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Technology is proving to be a double-edged sword in the development of young people.

Dr Katie Davis, a former P5 teacher at Saltus who is now an assistant professor at the Information School at the University of Washington, co-authored a book with Howard Gardner entitled The App Generation.

Part of the book uses research from Bermuda’s secondary school students. 

She said the ease of making connections poses a challenge for developing an autonomous sense of self for young people. 

“All of this is so new. The slogan that ‘there’s an app for that’ only came in 2007 when the iPhone was introduced. It’s still early days of how it’s all going to shake out, but in the book we raise these questions and draw on the research that we’ve done to show patterns among young people and how they’re interacting with technology and how they’re using technology to interact with other people.

“With what we know how young people develop, it does raise concerns. But there are a lot of things to celebrate with the new technologies.”

She said with friendships, it is so much easier to stay in touch now than it was for their parents. 

“With the Bermudian kids, a lot of them go away over the summer and they meet friends when they are doing sports or whatever; social media allows them to stay connected to those friends in a way that wasn’t possible before. That is really something to celebrate. 

“The negative side of being in constant contact with your friends, sometimes there are more opportunities for bullying types of behaviours. It’s harder to escape those types of behaviours because it used to be when you went home, the bullying would pretty much stop, but these days it can last all around the clock.”

She added when she was a teacher at Saltus “it was becoming clear that technology was becoming increasingly central to kids’ lives both inside the classroom and outside the classroom. 

“When I decided to do my PhD studies, I was interested in how these technologies were shaping young people’s development and learning. I was lucky that my advisor, Howard Gardner, was also starting to get interested in these questions.”

After they got funding from the McCarthur Foundation for the Good Play Project, they then got funding from Judith Dimon for the Developing Minds and Digital Media Project. That project formed the backbone for the research that went into the App Generation book.

The App Generation looks at how today’s young people differ from kids from pre-digital times in these areas of identity, intimacy and imagination.

She said in the area of imagination, there seems to be some evidence it is having an affect

Ms Davis said they analyzed 354 works of art produced by teens from 1990 to 2011 and looked for changes in their art. 

“We also did an analysis of their fiction writing in middle school and high school. We saw two different trends in those two different domains. 

“In the visual art, we saw an increasing complexity and unconventionality and taking risk in their visual art. 

“But in their writing we found evidence for increasing conventionality. The more recent stories were more pedestrian and less out there. There was less what we were calling ‘genre play’. 

The earlier stories tended to have more surrealist elements to them and more absurdist themes and magical elements whereas the more recent pieces tended to stick close to home and having characters that tended to resemble the authors and were set in contemporary times.

“From our research we found these two divergent trends. Increasing visual imagination and decreasing, perhaps, literary imagination.” n