimistic scenario, by 2020 both will coexist. The balance between baleful and helpful will depend on a number of social factors, not the least of which is economic. Those who are advantaged will have more opportunities to purchase and use it and (I hope) their education will adapt to it. Low-income children and adults will not have those opportunities and their outcomes may be negative.” —Suzanne England, professor of social work, New York University, New York City

“As a behaviorist and cognitive field thinker I do not accept the argument that they are ‘wired differently.’ My observations of youth behavior suggests that they are indeed short-focused, depend heavily on group-think, and have a difficult time making independent decisions.” —L. Moeller, employed in California community colleges system; based in Sacramento, California

“When all is said and done, no one can do anything with the Internet that cannot be done with pencil and paper (although, to be sure on the Internet it happens a lot faster, and with the aid of sophisticated graphics, spreadsheets, etc.). Good people do good things with their access to the Internet and social media—witness the profusion of volunteer and good cause apps and programs which are continually appearing, the investigative journalism, the rallying of pro-democracy forces across the world. Bad people do bad things with their Internet access. Porno access is all over the place—if you want it. Even Al Qaeda has a webpage, complete with interactive social games with a terrorist bent like Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom. Just as with J.R.R. Tolkien’s ring of power, the Internet grants power to the individual according to that individual’s wisdom and moral stature. Idiots are free to do idiotic things with it; the wise are free to acquire more wisdom. It was ever thus. Each new advance in knowledge and technology represents an increase in power, and the corresponding moral choices that go with that power.” —Martin D. Owens Jr., attorney specializing in the law of Internet, interactive gaming, and related issues; co-author of Internet Gaming Law; associate editor for Gaming Law Review and Economics magazine; based in Sacramento, California

“Young people are inherently the same as this age group has it been for the last several generations. Their likes and dislikes are still the same as teens’ were when my parents were teens and met while working at a local grocers and did the same crazy things about marriage as many do today.  The marriage and courtship mores of today have changed for many but they are basically the same for kids today. The differences are many and they are indeed deep and serious. If we label these as differences of ‘wiring’ then let that be. The differences come from the ways they are taught. Report after report cites that they are being advanced through the education system in a state of illiteracy. Many cannot read or do basic mathematics. Too much remediation is being required at the higher education level for students to become successful. My sense is they are missing the ‘curiosity factor.’ They are not taught critical thinking skills. They are not taught empirical reasoning or how to challenge things they are taught. Another skill that could be taught is labeled the ‘compensatory factory’ or finding another way to do things, i.e., innovation. We have, by-and-large, created a ‘feed-me/fix-me’ generation of sound-bite learners. They are not given the skills to retain anything more than short bits of information. Hence the new generation of computer skills found on social network site such as Twitter, Facebook, et al., are quite easy to grasp hold of and only serve to widen their realms of friends. There is a positive aspect to the Internet usage and that is that when the time comes for need of in-depth information, if the student is taught the sourcing and finding skills, some of these other issues can be compensated for. HP and IBM both dropped their sales of the laptop computers for the 2020 generation. Most of the other mainstream companies will continue to do so. CD’s and DVD’s will be totally absent from the scene by that time. Nanotechnology, cloud computing, flash drives, and so forth will be the order of the day. Over the course of the past three years, touchpad technology has exploded exponentially in usage and available applications. The prices for the devices are falling at the same rate of speed. These will become the books, communications media, and everything. Face-to-face time will be calculated in terms of touchscreen camera time and not in face-to-face human contact. Much of this is true in the decade of the 2010’s. The ‘hardwiring’ of the basic core or fabric of the individual will not change; it is technology applications and their outcomes that should be of concern. Hard-core pornography is exploding on the Internet and it does indeed change the chemistry in the brain and can in fact change the makeup of a population as it gains in higher and higher utilization. Stagnation of the whole population will come as a result of lack of the skills of innovation, deep thinking, and a lack of desire or urgent need to fulfill basic human drives in proper human interactions.” —Robert F. Lutes, founder and executive director the non-profit Valley Housing And Economic Development Corporation; its newest project is developing a distance-learning project in Ghana; based in Fresno, California

“Society has changed in vast ways before (the printing press, the car, the telephone, the airplane, the Internet). Change naturally brings about skepticism and fear for some who have lived through different ways of life that are quickly changing. Youth tend to adapt more quickly to these changes (though not always), and in the end most changes have both good and bad components to them (the car brought wide mobility but negatively impacted the environment). Most broad societal changes are indifferent and can be used in either positive or negative ways; I think the past indicates a primarily positive picture and thus think that the Net gain will be positive. Plus, this overall change may not be as far-reaching as we think; many developing countries still don’t have resources that would make for such multitasking skills and thus large populations may remain unaffected even by 2020.” —Starr Hoffman, librarian for digital collections for the University of North Texas; based in Frisco, Texas

“Young brains will adapt to the demands placed on them by the growing volume of new data streams, which aren’t all social in nature. Being able to sift through information will aid in ‘finding answers to deep questions,’ but finding existing answers seems very different from ‘deep engagement with people and knowledge.’ Deep engagement, in my experience, requires people to disconnect from the information network for a while and avoid distractions. I don’t know if that type of disconnection will be more difficult for differently-wired brains. I recently taught freshman composition classes at an American university, and we would often talk in class about student writing experiences. Although they were self-reported excellent multitaskers, when speaking abstractly, their reports of writing practices showed the opposite. Students who had Facebook open in another window were often drawn away from the paper they were writing. These shifts wasted time, but more importantly they caused students to forget lines of thought. Resulting papers were often disjointed. The students were frustrated by these writing experiences. They understood that these frequent shifts were fragmenting their ideas keeping them from finishing the assignment. To successfully achieve a task, one must be disciplined. This is true, whether the task requires one to stay in a single word-processing window or to quickly sift through multiple streams. I rarely write in one window. I check sources, search for more information, pull quotations, etc. In my mind, this is single-task work, even though I am engaged in multiple activities. Students need to see this modeled for them, which will probably be difficult across generations. But then, that’s nothing new.” —Nathan Swartzendruber, technology education at SWON Libraries Consortium; based in Cincinnati, OH. USA

