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Watching a Digital Nation in Action

If the Kaiser Family Foundation report on kids' excessive media use didn't give you enough evidence of the dominant role of technology in our lives, don't miss the Frontline report next Tuesday on PBS titled "Digital Nation."

The documentary, which I wrote about here, kicked off last year to take a closer look at how the Web is "transforming the way we work, learn and connect." Frontline Producer Rachel Dretzin and Correspondent Douglas Rushkoff go from home to school to the workplace as they explore the fascination with and dependence on digital devices and the online world.

Not surprisingly, there are a range of perspectives about whether the increasing amount of time spent on social networking sites, online video and news pages, and music and gaming programs—often while doing other things—has a positive or negative impact on users.

One MIT professor, for example, shares his observations of students' ability to absorb his course content as they are distracted by the programs they have open on their laptops during class time.

"It's not that the students are dumb. It's not that they're not trying," says David Jones as he explains how the class average on a midterm exam in medical history was just 75 percent, even though the content was covered thoroughly in class lectures and readings. "I think they're trying in a way that's not as effective as they could be because they're distracted by everything else."

The students interviewed, however, say they are quite proficient at balancing multiple mental tasks all at once.

But Dretzin interviews a Stanford researcher who has found otherwise.

"Virtually all mutlitaskers think they're brilliant at multitasking," Sociologist Clifford Nass says. "And what we're discovering is that they're really lousy at it."

But technology is also seen as essential to learning, work, even the accomplishment of everyday tasks. "Walking into a classroom without media," one educator says, "is like walking into a desert" for students these days.

There are some great clips of classrooms and interviews with educators about the challenges of engaging the digital generation in lessons. There are also some fascinating segments on gaming, second life, and the power of virtual worlds.

After you've seen it, come back and share your thoughts.

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