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BBC Radio 4's Analysis: is broadcast on Thursday 12th March at 20.30 GMT and repeated on Sunday 15th March at 21.30 GMT.

A growing number of scientists are concerned that we are creating a digital generation, growing up online but unable to think, concentrate and learn in the way that their forebears did.

Kenan Malik examines the latest research to ask whether they are right to worry - or whether we should we asking wider questions about how we all use new technology.

Kenan Malik
Kenan Malik asks if the internet is making us stupid

He hears from leading neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University.

"My worry is that the child who will be so immersed in digital media will really have the benefit of only part of that entire reading circuit," she says, "rather than a deeper probative function of that information, the going beyond the information given."

An opposite point of view comes from the Canadian web guru Don Tapscott, who believes we are creating the brightest generation in history.

"Time online is not taking away from hanging out with your friends, learning the piano, talking to your parents or doing your homework," he says. "It's taken away from television."

And, he argues, that means the digital generation are more curious, sophisticated and intelligent than their parents.

Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry believes the web complements reading

He's backed up by the writer and self-confessed "dweeb" Stephen Fry who believes that there is no opposition between the web and the book: "They complement each other quite beautifully."

"It seems to me insane to think that somehow they're betraying Goethe and the great panoply of Western civilisation simply by engaging fully in the life of the net and the computer."

Yet Kenan discovers some surprising research from a huge project at University College London. They've discovered that both young and old engage in rapid, superficial reading of the web.

Professor David Nicholas
David Nicholas worries about the web generation's skills

The project's head, Professor David Nicholas, is concerned that the real problem is that younger web users lack the information assessment skills of those trained to use conventional libraries.

"I think a lot of people are being disenfranchised ... are not able to benefit from the fruits of an information society because they don't know how to handle that vast amount of information which they have to make sense of."


Stephen Fry Writer and broadcaster

Professor David Nicholas Department of Information Studies, University College London

Don Tapscott Author "Grown-Up Digital"

Gurnoor, Mariam, Novjita, Rohit, Raja and Jiyanshu Students at Villiers High School, London

Professor Maryanne Wolf Author "Proust and the Squid"

Jonathan Douglas Director, National Literacy Trust

Professor Tara Brabazon University of Brighton

Professor Martin Westwell Flinders University, Australia

Producer: Hugh Levinson

Editor: Nicola Meyrick

Your thoughts

It may be influencing attention spans, but I think attention span is as influenced by school and home environments, as by the Internet. The local schools here have so much junk on walls, hanging from ceilings, etc., and making tree-house like "reading" areas in classrooms, that the kids have entirely too much distraction to start with. Ditto for homes. Maybe not things hanging from the ceiling, etc., but the TV's on, the computer's on, the radio's on, Mom and Dad are talking across two rooms to each other, one or more kids are running back and forth between the stimuli in the home, no one sits down and talks in the evenings -- TV is nearly always on and kids aren't taught to listen to anyone. Nope, don't think the Internet is making people stupid -- just lazier in doing research and studying.

Joyce M. Coomer, USA

I thoroughly enjoyed your programme though I did only find it after clicking aimlessly through most of the Google: great idea to ban it for students: as a lecturer I hated the way students thought research involved Google and a printer: no analysis, no synthesis and no thought. The debate re students being better equipped: I think is fallacious. Surely as technology is changing so quickly then surely it is the fundamentals of logic, reason, and the learning process are even more appropriate than the increasing number of job/function related degrees?

Rowland Jones, Italy

Coming up

As the global recession bites, Ngaire Woods asks what will be the impact for the developing world.




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