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Book Review: The App Generation 59

First time accepted submitter Sara Konrath writes "The App Generation gives an overview of how digital media and technology may affect young people's perceptions of themselves, their ability to relate to others, and their creativity. As the director of the Interdisciplinary Program on Empathy and Altruism Research (iPEAR), my research finds that there have been generational changes in personality traits related to social functioning. For example, we find that narcissism has been rising while dispositional empathy has been declining in recent generations. I also study the relationship between such traits and the use of social media. Considering this, I was excited to get a copy of the book ahead of its release date." Keep reading for the rest of Sara's review.
The App Generation: How Today's Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World
author Howard Gardner, Katie Davis
pages 256
publisher Yale University Press
rating 7/10
reviewer Sara Konrath
ISBN 978-0300196214
summary How life for this generation differs from life before the digital era.
The book does a good job of outlining the latest research on the topic of how digital technology and media have changed fundamental aspects of the way young people relate to themselves and others. Considering that the authors are academics, I commend them for adopting an everyday conversational style, although at times this comes across as awkward. The book title is not quite right, since it's really about the broader topic of how new technology and media affect us, unfortunately forcing the authors to squeeze in the app metaphor whenever possible to make the title work. The larger point of the book is that it is easy to become "app-dependent," allowing ourselves to be controlled and limited by technology, rather than "app-enabled," using it to reach our highest potential selves – to creativity connect and engage with ideas and other people. The historical examples from other times of technological change are amusing, and provide an interesting context for their discussion.

Howard and Katie (as they call themselves in the book) argue that the new media landscape indeed affects the way young people see themselves, or at least present themselves – what they call identity. In the early days of the internet, there was a feeling that one could go online and be someone else. With chat rooms and multiplayer role play games (and their customizable avatars), the internet allowed people to safely play with their identities and perhaps discover new aspects of themselves. Sherry Turkle, covered this topic quite early (1995) in her book, Life on the Screen: Identity in the age of the internet, and The App Generation gives her an appreciative nod. But the authors suggest that although this type of identity play still occurs, it is more common for young people to use social media to be "themselves, only better," considering that social networking sites often use people's real names.

In terms of intimacy, Howard and Katie cite much research (including my own) finding that young people today may have more difficulty deeply connecting with others than those in past generations. The authors suggest that new media might be in part to blame for such changes in social interactions. Again, a book by Sherry Turkle (Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other) has both preceded them and gone into more satisfying depth on the topic. The problem Howard and Katie acknowledge is that it is hard to conduct experimental studies, the gold standard for making causal claims. Yet I wish the authors would have discussed the vast amount of research on the effects of other media (e.g. television, violent video games), which has grappled with these problems for decades and has come up with some solutions.

The most novel and interesting part of the book, which alone makes it worth reading, is the chapter on creativity (which they self-consciously label imagination, in order to have three neat "Is" in the subtitle). This chapter is refreshingly different from the others, partly because the authors draw on their own research expertise here, rather than simply providing a cursory review of others' work. But here again, the discussion is too brief and superficial, as if the book is intended to be read on a screen. Still, I was intrigued by their finding that while the visual art of young people seems to be increasing in creativity and complexity in recent years, their written work shows marked declines in the same domains. This reminded me of Leonard Shlain's book, The Alphabet versus the Goddess, which posited that there would be a rise in the dominance visual images (which he sees as signifying feminine preeminence) over the written word (signifying masculine hierarchical systems of power).

Overall, The App Generation seems to be packaged directly to the "app generation," in its tendency to skim across facts rather than using them as a starting point for further analysis. But despite my criticisms, I still enjoyed reading it and it made me think more about how such technologies could be designed to help enhance social relationships rather than diminish them. My criticisms come partly from my experience studying this topic, and what seems like a criticism could actually be a strength for more novice readers. The book accurately gives an overview of scientific research on this topic, and with all of the electronic research tools available in recent years, it is up to the reader to "google it" if they want to go deeper.

You can purchase The App Generation: How Today's Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World from Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews (sci-fi included) -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Book Review: The App Generation

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  • by Laxori666 ( 748529 ) on Monday October 28, 2013 @02:47PM (#45261317) Homepage
    [uninformed opinion]. [lambasting of what I perceive the book to be saying without having read it]. [obviously incorrect statement that shows I didn't even read the summary fully]. [snide concluding sentence designed to make me feel better about what I already believe in].
  • Ha. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    We'll see how well those selfish snot-nosed punks do after mommy and daddy kick them the hell out of the house. They are selfish and complacent because their parents enable them to be.

    -- Ethanol-fueled

  • I stopped reading at iPEAR.

    • Don't iPEAR the reaper.
    • It takes a special kind of narcissist to re-appropriate a company's branding to create the appearance of high-status amongst one's academic peers. Bravo, Sara Konrath.

