This will be my final post on the Festival of Education, so I thought it would be fitting for it to be about the closing debate, which was on the so-called ‘Facebook Generation’. As a member of this generation, or at least of the Internet Generation (as the panel agreed that, at only seven years old, Facebook is not yet old enough to warrant a generation), this was particularly interesting to me, although as none of the panelists were of the generation themselves I was prepared to hear some not exactly flattering things about us.
And this was partially true, but the panel (which was composed of Niall Ferguson, Sarah Churchwell, Harvey Goldsmith, Ben Hammersley and Jenni Russell) did at least have the decency to be divided on the issue. So while Harvey Goldsmith argued that the Internet has produced a generation who are “tech-savvy, but don’t read and certainly can’t spell”, Ben Hammersley countered that learning to use the never-ending stream of technological gadgets will teach us to adapt to our constantly changing world. But is Facebook, and indeed the Internet in general, a help or a hindrance to our education?
Of course, it does take up vast amounts of our leisure time (and, as any university student knows, large amounts of the time which should not be used for leisure). Niall Ferguson told the room that one quarter of university students read for less than one hour per week, but he was making an important distinction: between reading books, and reading online. This naturally opened a debate on whether reading onscreen is an acceptable substitute for reading traditional books. Harvey Goldsmith again took the hard line, with his belief that “if you read something on a screen, you won’t remember it ten minutes later”, which was opposed by Sarah Churchwell arguing that there is absolutely no difference between screen and paper.
Most of my funds being placed straight into my travel kitty, I haven’t yet forked out for an e-reader, but many of my friends are Kindle converts, and they all say that it’s just as good as reading normal books. Better, in fact, because the e-books are cheaper. Now, never having used one, I can’t speak for the Kindle, but I find that reading for too long on my laptop swiftly gives me a headache, and so I’m reluctant to start singing the praises of e-readers. However, I also believe that any reading is better than none, and I’m a firm advocate or the Internet as a research tool – I certainly wouldn’t have got very far in my degree without it!
The one point raised in the debate that I definitely took umbridge with was the idea that the Internet is stifling creativity. From the number of fantastic writers’ blogs that I’m subscribed to, I can tell you that this is definitely not the case. If anything, it provides an extra outlet for creativity, giving young people places to hone their writing skills (whether that be through original fiction or, dare I say it, fanfiction – which, love it or loathe it, is an excellent way to practice writing for an audience) and receive feedback in a relatively anonymous setting. And it’s not just limited to writing. My younger brother, a keen artist, recently set up an account with deviantART, and it’s a real boost to his confidence to have people comment on his drawings (if you want to check out his stuff, his username is Effervescentshark). So while a lot of our time spent on the Internet may be time wasted, it can be used productively if we set our minds to it.
This, indeed, is the main problem with the Facebook Generation, not that we use the Internet, but how, and especially how much, we use it. And it all boils down to the topic I discussed in my last Festival of Education post, discipline. Self-discipline, when it comes to university students like myself, and parental discipline with the younger Facebook-ers. We need to learn to be less distracted by the Internet, and to keep at least a portion of our lives offline.