“The more technology we introduce into young people’s lives, the more they will need to be taught the proper techniques, procedures, and etiquette for handling this technology. I believe that the positive scenario described above can come to pass if young people are apprised of the benefits and risks of new and existing technologies. We need to clarify the advantages and disadvantages of relying on technology and encourage young people to make their technology usage a fundamentally social experience.” —Eric Geller, social media director for TheForce.Net, a fan-run Star Wars website based in Washington, DC
I don’t believe that media use ‘wires’ our brains one way or the other. I don’t believe multitasking works. I do believe that people learn to use different media in different ways but that such use does not change our cognitive abilities. Internet access allows faster access to more types of information, but analysis and deep thinking is the product of effort and work. Internet access does not cause a cognitive deficit nor does it cause a loss of social skills. Internet access makes finding out some things much easier, but that doesn’t make us ‘smarter’ or ‘dumber.’ —Cynthia Meyers, associate professor at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Bronx, New York

“There are aspects of each that are correct, but the gains of collective intelligence are what make me lean toward the first. Many fields have long been helped by collective intelligence (i.e., doctors consulting each other on hard cases), and broadening that out to all fields via the Internet and better collaborative technologies can only be a boon.” —Sarah Vital, reference and instruction librarian at Saint Mary’s College of California; based in the San Francisco Bay area, California

“Humans continue to adapt and evolve with nature as well as technological advances. New innovations will continue to be introduced at an ever-increasing rate.” —Jack Spain, principal at Spain Business Advisors; based in Cary, North Carolina

“Technology is constant part of today’s children’s everyday lives. It has not detracted from their intellectual growth and the development of their interpersonal skills. The key, I think, is in making technology a normal part of their lives without making it crutch to avoid tried-and-true learning methods or a replacement for face-to-face contact. I’ve take three specific steps in this direction: 1) Helping my children understand the concept of being ‘present’ wherever they are, instead of texting others. 3) Requiring electronics-free time during the day for reading books, playing sports, etc. 3) At night when they go to bed, turning off all electronics, so they learn they can be away from the Internet and cell phones and understand you don’t always need to be connected.” —Dave Culbertson, principal, LightBulb Interactive, an advertising and marketing firm; previously worked for CompuServe; co-founder of Web Analytics Wednesdays in Columbus, Ohio, where he is based

“In general we will develop improved abilities to deal with the vast quantities of information now available to us, allowing us to access the right information at the right time to make new connections and package information in new and useful ways. Information wants to be free, and on the whole this will have positive outcomes.” —Vanessa Clark, marketing director for Mobiflock and Twokats Communications and freelance journalist; Cape Town, South Africa

“I hope for the first option; the second option is for the most part the current state—not completely. I disagree with the age demographic; I think 35 is too young for the cutoff—50 might be closer to real-world. Just look at Facebook users—all age groups are represented and certainly do not have a significant drop in users at 35. Mobile devices are the future—the sales numbers both current and projected prove this and social media will be a part of every online experience. It will be integrated into every campaign and Web property. It will be unavoidable. The way it is used will evolve and mature. People are getting tired of seeing posts or tweets about someone’s daily activities. The content from users will improve or people will lose interest. Also, is it really important to retain knowledge if you have access to anything you need within seconds? I see ‘thinking’ improving since people will not need to be concerned with memorizing tons of facts. They will be able to focus on creative problem solving instead of memorization. Education must change as a result and this is where I see the biggest challenge. Old-guard educators are slow to see the change coming and even less prepared to address it. Textbook publishers will not want to change the system because if you don’t need to memorize facts then you don’t need many of their books. Education will need to be much different or we will see option two become reality.  Face-to-face social skills are a concern. We see this now with kids staying inside playing video games with interaction taking place via game server/chat. This is a social issue that could get worse as the games become even more realistic and attractive. Of course games may evolve so that players do not have to sit at home or sit anywhere to play—games could be played using computers that are part of the users’ clothes or with any surface that can reflect light acting as the screen. It may be that games become more face-to-face since users could go anyplace to play. Social skills could actually improve. I have to hope the future will improve the capabilities of young people because if option two becomes reality we’re doomed. Texting will be around for a while but something will eventually replace it and hopefully it will be less attractive to text about nothing.” —Greg Wilson, a marketing and public relations consultant who provides organizational change management and service/execution process development services; based in Los Angeles, California

“The answer probably lies between the two scenarios. The basic premise that the brain wiring will change is probably true, but for some it will result in a more complex, adaptive thought process. Those though will be the minority, a significant minority but a minority. The majority will develop a more simplistic, superficial thought process. The minority adapters will set the tone though for the majority who will piggyback on their efforts. Both sets of groups though will develop a more free associative approach to information gathering and learning, rather than a more structured approach. Again, for some that will be a good development; for others it will not.” —Michael Castengera, senior lecturer at the Grady College of Journalism, University of Georgia, and president at Media Strategies and Tactics, Inc.; based in Athens, Georgia

“Teens have difficulty discriminating between reliable and unreliable sources on the Internet. Most do not dig deeply and are satisfied with superficial answers. They do not think critically or examine their own biases and assumptions. The pace of the Internet and communications does not allow for reflection.” —Joan Lorden, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, University of North Carolina-Charlotte

“Most radically new media changes the way we think. It may be ‘different’ but not necessarily ‘worse.’ In the case of the Internet, the overall changes will be positive except for one. I turn your attention to the expression you use here: ‘adept at finding answers.’ If you mean searching for answers through the media, etc., and finding the right answer, then I agree. However, if the meaning is to find answers through their own ratiocination, then I think that the multitasker, hyperlinker will suffer in the future. In short, for coming up with clever, creative (new combinatorial) ideas they will be well suited. For developing deeply thought-out ORIGINAL ideas, they will have serious problems.” —Sam Lehman-Wilzig, associate professor of new media at Bar-Ilan University; based in Petach Tikva, Israel

“‘Overall’ results are not a productive way to look at these phenomena. New media technology is largely about scale and amplification. I think we will see more extreme effects on either end of the spectrum. The trick will be managing it.” —Ted M. Coopman, lecturer, department of communication studies, San Jose State University; member of the executive committee, Association of Internet Researchers; lives in Santa Cruz, California, and works in San Jose