    • by GTRacer ( 234395 )
      Why? You didn't like iCarly? Miss that show...
  • the visual art of young people seems to be increasing in creativity and complexity in recent years


    Dali's The Apotheosis of Homer is creative and complex.

    Infographics... not so much.

    Though I will say, there's some really neat stuff on deviantart... and not just renditions of nude anime chicks.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    To many millennials, apps are the internet. From what I've seen in my friends, many of them almost don't use traditional computers any more. They get their news, text with friends, and everything else on their phones or tablets, and most of that is done with dedicated apps, which they see as less clunky than a web browser.

    It's not 100% there yet but the trend is big, and in 15 years the traditional www may be much as gopher is today: something from the dustbin of electronic history.

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday October 28, 2013 @03:49PM (#45261999) Homepage Journal

    Let's concede for now that the data might show that today's youth has less *dispositional* empathy than say, forty years ago when I was a teenager. And today we have kids spending a lot of time with "apps", which didn't even exist back then. It's a heck of a stretch to attribute the change in stable, ongoing concern for others to the corrupting influence of apps on the young brain.

    I'll tell you one of the big differences between today and the 70s: its a more complex, demanding world, and we spend more time preparing to live in it. When I was maybe ten years-old, it was not uncommon for people to get married when they were 18 - 22 years old. Two of my older siblings did. Going to college was not as nearly universal as it is today in the middle class.

    Now it's more common for people to go to college, possibly spend five or six more years as single professionals, and then get married around thirty. That really got going with my cohort; I got married when I was almost 30, and when our first child came my wife's obstetrician said that mid 30s had become the usual age to have a first child. When she'd started in the professions it was mid to late 20s.

    Sure, we have apps now and didn't back in the day, but that's nothing when you've considered we've effectively extended the length of childhood by some seven or eight years. Not "childhood" exactly, but more like an extended period of young adulthood where you are still learning the ropes and are expected to shoulder than full adult roles.

    One of the hallmarks of middle adulthood is taking on caretaker roles. Parenthood is the ultimate caretaker role, but there's also taking care of aging parents. At work you find yourself moving into supervisory positions, or taking on the role of the voice of experience. It may not be coincidental that people much younger and older have both fewer caretaking responsibilities AND display less stable dispositional empathy.

    • Now it's more common for people to go to college

      And there are plenty of degree mills to accommodate all of these mediocre individuals.

    • I'll tell you one of the big differences between today and the 70s: its a more complex, demanding world, and we spend more time preparing to live in it.

      Our local college students seem to be preparing for lots of burning sofas, date rape, and binge drinking ...

      They might be better off with less preparation time.

  • We celebrate narcissistic sociopaths every day. There is the notion that each an every boy and girl can lift themselves up by their bootstraps and go from rags to riches. When this happens those people are to be emulated even if they are destructive tyrants. Bill Gates, though hardly from an impoverished background, built a tremendous software empire, often through questionable means. At some point he realized the wealth he generated couldn't be spent by himself and decided it would be best to try to do som

  • from an area where narcissist will congregate and apply that to the whole generation?
    Bad, try again.
    Also, don't apply the exact verbiage used by kids today to that of 20 years ago, they may not mean the same thing.

    My anecdotal(worthless) observation form my kids and their peers show no such thing. They are no more or less empathetic or narcissistic then my generation in the 70's.

  • You want a "overview of how digital media and technology may affect young people's perceptions of themselves"

    - Open your door, go outside, walk down the street.
    - Admire as anyone under 20 doesn't know how to communicate with you, unless they can fit it into 150 characters.
    - Walk into town, find a bunch of people holding their phone up and recording an old man getting beaten up. Admire them as they do nothing but worry about youtube hits.
    - Get on a bus, look at everyone with their head down, ignoring the act

  • Wait, what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Velex ( 120469 ) on Monday October 28, 2013 @06:50PM (#45263739) Journal

    a rise in the dominance visual images (which he sees as signifying feminine preeminence) over the written word (signifying masculine hierarchical systems of power)


    Erm... what?

    News anchor voice from Starship Troopers: Would you like to know more?


    Shlain contrasts the feminine right-brained oral teachings of Socrates, Buddha, and Jesus with the masculine creeds that evolved when their spoken words were committed to writing. The first book written in an alphabet was the Old Testament and its most important passage was the Ten Commandments. The first two reject of any goddess influence and ban any form of representative art. ( [])

    Uhh.. huh. So what you've done there is you took 3 male teachers, presumed their teachings to be somehow feminine, and then completely and utterly misunderstood the evolution of the Abrahamaic religions and their conquest of "pagan" and "heathen" traditions.

    Furthermore, you've decided to ascribe gender two complimentary media and create some male vs. female, testosterone vs. estrogen, rapist vs. rape victim conflict where none need exist.

