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Does the internet change human nature?, Part I

Because online communication is qualitatively different from face-to-face interaction

The short answer is no. While the Internet clearly amplifies all our good, bad and indifferent qualities, basic Homo sapiens DNA can never match the pace of tech innovation. That is, unless in the future–

  1. we enter into the morally questionable arena of radically re-engineering the human genome;–or,
  2. artificial intelligence breakthroughs make human DNA irrelevant (see my blog posts for June 24 and 27, 2014 for a discussion about that issue).

But what about ‘digital natives?’–aren’t they different?

Millennials, aka, digital natives, exhibit the advantages of superior brain neuroplasticity (learning about the digital world seemingly by osmosis, solidifying navigational and even coding skills through Internet exploration and experimentation). That said, they are often uninformed about basic social reality, having no clear idea of what came before the Internet, often believing, for example, that the Internet was discovered, rather than created. Many in this tech savvy group are even deficient in online technical abilities like constructing a query, understanding the limitations of search algorithms, etc.

Because online communication is qualitatively different from face-to-face interaction, I also agree with experts who argue that digital natives have been slower to learn about key social realities and social skills. This is especially the case in skills related to eliciting the best from others via respectful, empathetic communication.

digital-native

That said, a number of sociologists have asserted that the Internet and social media serve as a necessary safety valve for what in recent decades has become the over-structuring of their time with after-school activities, more homework and the emergence of ‘helicopter parenting.’ –Kids used to run around their neighborhoods freely, despite all the attending risks, because for good or bad, that was the unquestioned norm. Like all prior generations, digital natives need to interact with and seek the approval of peers–by whatever means available.

Part II introduction

In my next blog, I’ll discuss how IP and other online tracking have caused some to back away from posting bullying, racist and sexist comments. Such social-cyber problems run parallel with our more fluid, ‘managed’ online identity/identities. For those who are hiding aspects of their identity on some social media while revealing them on others, security/privacy is an ongoing risk.

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