'Rewired' Generations Small But Savvy

A generation used to last 25 years or so. It was defined by shared experiences, including wars, presidents, music, movies, or various inventions. Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University, says generations are now changing every few years as new technology creates substantially different experiences. Host Scott Simon speaks with Rosen about his new book, Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

A generation used to last 25 years or so. It was defined by shared experiences, including wars, presidents, the Depression, music, movies, and various inventions. The generation of Woodstock, LSD and the war in Vietnam was different from the generation of Elvis, big-finned automobiles and the postwar baby boom.

Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University, says that today generations may change every few years because new technology creates substantially different experiences every few years.

Professor Rosen has written a new book, "Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way We Learn." He joins us from the studios of NPR West.

Thank so much for being with us.

Professor LARRY ROSEN (California State University): Thank you for having me on.

SIMON: So how are, I dont know, today's 12-year-olds a whole generation different from 18-year-olds or five-year-olds?

Prof. ROSEN: Well, one of the interesting things about the teenage generation, the iGeneration...

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Prof. ROSEN: ...they have learned technology basically from birth. They want to be able to text on mom or dad's phone as soon as they can grab the phone. Whereas the generation just above them, their older brothers and sisters in the Net generation, they certainly came to technology at some point but not as young and not as overwhelmingly prevalent in their lives.

SIMON: And what difference does this make though? Or what differences does it make? Because you lay out a quite a few.

Prof. ROSEN: Well, first of all, the little I in iGeneration stands for both things like the iPod or the iPhone or the Wii, but it also really stands for individualized. And this generation has gotten very used to having things their way. They want all their technology individualized and they want it all available all the time.

SIMON: I was fascinated by what you say in the book about their adroitness at multitasking.

Prof. ROSEN: This is a generation - and this is actually a fairly controversial topic right now - this is a generation that does lots of things at the same time. They always have their iPod ear buds in while they're doing their homework. They have the television on in the background. They're taking breaks and texting when somebody texts them. It appears like they're multitasking.

I would prefer to look at it as they are very, very good task switchers. And they have learned very early when there is downtime or slack time in task A, like doing some homework or searching for something on the Web, and then when they get a text they can decide when to return that text when it doesn't get in the way of their learning.

I see my students texting a lot, and I will often stop then and ask them, Did you just understand what I just said? And they can repeat back verbatim what I said. So they're clearly paying attention.

SIMON: There's so many technologies that enable youngsters nowadays to create their own content. But you know, I guarantee you, no 13-year-old I've ever met can at this point in their lives write a book that's as good or as necessary or important for them to read as anything written by, fill in the blank, Judy Blume, J.D. Salinger. And those books are what take them into other skins and other experiences.

Prof. ROSEN: We live in a generation, we grew up in a generation where books were critical. They were important. Turning the pages of a book was important. Reading a newspaper was important. I think that's fine and dandy. But these kids live in a different world. They actually read more than any generation. They just don't ready necessarily the same amount of books. They write more than any generation. They don't write novels, but they could, and they will.

Parents need to recognize that their kids do need these experiences. They can't let them just sit in their rooms and be online all the time because they're quiet. They need to engage them. They need to talk to them. And I think, sadly, in too many families from our research we find that parents are very happy that their kids are in their bedrooms quiet, therefore they can feel comfortable their kids are safe, when in fact their kids are really developing a mindset that their only thing in the world is technological and media driven where it shouldn't be. There has to be a balance.

SIMON: Larry Rosen, professor of psychology at California State University and author of the new book "Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn."

Thanks so much.

Prof. ROSEN: Thanks for having me on you show.

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