“After hearing 'we won't go for a walk, it's raining', the child says: 'I want to delete the rain!”

Olga Maksimova about the impact of digital reality on young people and pensioners

“After hearing 'we won't go for a walk, it's raining', the child says: 'I want to delete the rain!”

“Parents are the same 'digital immigrants' who learn digital literacy from their own children. There has been a process of social transformation that changed the authority. The adult in the eyes of children and young people is no longer the person who certainly knows and knows more," says sociologist Olga Maksimova. In the interview with Realnoe Vremya, she spoke about whether there will ever be a complete transition to distance education, what older people use the Internet for, and why they should not panic because of the accelerating digitalization and virtualization of society.

“They scroll through the text very quickly and, at the same time, really perceive the information they need”

Ms Maksimova, psychologist Natalia Borisenko in an interview with our publication said that it is difficult for children of the “network” generation to concentrate their attention on something for a long time, it is difficult to understand a text larger than a page. She explains this as a dependency on gadgets. Are these forms of degradation really already discernible? If the trend to dive into gadgets from early childhood continues, what will it lead to?

Yes, the phenomenon of clip thinking, when in the perception of a particular information a person needs a constant change of images, pictures, and he can't focus on the perception of similar content, and, according to researchers, it is inherent in the new digital generations. As a university lecturer with more than 20 years of experience, I can also confirm this from observing my students.

But still, I wouldn't call it degradation. It's just a different way of thinking, a different perception of the world. After all, on the other hand, if you watch young people reading information on a gadget or computer, they scroll through the text very quickly and, at the same time, really perceive the information they need. For example, I, as a typical representative of “digital immigrants”, will not be able to do this. Not because of age-related changes, since I'm still far from old age, but because I don't have these abilities, my brain has adapted to the digital environment in adulthood, not since childhood.

If you are a “digital immigrant”, then they are digital who?

Digital natives. This is according to American writer and researcher Marc Prensky, who introduced two concepts, Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives. The latter is just the same digital generation, the children born in the conditions of full digitalization and virtualization, the indigenous inhabitants of this digital reality. About representatives of this generation, another researcher, J. Tapscott, says that they “are bathed in bits since childhood”. In fact, they don't make the difference between virtuality and reality. For them, this is a single space.

Photo: iniciativaeducacao.org
Digital Natives are just the same digital generation, the children born in the conditions of full digitalization and virtualization, the indigenous inhabitants of this digital reality. In fact, they don't make the difference between virtuality and reality. For them, this is a single space

These trends are even more clearly shown by the example of today's young children who have been using gadgets since birth. As part of my research, I asked young mothers to keep diaries of observations of their children. And some described such a curious picture. The child goes to the window where the bird is sitting and begins to move his fingers on the glass, trying to “enlarge” the image. That is, the bird on the screen and outside the window is the same for them. Here's another example. The girl wakes up in the morning, it's raining outside. She asks her mother if they will go for a walk. When he hears “no, it's raining”, she says: “I want to delete the rain!” The environment in which something can be deleted, stopped, replayed again for the “digital” generation is a certain reality.

Another feature of the thinking of digital generations is that they are not focused on what is known as long memory — remembering certain facts, formulas, and knowledge in general. These are the generations that have everything on demand. Therefore, their brains, unlike older generations, are not trained to remember something for a long time.

Whether this is good or bad can be debated, but we are talking about fait accompli. Protecting children from the digital environment completely is probably an illusion that makes no sense. Certainly, you can at least try to teach them to read books, just so that the brain works in the traditional format, to control the time spent by children with gadgets, if possible, to monitor what your children do in virtual reality. Although this has now become really difficult since parents are the same “digital immigrants” who learn digital literacy from their own children. There has been a process of social transformation that changed the authority. The adult in the eyes of children and young people is no longer the person who certainly knows and knows more. This adaptability to the new digital environment and the willingness to learn continuously are important advantages of new generations compared to older ones.

“The number of youth suicides has not increased significantly in comparison with the 1990s and even with the Soviet years”

Isn't it dangerous for the human psyche to erase the border between non-digital and virtual realities? For example, is it possible to go crazy in this way and consider what is happening in the game as a real reality? Or to choose the virtual world as more interesting and enjoyable and become estranged from the real world?

On the one hand, yes, there is a certain danger. And the examples I've cited about small children partially confirm this. Probably, after all, the best option is when a person can draw a clear conscious border between real life and virtual.

On the other hand, we cannot say that modern young people do not draw such line. It is one thing when we talk about small children 5-6 years old, and another when these children grow up and begin to realize the world around them differently. For example, representatives of the current older generations in childhood could imagine themselves as heroes of books or cartoons they read. Today's children feel themselves part of virtual reality. It's just that each generation has its own landscape, its own space of existence.