    Agh. Is it just me or do folks who aren't trans have a very tenuous (at best) grasp of gender? At any rate, this tells us more about the way cisgendered folks (folks who aren't transgendered) identify with the phenomenon of gender than it tells us about gender itself, and that is the startling point here. Apparently, if one is cisgendered, the matching gender of one's mind and reproductive system conspires to weld the idea of gender so inextricibly to the experience of existing or being that one then neurotically seeks to paint every last thing in the world with gender!

    Well, now it all makes sense. This is how mathematics can be rape. Even written language itself is rape! Sad news for our feminists who want more womyn-born-womyn in computer careers!

    What on earth is even the basis for this idea that written language is somehow masculine and artistic rendering is somehow feminine beyond some historical coincidences? This idea is just such an utter jumble now that I think about it more, I can't decide whether the case being made here is that all progress that separates human beings from every other animal on the face of the planet is not something that women have participated in and is the antithesis of an entire gender!

    How confusing. In our attempts to preserve the stereotypical innocence of womyn-born-womyn, we seem to have unintentionally written off femininity as irrelevant and unable to handle the rigors of continuing to evolve to something other than mere talking animals, no differently than the old misogynists we're supposed to revile!

    Anybody who buys into this crap should spend a year or two working in a nearly all female environment like a call center. The idea that the female nature is this essence of placid innocence is just... so utterly naive as to cease being cute and become insidious now that we've decided that careers are for both genders. At least when boys grow up and become men, they learn that they need to put aside their pettiness and work together. Nobody seems to be interested in teaching this skill to womyn-born-womyn, presuming them not individuals capable of greed, jealousy, vexation, and destruction, but somehow "better" or more "pure" than anyone without the status of being a womyn-born-womyn.

    Did anyone ever think that the problem with the kids is that the older generation has infested academia with these kinds of superficial philosophies of anti-individualism and collectivism?

    Maybe that's why the kids are retreating to their iApps. Day after day we drill it into their heads that all men are evil rapists and all women are helpless victims, a notion as old as the hills but treble reinforced by feminism and worthless gender philosophies and handed do

    • Apparently, if one is cisgendered, the matching gender of one's mind and reproductive system conspires to weld the idea of gender so inextricibly to the experience of existing or being that one then neurotically seeks to paint every last thing in the world with gender!

      I don't see that state of affairs as justification to assign to the transgendered some magical insight into gender, nor to disparage the cisgendered as sufficiently incapable of understanding the subject that they become almost universally

      • by Velex ( 120469 )
        It's bad when one attempts to construct a dichotomy and power struggle with the intention of assigning moral virtue and stigma to an individual on account of gender. None of the languages I've studied that have grammatical gender presume that the els are raping the las or that the dies are made of sugar, spice, and everything nice and the dases are morally abhorrent for not just being ders like god meant.
  • by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Monday October 28, 2013 @10:42PM (#45265299)

    Arrogance and narcissism is just what today's parents, at least in the US, teach their children. That they come first. That they are smart and good and that the most important thing is that they love themselves and respect themselves. What did we expect to come from that sort of upbringing? Kind altruists?

    I'm not even sure when the term "self-esteem" began to be used outside of psychology books. I don't think I ever heard that term at all until the late 80s and never in common usage. Nowadays I see kids actually using the term. WTF? Self-esteem has become our new god. Loving ourselves our highest value. It used to be that boasting about yourself was considered a demonstration of poor character. Now it is expected. Even demanded. Modesty is considered a flaw.

    This is a failure of our cultural values and has absolutely nothing to do with iPhones or Apps. Nothing to do with computers or any other modern gadget. MySpace/Facebook are just symptoms and not the cause.

    I do think Facebook encourages narcissism as well as attracting people who were already arrogant and self-loving. My first reaction to Facebook (and MySpace) was something like, "Make a page about myself? Why? Who would care? Am I really so interesting that I have to publish a page about how great I am?" I found the whole idea repellent and I still do. Obviously the Millienials don't typically share this view. Probably because they were taught that loving yourself and boasting were positive traits and that modesty was very much a negative trait.

    I recently was advising a foreign student about how to act at an interview at a US university. I said, "Don't be afraid to boast. Here in America it is both expected and desired." If you don't speak highly of yourself and sing your own praises then there is something wrong with you. Luckily it is not yet like that in every country, but it may be eventually.

    I'm an atheist, but I can't help but think that religion did have some effect on curbing the natural selfishness of human beings. It was a way of brainwashing people to be nicer to each other. It was all based on lies, but it may have resulted in a better world overall.

    Not that I think Millenials are so terrible, but they do seem a bit more selfish, self-centered, and myopic. A bit less likely to care about others. A bit more focused on me,me,me. To be fair it's how they were taught to be. When it comes to an "every man for himself" attitude I actually think the US does pretty well compared to some places I have lived, but things do seem to be getting worse.

"And remember: Evil will always prevail, because Good is dumb." -- Spaceballs