“I truly fear that young people are not going to benefit from the trend of quick, superficial, social interaction. When I first gained access to the Internet in my home in 1998, I had high hopes. I thought, finally, I’ll be able to engage in intellectual, thought-provoking discourse with people from all over, something I generally lacked in my day-to-day life. I quickly found myself disappointed. Entering chat-rooms with thoughtful-sounding names didn’t yield the exchanges I had yearned for. Mostly, people seemed interested in either making a love connection or using anonymity to be mean or cruel to others. I have three children, 28, 23, and 11. I’ve learned about their coming of age online. My oldest child never quite jumped on the Internet bandwagon the way my 23-year-old did. She was already 15 and just didn’t utilize the Net the way my then-10-year-old did. I think the learning curve along with already having a way of interacting was already set for her whereas my then 10-year-old quickly embraced all aspects of the Net. My family always had the latest tech toys and every single member of my house had their own PC’s yet my oldest was not always online. It almost seemed like too much of a learning curve. Now, their online behavior is pretty much the same. Based on this, I feel that young people, like my youngest daughter, have grown up with a way of being and interacting that for them is totally normal. My 11-year-old wants only to post YouTube videos of herself singing and dancing in the hopes that she’ll be a star. She and her friend started a fashion blog but of course, soon lost interest. Younger people don’t seem to even realize the wealth of information online; it seems they’re more interested in self-promotion and they use the Net and newest technology for quick impersonal communication. They don’t even use email as a way of communicating and actually telephoning someone seems strange to them. I just don’t see many young people using the Internet to gain knowledge. They use it at best, for quick communication and frankly, this way of communicating seems to be dumbing down the population. The fast pace young people have come to rely on leads to impulsiveness. People read and respond to posts sometimes clearly not even having understood what was written. Young people also seem to think that everything online is real and valid. Impulsiveness is a trademark of adolescence, not of a fully developed, mature person. The trend I see is that instant access all the time has increased impulsiveness, decreased attention span and caused a lack of genuine connectedness with other people. The argument I hear from people this age seems to lean toward a positive income; that multitasking is a good thing, but I don’t see it that way. The biggest concern I have is for the English language/written word. I think any young person in 2020 who can demonstrate a command of the written word and show an ability to focus will be highly prized. I don’t think the average person who comes of age in 2020 will have many positive social skills. I think in some ways this will have a negative impact in the workplace; however, they might get lucky if we move to a society that telecommutes more. If only people used the Internet to seek out and gain substantial knowledge instead of using it more as an entertainment hub we could see some positive engagement in social issues, a decrease in hate and a trend away from homogenity and an increased acceptance of ‘the other.’” —Lucretia Walker-Skinner, quality improvement associate with Project Hospitality, a non-profit organization based in Staten Island, New York

“The key here is ‘overall.’ Since at least the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, as societies have advanced—in terms of knowledge, human health, artistic expression, economic prosperity, and commitment to local and global community—they have at the same time become more uneven in terms of distribution of these qualities. The future should be no different. The brains of multitasking young adults will in fact operate differently in many ways as these young people adapt to an always-connected environment that presents information, consequential and inconsequential, at an ever-increasing pace. The benefits of this will be unevenly distributed, with the likely result that most such people will face increased distraction and confusion in processing, retaining, and using information. But the minority who effectively integrate this new environment by learning to recognize valid and important information, prioritize the flow of interactions, and leverage the expanded reach of digital communication will have an outsized impact that will advance the overall state of our societies, just as the skilled users of every generation of tools have done. As for face-to-face social skills, nearly all young people will (just as they do today) master this fundamentally human skill.” —Michael Gordon, co-founder of Limelight Networks Inc., a content delivery network services provider; based in Phoenix, Arizona

“Certainly its likely that you will get some groups of young people who will be better at solving problems and promoting social equity and well-being while others will suffer deleterious effects mentioned. Right now, I can think of two factors that might explain the difference between the two groups and why outcome one might be more likely than outcome two. Self-control will be the big moderating variable here. If our thoughts become somehow more fragmented and our attention spans drop, that doesn’t necessarily make us worse at achieving positive social and individual outcomes. If it does, the disadvantages will likely be far outweighed by the advantages of highly accessible information and collaboration. However, these advantages come bundled with non-constructive (or perhaps destructive) options that will test the self-control of users. The important variable here is time: how long will it take us to identify how and why some young people benefit from multitasking and implement some changes (as parents, teachers, policy makers, and even as young people) to their/our media use habits to bring about positive change. Given the speed with which things are moving and the progress of research in this area, I’m confident that we can identify why and how multitasking leads to negative outcomes and adapt accordingly. But then again, maybe my answer merely reflects my optimism.” —Elliot Panek, PhD student in communications studies at the University of Michigan, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan

“Certainly younger generations are growing up with greater Internet skills and electronic adaptability. Certainly, the Internet offers amazing search capabilities. However, I have noticed that people in their 20s who have worked for me do not seem to have good research skills or sometimes the ability to systematically think through a problem and figure out a solution. I am concerned because these are college-educated people. If this is a trend and it continues through the next couple of generations, then it is possible that the promise of the Internet will never really be realized.” —Julia Takahashi, editor and publisher at Diisynology.com; based in Santa Fe, New Mexico

“I see students in my classrooms and members of my community using these tools and they appear to have yet to harness any kind of courtesy and public use agreements as well as the ability to search effectively. They have a difficult time understanding what critical thinking and discernment is—they have lots of reflexive ideas for which they are, in fact, great at finding corroboration as opposed to the deep questioning mentioned in other option. It has been clearer over these many years in my college classrooms (in five states in three parts of the country in two majors) that high school prepares few of these students for deep thinking/learning and to hold many ideas at once. As political and public life and role models become ever more divided, I expect that in 2020, unless a major civility move takes place (and 9/11/2001 did not do it, it seems), we can expect division and even less ability to discern even when they have more and maybe better ways to access so many words and ideas. The world will be more democratic only if people are not dumbed down, too tired, too distracted to think about what they are doing.” —Michel A. Coconis, assistant professor of social work at Wright State University; advocate and activist; lives in Columbus, Ohio, and works in Dayton, Ohio

“I agree with the premise that a generation of Americans who have grown up with ubiquitous mobile communication networks, search and recommendation services, and social networking will have different habits of mind than found among Americans who encountered these technologies later in life. I am less convinced, however, that society will be qualitatively better or worse off as a consequence. We know that multitasking takes a toll on people’s ability to stay focused and work efficiently, and there is ample evidence that the technologies mentioned are often used in support of multitasking. But people also learn from their mistakes, at least the ones whose causes and consequences can be linked. As young adults age, many will likely discover that there are times when their always-connected lifestyle is counterproductive. This is not to say they will abandon these technologies in those moments—I very much doubt they will—but they are likely to adapt their practices to better accommodate their goals.” —R. Kelly Garrett, assistant professor at The Ohio State University School of Communication; based in Columbus, Ohio

