The App Generation, by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis (Hardcover, 2013)|
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want a hardcopy)
Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
In a bygone era, parents and teachers provided the lessons and kids
responded. With today's app generation, parents and teachers must take an
entirely different approach. They are the ones who must respond, because
electronic media have completely changed the locus and flow of information.
Does this book provide a recipe for what that response should be? No, but
it does provide valuable insight into dealing with the app generation.
Typically, a book addressing social issues has an agenda. The drawback
there, of course, is the book is intended to be a proof of a thesis rather
than an open-minded exploration of the issue. The former can easily be a
blind leading the blind situation, and that's why an agenda-less book like
this one is so valuable.
However, the drawback of the agenda-less book is the reader isn't likely
to walk away with a "correct answer" sort of conclusion. But if you need
such a conclusion, you probably aren't ready to examine social issues
because seldom do such simple conclusions reflect the complex reality.
Things are more nuanced and layered than such conclusions permit.
This book didn't hit us with dire warnings that apps are turning kids
into zombies. Nor did it herald a new age, in which app-enabled kids will
run circles around their app-avoiding parents.
What the authors did was look at how different generations view the
mobile app technology. They looked closely at the changes between the
generations. It's a complex mosaic, and in that mosaic we find both good and
bad effects. They provided some analysis of this also, without going very
far down the opinion road.
If a reader can sense any personal opinion in this book, it's basically
along the lines of "We want to look at both sides." It seems the authors are
saying that technology can serve you or you can serve it; user discretion
and judgment are the key. I agree with that.
Technology itself is actually neutral; it's how we use it that determines
good or evil (can you say "atomic energy"?). Apps, like other technology,
aren't always used wisely. But some uses are very beneficial.
The book seems to bear this out. If the authors were to belatedly slap an
agenda onto their finished work, I think they would caution parents to
actively engage with their children so that the devices don't become a de
facto substitute for parents who are emotionally absent due to their own
Another reader might draw a different conclusion, such as the authors
might warn parents that a dependency on apps is a real danger. Still another
reader might conclude that the authors would say parents should encourage
kids to expand their world with the many apps available today.
It's not that the book is confusing or its writing unclear; neither is
the case. On the contrary, the book is informative and the writing is clear.
It's that the subject includes positive and negative aspects, and their
relative weights are still in flux.
We aren't finding kids drooling in mindless depravity while their IQs
plummet to zero, nor are we finding them going to the other extreme, for
example suddenly composing great literary masterpieces with their smart
phone apps. What we are finding, according the the authors' research, is a
change in skills, thinking styles, and other mental attributes.
This isn't new to apps. It has happened many times. For example, when
calculators became ubiquitous, native math skills decreased but the ability
to do more mathematical work rose. Or consider dressage. How many people
today know how to properly saddle a horse? This doesn't stop anyone from
traveling 500 miles between cities, does it? This mix of effects is pretty
much what we are seeing with apps. This book brings us rich detail to help
us understand the change, why it is occurring, and what its implications
seem to be.
The authors do highlight the dangers of dependency, but they also
highlight the opportunities of enablement. They provide evidence for both,
and avoid hysteria in either direction. The changes are happening, and I
think having an informed awareness of these changes is paramount for parents
Readers of this book will gain that awareness, and not just at the
summary level. Understanding specific changes and their implications makes
for an actionable learning on the part of the reader. The authors sort the
changes into three basic groups: identity, intimacy, and imagination. This
seems like a logical grouping, and it certainly helped me stick with the
subject matter as the authors went through it.
But how do they come up with their information? For example, how do they
know how apps affect intimacy? They conducted extensive research. You can
find out about it in the book's 10-page methodological appendix. They also
tapped many written sources; these sources are provided in the 22-page
bibliography. I did a spot check on the sources for quality, and was quite
impressed. I often find authors tapping disinformation sources as if they
are reliable, and these authors didn't do that. They used really good
Including the Introduction, the actual text of this book runs 197 pages.
The authors managed to pack quite a bit of insight into those pages.