Saturday, August 21, 2010

How we know humans have not yet adapted to the digital world

I still often read that "young people" are naturally "digital".

Writing as a definitely-not-young person I don't see it. I've never seen it.

I did see, before phones had qwerty keys, that teens were very good at texting using numeric keypads. In the later tactile qwerty era they were very good at typing with two thumbs. Young motor cortices and cerebella just pound geezer brains - even if we don't mention gaming. (In the iPhone era, however, the keyboard advantage seems more modest.)

What haven't seen are major improvements in the abstract domain of interacting with knowledge, information, and early AI systems. If young people were naturally digital then sheer demand would force Gmail to let us edit subject lines. Hasn't happened.

They are certainly not better programmers than the geezers I know. Coding used to be something of a young man's game, but now it takes so long to learn that it's becoming almost a middle-aged game.

Our brains evolve much more quickly than we used to think, but they don't switch tracks in a generation. Computer adaptation is cultural, and we're still in the early stages. We have a lot of cultural evolution to go through before we get maximal benefit from the IT infrastructure of even 2010 -- much less the infrastructure of 2020.

Which means that we'll be in a whitewater world of technology transition for decades to come.

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