“The always-on stream of communications will tend to impair formal learning, decrease attention spans, and weaken discipline. Critical thinking skills will be more valuable due to their increasing rarity. Mobile communications devices and social networking can at times create the sense that children are living in a fishbowl with no privacy—always reachable, a record of their movements available for parents’ instant recall, if not video of their day.” —Sean Mead, director of solutions architecture, valuation, and analytics for Mead, Mead & Clark, Interbrand; member of the Internet and Electronic Commerce Committee, 1997-present; lecturer at Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum; based in Dayton, Ohio
“While there may be efficiency impacts related to multitasking, in the coming years we will find new and better tools to help us focus online. We can already see a backlash related to constant use of mobile devices in social settings; our societal norms and etiquette expectations just haven’t yet evolved to better address those negative impacts. We will develop methods for mitigating the negative impacts of Internet technologies and work together to maximize the positives.” —Dana Allen-Greil, chief of digital outreach and engagement, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

“There are both positive and negative outcomes to growing up online. One of the biggest problems teens will face is a lack of face-to-face social skills and ability to concentrate. It seems as though more children/teens are over-using electronics and overexposing themselves to media—as a result many may be less able to concentrate and lack the ability to find proper, factual information vs. random websites and new sites that they’re using now. You have to have the opportunity to develop opinions and an identity, and I wonder how kids are doing this now they seem to be so preoccupied with the ones they’re forming (instead?) online. The Internet and its usage can and should be controlled and monitored by parents. The Internet allows teens to access important information, resources and lets them make connections all over the world, which is wonderful, yet I am grateful that I didn’t grow up with this technology. It trains us to ignore our immediate surroundings far too much, and I feel that we’re often missing out on real-life interactions and experiences. In 2020, I think our cultural values will be pretty much the same as they are today, but I wonder what kinds of adults these über-exposed teens will become. Technology is an amazing thing, and I appreciate it greatly, but people have to remember that there’s something to be said for using your two hands and interacting with society outside of the World Wide Web. Let’s take care not get too tangled up in it.” —Chelsea Foster, a copywriter based in Sleepy Hollow, New York

“Social networking is no less demanding on one’s intellectual skills than other more traditional forms of communication. So far, in observing my own teenage children (one son, age 16, one daughter, age 19) I have been impressed with their ability to not only multitask but also to think analytically about the world around them. Having access to quick information has enabled them to get answers to their questions, which leads to the next question, and the next question. They have access to millions (billions?) of facts and opinions and have a remarkable ability to sort through them and identify what is credible and what is not. Those of us who did not grow up with the Internet had to take a much more tedious approach to getting our questions answered, if at all.” —Christine Schwerin, a communications and marketing professional based in Michigan

“While multitasking and short responses to questions may be appropriate for on-line interaction, young people with training in other areas, say mathematical proofs, etc., are likely to associate the latter type of thinking or thought processes with long and focused attention to the task. This would be analogous to conversation. We learn to have short interactions, like tweets, but also interactions that require greater thinking and greater depth, such as discussions with a boss or a loved one.” —Wendy Weiss, self employed, developing financial planning website for women aged 45-70; based in Cambridge, Massachusetts

“I am the father of 11-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. Both have extensive access to computers, handheld games and iPods. Their skills are impressive with a computer. They also have ability that they spend outdoors where they exhibit curiosities and the ability to articulate. I notice that have problems writing, are often impatient, do not tolerate books or newspapers. They like assignments given online from school.” —Stuart Osnow, partner and expert in Web-based campaign strategies and data management at Prime New York LLC, a political Internet and data consulting firm; based out of Long Beach, New York, New York City, and Londonderry, Vermont

“The way technology is used today prevents teens and young adults from experiencing personal relationships in a real and tangible way. This has a significant affect on how these teens relate to others, form their communication with others and receive their communication from others. The negative to this is that they will lack the interpersonal communication skills needed to thrive in society, thus society will become cold. The positive to this is that they will be extremely resourceful and immediate in their actions being able to gather data much easier and quicker than those generations before them. I’ve already seen and experienced these negative effects in the college interns I’ve hired and worked with over the past several years.” —Katrina Griffin, e-marketing strategist for Medseek; based in Peoria, Illinois

“I see less and less deep thought by children impacted by technology, far-reaching effects on basic learning skills, and tremendous negative effects on personal and social skills. Social interactions on a one-to-one basis in ‘live’ settings will be more and more displaced by online ‘non-eye-to-eye’ interactions, taking meaningful relationships the opposite of where they are supposed to lead.” —Stan Stark, consultant at Heuroes Consulting; based in Houston, Texas

“I don’t think we’re going to find that brains are ‘wired’ differently much at all. Even now, we understand that it’s not multitasking, but task-switching that’s going on, along with a change in norms regarding what things deserve undivided attention, and increased tolerance of attending to people both in person and far away in the same short time period. In time, with experience with these new tools, new norms will emerge which may lead to more effective balancing of mediated vs. face-to-face conversation.” —Valerie Bock, technical services lead at Q2Learning, LLC and VCB Consulting; based in Decatur, Illinois

“Teens and young adults are learning to make connections between many different data sets. Whereas adults learned to do one thing at a time, teens and young adults do so many things that they’re forced to learn new ways to assimilate all of the information. There might be some detrimental effects (low attention span), but overall it’s a good thing.” —Erica Johnson, assistant lecturer at the Universite Paris-Est Creteil; based in Creteil, France

“The Internet might yield positive changes in the ways brains are wired and how they multitask, but my guess is that it might cause a negative impact in young people’s communication skills (short social messages) and that they might have a constant need to be entertained.” —Eliza Zipper, advocacy and critical issues coordinator for the Girl Scouts of Nassau County, managing programs for girls and adults on responsible digital citizenship, healthy relationships, healthy body image, and time management; based in Garden City, New York

“My observations of this population of teens and young adults in academics and the activities they have been engaging themselves in by employing technologies available presently lead me to support the first scenario. The multifarious engagements are so many, compelling one to think of making amazing forecasts, both in respect of the technology evolution and the cognitive extensions of their methodological strategies. All this bespeaks of their intense involvement, characterized by the keenness to innovate and to go beyond the present.” —G.C. Gupta, professor of cognition and psychology at the University of Delhi; based in Delhi, India

