A bunch of sources are reporting on a University College London study into how people born after the arrival of the internet – sometimes dubbed the Google generation – handle information. The top line is, they’re not very good at it.
The link points to a press release, entitled Pioneering research shows ‘Google Generation’ is a myth, which summarizes a 35-page report in PDF format. That report in turn summarizes a whole series of “work packages” (more PDF files) identified as the full project documentation.
Let’s trace one of the assertions made in the report, as retransmitted by Information Week:
Also, it’s not true that young people pick up computer skills by trial-and-error. “The popular view that Google Generation teenagers are twiddling away on a new device while their parents are still reading the manual is a complete reversal of reality,” researchers said.
Fascinating. I’d like to know more. How did the researchers arrive at this conclusion? Here’s the piece of the report summary that Information Week sourced:
They pick up computer skills by trial-and-error
Our verdict: This is a complete myth. The popular view that Google generation teenagers are twiddling away on a new device while their parents are still reading the manual is a complete reversal of reality, as Ofcom survey(22) findings confirm.
Ofcom? There’s no link, but footnote 22 says Ibid, referring to footnote 21, which says: Communications Market Report: Converging Communications Markets. Ofcom, August 2007. No link.
Maybe the “work packages” say more about this? In package 2 I found this:
The source? Ofcom (2006). No link. Unclear what the superscript 6 means, as the references in this report are not numbered, but they do mention:
Ofcom (2007) Communications Market Report: Converging Communications Markets. Research Document. London, UK: Office for Communications
Ofcom (2006). The Consumer Experience. London, UK: Office for Communications
So I searched for Ofcom (2006), The Consumer Experience, and found, you guessed it, another PDF, the relevant part of which appears to be section 2.4.2: Profile of those who experience difficulties when using technology. But nothing I can find there, or elsewhere in this report, says anything about who is or isn’t likely to learn about technology by reading the manual. And nothing in Ofcom(2007) either.
At this point I have to stop and remind myself what I was looking for in the first place: Evidence that it is a myth that kids learn by doing, and adults by reading the manual. All I have found is a flock of PDF files that mention one another obliquely, and in ways I cannot even correlate. No links. No data.
Now, the message of this highly-touted “Google generation” report, as refracted through the lens of Information Week, is:
Information literacy has not improved with the widening access to technology. Instead, the speed of Web searching means little time is spent evaluating information for relevance, accuracy, or authority.
And that may well be true. But do you see the irony here? The study making this claim was constructed and published in a way that resists all efforts to evaluate its relevance, accuracy, or authority. Which hardly matters, since none of the reporting about the study seems to have made any such effort.
Pioneering research shows ‘Google Generation’ is a myth? So far as I can see, that report says more about the researchers who wrote it, and about the reporters who reacted to it, than it says about any real or imaginary trends.