Photo: teknolo.com
Always in society, among young people, there is a certain “risk group” — people who need psychotherapeutic help. They are not created by the digital environment, but in modern conditions, it certainly becomes a catalyst for deviations. It's just in other times, there were other catalysts

About that virtual reality can drive you crazy, or, for example, another actively debated fear in society that virtual reality contributes to the growth of suicides among teenagers... Personally I don't tend to exaggerate this problem. Back in the '70s of the last century, American sociologist Stanley Cohen coined the term “moral panic”, referring to youth subcultures. At that time, much was said and written about their danger, that they are the basis of the decay of society. This often happens — various “moral panics” are formed through the media about a particular phenomenon occurring in society.

This is how, in my opinion, it happens with the topics of youth suicides, students attacking their classmates and teachers with weapons, and so on, the media everywhere began to write and say that virtual reality generates mass anomalies, deviations in the psyche of young people. In fact, if we talk, for example, about youth suicides, their number has not increased significantly, according to statistics, compared with the 1990s and even with the Soviet years. Always in society, among young people, there is a certain “risk group” — people who need psychotherapeutic help. They are not created by the digital environment, but in modern conditions, it certainly becomes a catalyst for deviations. It's just at other times, there were other catalysts.

“The number of older generations using the Internet every day has increased more than twofold in 5 years”

You are engaged in research on the impact of technologies and digitalization on different groups of the population. How quickly are new technologies, the Internet and gadgets entering the lives of older people and affecting it?

I can give you these numbers. My colleagues and I conducted mass surveys of the population in 2012 and 2017. And they could compare the changes that have occurred in the field of digitalization over the past 5 years. So, the number of older generations who use the Internet every day has increased twofold or even more over this time. Among respondents aged 55-64, this percentage increased from 20 to 54 per cent, and among 65-year-olds and older — from 5 to 14 per cent. At the same time, the number of representatives of “the third age” who practically do not use the Internet has decreased. Among 55-64-year-olds — less than 20 per cent remained, while in 2012 their number was close to half. Although the dynamics in the group of 65-year-olds is not so impressive (the share of non-users has decreased by about 10 per cent — from 75 to 65), it also shows that the oldest people are gradually getting used to the digital environment.

What new technologies are popular among pensioners?

Probably, we can distinguish two main areas of their use of digital resources. First, these are social networks and phone messengers. Many informants of my interviews note that thanks to virtual reality they have the opportunity to resume communication with relatives who live very far away and they could find friends from childhood and youth. The elderly are now actively learning such virtual communication.

And second, this is largely forced development of services of various public services. Many applications for services can now only be submitted through such services. Or, for example, make an appointment with a doctor. Therefore, like it or not, the elderly are also learning to use these services.

Photo: Gulandam Fatkhullina
This is largely forced development of services of various public services. Many applications for services can now only be submitted through such services. Or, for example, make an appointment with a doctor. Therefore, like it or not, the elderly are also learning to use these services

What trends of virtual reality immersion do you observe in our society? What are we moving towards in this regard?

The impact of the digital environment will definitely increase in the future. Already today, there are almost no areas where virtual reality would not manifest itself in one way or another. As already been mentioned, not only the younger generations but also the older ones use digital technologies in various ways and use them as an adaptive resource. The new reality is gradually engulfing all of us.

Again, I would not fall into a moral panic about the processes of digitalization and virtualization of society. Once, in a popular messenger among Russians, there was such a “horror story” that the Russian authorities had almost adopted a resolution on the general chipisation of the population. I think that in the relatively short term such virtualization doesn't threaten us.

"28% of respondents view video lectures, webinars, and video tutorials on the Internet every day”

Video lectures, online training and the like are becoming more popular. Does it mean that people have a big demand for training that schools, institutes, and other offline organizations can't meet? It turns out that our education has lagged behind our time, needs and technologies?

Just recently, as part of one of the studies, I conducted focus groups with representatives of student youth. I asked them that question. About whether the format of lectures in our universities was outdated, whether the transition to remote, online training was necessary. And you know, almost all participants said that having online lectures helps learning, that this is a very necessary and convenient format — but only as a supplement to the main educational process. That is, students themselves refute the existing opinion that modern youth do not need the format of traditional lectures and seminars. They say that no video lecture, even recorded by the best teachers, would replace live communication here and now with the opportunity to ask a question to the teacher, discuss the material with him.

Photo: bfm74.ru
That is, students themselves refute the existing opinion that modern youth do not need the format of traditional lectures and seminars. They say that no video lecture, even recorded by the best teachers, would replace live communication here and now with the opportunity to ask a question to the teacher, discuss the material with him

Another issue is that in order to meet the needs of digital generations, teachers need to “be in the trend” — to give lectures using presentations, communicate with students in a virtual space, form the same video content to help them work independently. So my opinion is that, despite the active development of the online training format, the offline format will not be replaced by it soon.

How many young people in Tatarstan watch training courses via the Internet?

28% of respondents view video lectures, webinars, video tutorials on the Internet every day; 34% — once every few days; 19% — once or twice a month.

By Matvey Antropov