“Cultures who have deeply, aggressively embraced modern technologies don’t have to wait until 2020 to see the less thrilling effects of the Internet and modern technologies on our teens and young adults; we’re seeing it now. Deepest thinking can only take place when there are few distractions. We are already, currently, over-saturated with bells and whistles and 140-character thought bubbles. Teens and very young adults don’t carry pens and notepads in their bags anymore—they have the technological equivalent of a Swiss Army knife—a smartphone, which is useful only so far as there is an electrical recharge station nearby. The test will be what happens when the power goes out.” —Beth McConnell, telephone captioning assistant for Captel (Ultratec, Inc.); based in Madison, Wisconsin

“The access to information technology is not going to make people anti-social and stupid, nor is it going to take a way people’s ability to retain information. It will, however, affect the mix of information and the types of information retained. On the other hand, the idea that young people will all somehow become effective search for, and evaluators of knowledge is utterly unrealistic, unless we change the way we educate them very, very differently than we do now, with heavy emphasis on information literacy—how to evaluate and interpreted data and information. People will not suddenly become more effective multitaskers; many tasks simply are not appropriate for that kind of approach, and that is not likely to change. I hope that young people will learn to effectively multitask in the situations where it makes sense, but that they are still able to focus on single items and for sustained amounts of time.” —Kayza Zajac, chief information officer at the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island; based in Brooklyn NY

“Although it seems to older generations that teens and young adults are not interacting, it’s merely a change in communication style. I can only imagine how crazy telephones would seem to someone who was used to waiting months or years for letters. I’m sure telephone conversations seemed like ‘short social messages’ and didn’t require as much thought. In the teens I interact with now I can see that they use technology to better interact with each other. It’s a vast improvement from when I was a teen (not that long ago) and I can only see it getting better.” —Rachel LaPointe, communications director, O’Kelly Building Association

“Both scenarios are plausible, and may affect different people to varying extents. In particular, I’m concerned about what is happening with social skills. But overall, each generation is more intelligent than the last (counter-intuitive as that may be), and adapts to its environment, so I am optimistic.” —Lawrence Kestenbaum, Washtenaw County Clerk and Register of Deeds and founder and owner of PoliticalGraveyard.com, a database of US political history from the 1700s to the present; a pioneer in making historical data available online; based in Ann Arbor, Michigan

“In my work with autistic kids, especially those with Aspergers, there is a clear difference in their brain functioning. When given the tools and language to express this difference, it can clearly be an asset. Their happiness and success can be clearly observed, when they are in the right setting with the right encouragement. But we have to change how we teach, and the settings in which people work, in order to address these new brains and new ways of processing information. We’ve made a fundamental shift rapidly, but not very consciously. I’m 52, and I love working with the ideas and concepts and learning styles of today’s teens. It is fascinating and exciting.” —Linda Diane Feldt, holistic health practitioner, teacher, author, herbalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan

“A positive scenario is likely if schools integrate other learning modalities in conjunction with computerized technology.” —Linda Keegan, social worker with a mental health concentration in the correctional field who works for a government agency in the Midwest

“Leadership and visionary ideas from the generation presently coming of age will lead to positive outcomes in 2020. To this new set of business and social leaders, who were raised up in a wired universe and are maturing in an established cyberscape, the media and tools of electronica become fertile ground for innovation. They shall discover and implement a new kind of creative computing, attuned not so much to distractions and idle entertainment, but to intellectual productivity, social cohesion, and personal growth.” —Ebenezer Baldwin Bowles, owner and managing editor of corndancer.com, committed to the non-commercial roots of the Internet and World Wide Web; based in rural Washington County, Arkansas

“While there may be changes in learning behaviors, I don’t think that we will see significant brain ‘rewiring’ by 2020, at least not in any pervasive way. Overall there is great potential for these new behaviors to benefit young adults entering college and the work force. I don’t think that multitasking will ever be what it purports to be. The brain will focus on one activity at a time even if the individual is attempting to accomplish multiple activities at once. In order for students to find answers to ‘deep questions: they need to learn how to ask them, and that is not something they will learn from an electronic device.” —Celia Rabinowitz, director of the library at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, based in St. Mary’s City

“I take an optimistic view that is predicated on our being able to understand and support varying and emerging forms of digital literacy.” —Robert Renaud, vice president for library and information services and CIO at Dickinson College; member, EDUCAUSE Advanced Core Technologies Initiative Design Group; based in Carlisle, Pennsylvania

“The second scenario is too direful a prediction, however, I find the research done by neuroscientists on the limits of multitasking to be convincing. I do not believe the human brain can do multiple things at the same time efficiently for any length of time, and I don’t believe that practicing doing that for a few years will appreciably make a difference. A 20-year-old student of mine confessed to losing an online video game tournament because he was talking to a friend through VOIP at the same time. My adolescent nieces and nephews are much less interested in listening to their grandparents’ stories than my children were when they were teenagers. Young people tend to use technology to protect themselves from unpleasant confrontations. Another student of mine, when deprived of his mobile device by his parents, realized that he used it to communicate with his peers, not because he had anything of importance to communicate, but because it was a status symbol to be able to send messages that said ‘sent by my iPhone.’” —Diane Dowdey, associate professor of English at Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas

“Humans are extremely adaptable. That’s how we have become the earth’s most successful species in spite of our physical limitations. Adapting to the accelerating rate of technological change is daunting at times, but I see no reason to think we will not be able to adapt. Today’s technology-immersed young adults are doing fine. There are always some who think civilization is coming to an end because the next generation isn’t a replica of our own. In 2020 we will still be in the midst of a seismic shift in adapting to technology, so there will be problems. As machines that ‘think’ become prevalent and information access becomes even more universal than today, we will need to re-envision our models of education and learning. The possibility of exploring deep questions will be enhanced, but it will be our culture, not our technology, that determines whether or not we have the will to use the tools in meaningful ways to enhance humanity.” —Tom Franke, chief information officer for the University System of New Hampshire; based in Durham, New Hampshire

“Similar to the perspective shared by danah boyd in her Privacy in a Era of Social Media speech at EDUCAUSE 2011, I believe the relationship between pre-teens, teens, young adults, and technology is more complex than individuals over 35 may give it credit. She talked about how young people do care about privacy but look at it differently than their parents and grandparents, who assume they do not care. I’m not sure the general population understands all the skills our young people are learning while using technology even while gaming and participating in social networking. We no longer need people who are skilled at memorizing facts/information; we need individuals who can find and analyze appropriate information. Technology helps people develop these skills. However, I am concerned about development of face-to-face skills. Although they may have a better understand of various cultures and customs, I do wonder if they will have the confidence and patience to work in face-to-face situations.” —Veronica Longenecker, assistant vice president of information technologies, Millersville University, based in Millersville, Pennsylvania

