The App Generation: How Today's Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World

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9780300209341: The App Generation: How Today's Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World

From the famed Harvard psychologist and an expert on the impact of digital media technologies, a riveting exploration of the power of apps to shape our young people—for better or for worse

No one has failed to notice that the current generation of youth is deeply—some would say totally—involved with digital media. Professors Howard Gardner and Katie Davis name today’s young people The App Generation, and in this spellbinding book they explore what it means to be “app-dependent” versus “app-enabled” and how life for this generation differs from life before the digital era. Gardner and Davis are concerned with three vital areas of adolescent life: identity, intimacy, and imagination. Through innovative research, including interviews of young people, focus groups of those who work with them, and a unique comparison of youthful artistic productions before and after the digital revolution, the authors uncover the drawbacks of apps: they may foreclose a sense of identity, encourage superficial relations with others, and stunt creative imagination. On the other hand, the benefits of apps are equally striking: they can promote a strong sense of identity, allow deep relationships, and stimulate creativity. The challenge is to venture beyond the ways that apps are designed to be used, Gardner and Davis conclude, and they suggest how the power of apps can be a springboard to greater creativity and higher aspirations.

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From the Author:

A conversation with Howard Gardner and Katie Davis . . .

Q: Have digital media shifted the way we form and maintain personal relationships?

A:  Social media have made it incredibly easy to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances. But there is considerable concern that the effort we put into maintaining our weaker social ties may crowd out the sustained attention needed to nurture deeper relationships. Even so, our research suggests that most of today’s young people seek traditional qualities in their online relationships: empathy, trust, reciprocity, and self-disclosure.

Q: How can we help young people to use apps positively?

A: Parents and teachers can encourage imaginative exploration, beyond the letter of the app. But part of the burden also falls on those who devise apps. Too many educational apps are just digital versions of "drill-and-kill." We need apps that open up new possibilities and then allow the user to explore, imagine, expand, and, on occasion, toss aside the digital device and go it alone.”

Q: How does an older person, a nondigital native, recognize the harmful uses of digital technology?

 A: We would be concerned if any young person spent too much time in the digital world, at the cost of face-to-face contact or time to relax, reflect, rest. And of course, one has to be on the lookout for frankly damaging behavior bullying, invasion of another’s privacy, sexting, and so on. But by the time a child is 12 or 16, adults have difficulty knowing, let alone controlling, what the young person does. That is why both co-exploration when the child is young and learning enough so that you are not completely a digital immigrant are very important for adults of any generation.


About the Author:

Howard Gardner is Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and senior director of Harvard Project Zero, an educational research group. He lives in Cambridge, MA. Katie Davis is assistant professor, University of Washington Information School, where she studies the role of digital media technologies in adolescents’ lives. She lives in Seattle, WA.

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