“History is full of instances of groups disparaging the intellectual capacity of other groups. People can easily point to behaviors that they think show cognitive deficiency. I think less of our abilities to judge others than of our cognitive horizons—the brain is amazing, curious, and far-ranging, so I believe there will be positive and enhanced learning based on immersion in the Net. There will also be new ways for organizations and authorities to deceive people and to lead them astray—the greater risks of Internet immersion result from our perhaps not learning quickly enough about negative organizational behaviors there.” —Allison Mankin, employed at a research organization in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area

“Clearly, young people are developing differently. They will be better than their predecessors at some things and worse at others. The environment they will live in will also be different. They are co-evolving with the media world and will likely be better fit to the emerging environment than older people will be. Of course, this is contingent on generally continuous technological advancement. If there is some great calamity that results in a collapse of our technological foundations, then all bets are off.” —John Jackson, an officer with the Houston Police Department and active leader of Police Futurists International; based in Houston, Texas

“The culture as a whole and the educational system are helping to gear young people away from deep and critical thinking. Why that is relates to the emphasis on testing, the declining quality of teachers, the ease of just passing people through the system, and the decreasing governmental financing of education, all of which are part of a whole other subject. Most of us, I believe, if not rewarded, respected, and supported for doing the complex tasks of analyzing, synthesizing, and writing, would gravitate toward the entertainment and the short social messaging of your second, negative, option. I am checking the positive alternative primarily because of the vast ‘information highway’ that is available for people to find answers and data on their own, allowing the more creative, intelligent students to forge ahead at their own pace.” —Andrea Baker, associate professor of sociology, Ohio University; expert on online relationships and online communities

“The use of mobile digital devices for access to information and for communication between people will become more ubiquitous and more mature. Young people will still find less mature uses than their parents would prefer (generations of young people have always done this) but generally will recognise the value of responsible use. The networks themselves will be better supervised, providing protection for young people from predators.” —Adrian Schofield, manager, applied research unit, Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering; president, Computer Society South Africa; based in Johannesburg, South Africa

“Positives: a richer world in terms of knowledge, learning, culture. Negatives: nostalgia for the bad old days of TV; increased rural/urban gap due to connectivity differences. Grey areas: more news than ever—meaning both more journalism and more bad news (celebrity gossip, etc.). What intellectual and personal skills will be most highly valued in 2020? Digital literacy; digital storytelling.” —Bryan Alexander, senior fellow, National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE), a non-profit organization based in Ripton, Vermont

“There’s no single strategy that could work for all tasks and all people. The ability to multitask can be helpful as written in the first choice, but if it is the only strategy the teens and young adults can use, it will also mean they lost the ability to focus on the single task, their attention will just hop around and there are certainly some tasks which need people who can focus on one thing. You wouldn’t want a surgeon to multitask and cycle through personal- and work-related tasks while operating the patient, would you?” —Ondrej Sury, chief scientist at the .CZ Internet registry, CZ.NIC; active leader in the IETF; based in Praha, Czech Republic

“My guess is that the quicker wiring will be due to greater neural activity in the white matter of the brain, crossing hemispheres, connecting and dissecting information faster than ever before. It’s a matter of evolution, and pushing the brain to a greater potential. This is usually seen as a good thing, but many people will not think so—probably because the change scares them; it’s an unknown.” —Adrianne Bockhorst, interactive marketing manager, Johnson Financial Group, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

“A combination of these two scenarios will occur. Many will use the Internet and connectedness to great benefit and empowerment. However, the underlying issue is that they will become dependent on the Internet in order to solve problems and conduct their personal, professional, and civic lives. Thus centralised powers that can control access to the Internet will be able to significantly control future generations. It will be much as in Orwell’s 1984, where control was achieved by using language to shape and limit thought, so future regimes may use control of access to the Internet to shape and limit thought.” —Paul Gardner-Stephen, rural, remote, and humanitarian telecommunications fellow at Flinders University; founder and director of the Serval Project; based in Adelaide, Australia

“I have taught digital writing and rhetoric to teens and young adults since 1994. From those early days with the first Netscape browser now to the revolution in mobile apps, I have found students remarkably adaptable and savvy in their abilities to use and, importantly, to shape digital technologies and communications to meet their academic, personal, and professional needs. Sure some students are going to be superficial thinkers, just cutting and pasting bits of information without doing the hard work to make new meaning from it. But some students were doing that whether the technology was papyrus, chalk-and-chalkboard, or the Internet. Our brains and the approaches we take for communicating and connecting with others are incredibly adaptable and dynamic. We speak of a generational split when none may be there—nearly 20 years ago everyone was saying how teens were going to be wired differently, but when you look at surveys done by Pew, AARP, and others, older adults possess just as much ability and desire to communicate and connect with all available means.” —Heidi McKee, associate professor of English and affiliate on the faculty for interactive media studies at Miami University; based in Oxford, Ohio

“While I do not usually take the pessimistic view, in this case I have seen the baleful results already. I do not believe that we are wired for multitasking and if we make it there evolutionarily it will take much longer than nine years. I notice in my students’ a lack of patience for anything taking much more than an hour to watch and certainly for reading. I don’t know the state of critical thinking at so called ‘top-tier’ schools, but observing my more ‘average’ students they do not retain as well today. I believe multitasking simply works against great critical thinking. We are all much more antsy.” —Peg Achterman, assistant professor of communication, Northwest University, Kirkland, Washington

“The idea that the Internet wires brains differently is nonsense.” —Tom Worthington, adjunct senior lecturer, Research School of Computer Science, Australian National University; also active in CSIRO ICT Centre Telecommunications Board, Australian Computer Society; based in Canberra, Australia

“These changes are happening and we need to prepare for their consequences. The presence of breadth rather than depth of cognitive processing will definitely change everything—education, work, recreation. The attention deficit disorder brain is the precursor here. Clicking to something because it is more interesting on the Web vs. clicking the TV tuner because something is less interesting is one big change. Taking control of one’s own grazing paths vs. the paths of others’ choosing will defeat the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ crowd. Workers will show up unsuited for the robotic, mind-numbing tasks of the factory—jobs now vanishing anyway. Creativity, demand for high stimulus, rapidly changing environments, and high agency (high touch) will be what makes the next revolution of workers for jobs they will invent themselves, changing our culture entirely at a pace that will leave many who choose not to evolve in the dust.” —Alan Bachers, director of the Neurofeedback Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Northampton, Massachusetts

“As technology improves, our capabilities improve, our human abilities augmented. Those who have negative attitudes about the acceleration of technology assume that technology dictates humanity, but the reality is that humans design technologies to extend their abilities, not to limit their abilities. The real danger comes with commercial interests entangled with technologies. These interests will obfuscate techno-human potential by distracting us with consumerism and commodity fetish.” —Daren C. Brabham, assistant professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

“In 2020, the ability to search effectively will be characteristically more developed in younger cohorts (teens). I foresee a divide between highly motivated, especially curious teens and satisfaction-seeking teens. Thus, this search capability will yield different results in different personalities: deep knowledge vs. quick gratification. In both instances, sociability and social networks will be stronger and sustained better over their lifetimes. No longer will physical relocation break social networks. The positives for the curious include an improved ability to integrate knowledge over that of their parents’ generation. The negative side of the satisfaction seeking is an emotionally-charged, highly reactive, knowledge-scarce response culture in regard to deep technical challenges facing the economy, society, and global engagement that leads to outcomes inconsistent with the inherent complexities underlying specific issues.” —Travis Breaux, assistant professor, Carnegie Mellon University Institute for Defense Analyses, Software Engineering Institute; based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

“Impacts of changes in learning behavior and cognition will no doubt be felt in 2020 but, being as effects should be felt and debated across multiple axes of contention, we will likely disagree on their precise nature and overall desirability. That much should, sadly, not be impacted.” —Nicolas Adam, Internet governance researcher, Université du Québec, Montréal, Canada

“We are seeing examples of ‘reverse mentoring’ by the younger generations in helping with technology and multitasking skills. They want very much to gain wisdom from the older generations and make a ‘mash-up’ with their knowledge of technology and multitasking to make the workforce more productive and flexible. This is my basis for an optimistic view of the future. I have also see research that shows they have values similar to the ‘Greatest Generation’ of the WWII era. Combine those new skills and ways of thinking and learning with the foundation of strong values and you can’t go wrong. The challenge facing this generation is learning how (and when) to unplug for deep thinking and reflection. I am not sure you can learn effectively when you are constantly switching channels with no deep learning time, although I am a member of the Boomer generation. The critical skills for the future from our own research and experience with the CPA Horizons 2025, including feedback from hundreds of grassroots members of the CPA profession are these: 1) Strategic thinking—being flexible and future-minded, thinking critically and creatively. 2) Synthesizing—the ability to gather information from many sources and relate it to a big picture. 3) Networking and Collaboration—understanding the value of human networks and how to collaborate across them. 4) Leadership and communications—the ability to make meaning and mobilize people to action and make your thinking visible to others. 5) Technological savvy—proficiency in the application of technology.” —Tom Hood, CEO of the Maryland Association of CPAs; named one of the Top 100 Most Influential CPAs by Accounting Today and one of the Top 25 Thought Leaders in Public Accounting Technology by CPA Technology Advisor; based in Towson, Maryland

“I tend to be optimistic about the ways our environments form and transform us, individually and collectively. I believe the interactive nature of digital media is leading a shift from the more individualistic models of the past to more collaborative processes. The challenge, I believe, is how communities will bridge those on both sides of the digital formation spectrum. I am advocating for them to create opportunities for sustained critical conversations that enable deep thinking over time.” —Julie Anne Lytle, theological education technology consultant at the Episcopal Divinity School at Virginia Theological School; lives in Hyannis, Massachusetts, and works in Alexandria, Virginia

“We’re speaking of nine years in the future, and the things that we are currently ‘wowed’ by will seem antiquated. The Internet will continue to be used to find quick answers, not necessarily well researched and thought out answers. The Internet has become proliferated with a lot of non-factual information, and if you want an answer you can find it, although it may not be factual. Research will become less collaborative and more individualistic, and while it may not necessarily all be anti-social, it will surely be trending in that direction.” —D. Moore, formerly worked at a government agency, currently unemployed and notes that the reason is ‘advances in technology—the machines have taken over’; based in Atlanta, Georgia

“I’ve observed the behaviors of both teens and adults who digitally multitask and I’ve noticed the following: 1. They are not as resourceful. Example: the interns at the PR firm where I work. Some will tend to use just a Google search to finish a simple task. Some tasks are database projects or searching for media information, quotes, or even select articles. If it’s  not on Google, they stop dead in their tracks. For one assignment, I told them that the answer may be in a public library and their goal was to get a certain clip and the magazine cover and scan them. The look of horror on their faces because they actually had to leave the confines of the office, get into a car, and go to another physical building was laughable but it also alarmed me. The impact is everything. If young people aren’t curious or resourceful they will always be one step from greatness and not well-rounded. 2. Attention spans are short. Conversations are two-sided, there’s a speaker and then there’s a listener. Lately, I’ve noticed that conversations are more off time. Some questions (usually by IM), are not completely answered or they are forgotten. There’s always a sense of just rushing through it all without any real detail or strong clarity. The impact is a world of misunderstandings—mainly because people aren’t clear. 3. Looking in one’s eye. There is always something to be said for a young person (or adult) who can look you in the eye, shake your hand. This is becoming a dying skill. I have noticed that the young people I meet who aren’t super digital tend to be more upfront, shake your hand, and look you in the eye. Super digital kids seem to look away. The impact is the lack of grace and understanding. You must be able to look your fellow man/woman in the eye. This is both a societal and a business skill.” —Lilyn H. Hester, media relations, PR, and social media for Capstrat Inc., a strategic communications firm in Raleigh, North Carolina; based in Cedar Grove, North Carolina

“Throughout human history, human brains have elastically responded to changes in environments, society, and technology by ‘rewiring’ themselves. This is an evolutionary advantage and a way that human brains are suited to function. Yes, the younger the person, the greater that variance between their world and the world of previous generations, so it follows that their brains and thinking will vary greatly and not be well understood. This mutual understanding is the basic issue related to technological change. In 2020, prized skills will be resilience, flexibility, ability to accommodate a range of perspectives, adaptability in action, and communication.” —Cathy Cavanaugh, associate professor of educational technology at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida

“I find it difficult to generalize to either of these two statements. Teens and young adults socialized to social media vary like any other generation. Those who are ‘wired’ to social media who have adequate education to think deeper thoughts are effective, if not more so, than older generations, as in the first statement. Those teens and young adults without effective training and education fall handily into the second category. Both tendencies are already visible in preteen populations and both tendencies can been seen among high school and collegiate students now. Therefore, education—which is currently inadequate in its organization and focus—is the key to this population. As a group they are not being trained to make discerning choices among the large quantities of information presented to them.  Intellectual skills of interpersonal development will be at least as highly valued in nine years as they are now. Social skills will continue on the evolutionary path towards the informal personal skills. Social class and education levels will continue to mark a person in terms of his or her potential for economic and social success—those who understand and can manipulate the technologies of the environment and those who can navigate them but not manipulate them will be successful. Many people will (already are) fall by the wayside who are not flexible enough to manage the transition into this new social structure. I speak here as an educator and scholar—I have been teaching one-on-one for 20 years to music students aged 5 and up since 1992 and since 1999 at the college level. My experiences are both at the research-one university level where I did my own doctoral training (Indiana University Bloomington) and taught and currently at the related Indianapolis campus (IUPUI). I also speak as an instructor at the community college level, where I have taught for three years where I witness the efforts of people struggling to make the transition into the new economic realities they confront.” —J. Meryl Krieger, adjunct lecturer in sociology at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis, Department of Sociology; based in Bloomington, Indiana

“I agree with the premise and not the conclusion—the results will, I think, be different. This will be more lateral and inclusive, less interior and probing. There will arguably be more fundamental definitions of challenges (to fit in 140 characters), and arguably simpler solutions. My own face-to-face skills have increased hugely since using email; I know there are lots of people like me out there.” —Sylvia Caras, online rights advocate and developer of ThisidCracy and peoplewho.org; active in international work for access for all

“While the Internet may cause detrimental cognitive impacts on the brains of children and youth in the current period of transition, I believe our brains are highly malleable and the effects will be short-term. Our brains will make the necessary adaptations to life on the Internet by shedding unneeded processes and abilities while also developing new capabilities that will enable young people to continue to engage deeply in thinking and social activities. For example, as societies became literate, people lost the ability to memorize lengthy tales because they could be recorded in books that could be picked up and read when needed. This did not diminish peoples’ ability to think and reason.” —Joanne A. Schneider, university librarian and professor at Colgate University; based in Hamilton, New York

“Much of this has already come to pass and there is no measurable negative effect on young people. I am more hopeful than scared of the integration of technology into all kinds of learning. We will see some dislocations of social settings such as classrooms and workplaces. 2020 is not a stopping point. We will see changes in learning and work that will take decades to evolve. As it is now, the people we recruit for work assume that coming to the office is not central to their positions as writers, educators, and project managers. That trend will continue. This will enable working people, particularly knowledge workers, and students to be more flexible with their other commitments, and learning/work will interpenetrate with the other aspects of their lives.” —Eric Siegel, director and chief content officer for the New York Hall of Science; based in New York City

“I don’t think either of these scenarios is correct. I do not believe that brains will be wired differently for multitasking as wiring for an entire species is an evolutionary development. Likewise, I do not believe that young adults will be unable to relate to one another face-to-face. I think a bigger problem will be the ability to focus on any one thing due to regular hits of dopamine fueled by frequent check-ins with social media.” —Tracy Anne Sena, computer science chair, Sacred Heart High School; Digital Media Committee, Journalism Education Association; based in San Francisco

“While I think there’s some possibility of the helpfulness of ‘wired’ young adults being helpful, my fear is more that the more recent pattern, which seems to show young adults becoming more distracted from deep engagement, becoming more widespread and more accepted by other young (and younger) adults. I find this disheartening. The technology available today provides the ability to do research and communicate more quickly and extensively than ever before. It has also created a population that walks (or drives) around with electronic devices as their primary focus. For a number of years I’ve seen so many people walking or driving with cellphones pressed to their ears and wondered what in the world these people have to talk about so incessantly. Now texting has entered the picture. Are people really communicating more? Obviously, they are. Does this type of communication strengthen their relationships? I don’t think so. I think most of the communication is on a very superficial level.” —Thomas Massingham, president, Garrison Hill Florists Inc.; based in Dover, New Hampshire

“Humans can adapt to changes in their environment and we already see that people can handle many work and personal related topics simultaneously. However, I do think there are cognitive shortcomings associated with multitasking and believe those will be present in the future as well as in the present. When we multitask not as much detail and attention goes into each of the activities because the brain cannot handle that much and I don’t think that will change in nine years. However, I think employers will learn to accept the limitations and there will just be different expectations from the culture, as this will be the primary workforce available and connectivity will be a major expectation.” —Mary Starry, assistant professor at the College of Pharmacy of the University of Iowa; based in Iowa City, Iowa

“Speaking from personal experience as the parent of two young adults, and from professional experience as an employer and mentor to young adults who have grown up in the digital age, I already see that young people have an ability to multitask that I and my peers did not have at the same age. It’s clearly true that through online research and crowdsourcing they are able to research information and issues very quickly. This is definitely a positive. This connectedness can be, and is being used for social good. The downside of this is that there is a danger of young people not being able to develop face-to-face social skills, and—especially for pre-teens and teenagers—to be socially isolated. These people who are emotionally vulnerable can now so easily be preyed on by sexual predators and be recruited by terrorists without the adults in their life having a clue what’s going on. The personal skills that will be most highly valued will be the ability to collaborate with widely disparate groups of people and the ability to understand and embrace cultural and personality differences. It will be more important than ever to develop critical-thinking skills.” —Prudence Runyan, vice president and group account director for the Agency Inside Harte-Hanks; based in Yardley, Pennsylvania

“On the whole, new communication technology is beneficial for younger generations. My own observations have little to do with multitasking and more to do with the style of communication. I see teenagers creating their own languages and forms of communication that are quite different from what I grew up with. They are playful, inventive, break linguistic rules left and right, yet they still understand each other. Will nine more years of networking yield a brain that is wired differently? I don’t think so. Teenagers in 2020 will most likely have the same neural, multitasking limitations we all have. In 2500, it may be a different story.” —Julia Koller, multimedia graphic artist for FlightSafety Services Inc., based in Denver, Colorado

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