My name is Guillermo Cánovas. I have been running the Safer Internet Centre for the protection of children in Spain for 10 years, within the framework of the European Commission’s Safer Internet Programme. In 2001, I founded the child protection organisation PROTEGELES, and since then my work focuses on providing children with safety in the use of the Internet and of the remaining Information and Communication Technologies. I teach, I have published several books and studies on this topic, and people call me an “expert” in this topic. But I disagree.
I think nobody should be considered an “expert” in the subject matter I try to tackle in this blog: the impact of new technologies on the development of the brain and the thinking structures of children and teenagers. One may gather a lot of information and knowledge in a specific moment, but one can only do that during a few weeks or months. I don’t think about becoming an expert, for me it is all about learning. And in order to do that, the very first thing I had to do was accepting that much of the knowledge I think I posses is in fact ephemeral. Internet and ICTs are constantly changing and evolving, and so are teenagers. Just like our knowledge about the brain. Today’s technologies are not like the ones we used five years ago, and children and teenagers today are not like our generation was when we were their age. Their experiences are very different to ours then, they communicate differently, they relate differently and they have different expectations. Evolution and changes are growing greater and having a deeper impact, and they are quicker now than they have ever been. It is the first time in History that so many social and cultural changes take place in just one generation, including so many changes that affect the shaping of our brain.
Very few things are having such a big impact on our species and our society as the so-called new technologies, and we hardly start having a glimpse of it now. But we will see their impact, there is no doubt about that. The spectacular development of the brain in the Homo species linked to meat intake 2 million years ago… the replacement of oral thinking by the type of thinking that emerged after the creation of writing and reading 5,000 years ago… the generalization of the “consumption” of books after the invention of the printing press in the 15th century… the digitalisation of information, culture, leisure, music and even relationships in the 21st century… Each important change has modified our brain’s structure, our way of processing information and of relating to others. And the truth is that the changes that have taken place up to now, settled by natural selection, have been enormously beneficial to us. We are what we are thanks to change, and thanks to our brain’s plasticity.
But, up to now, changes hadn’t occurred in such a vertiginous way, and never had so many changes emerged in one single generation. Differences between Digital Natives and adults not acquainted with ICTs are significant and growing. We are now starting to study this. We know little about the matter, and much more is still to be discovered. And on top of all this, if we wish to be truly objective and take profit of what ICTs and the world of permanent connection are offering us, we must distinguish between reality and speculations. We must get rid of prejudices, of preconceptions, and of dozens of clichés and vested interests. And we must bear in mind that the most reliable answers will not come from technophobes, who consider that the Internet and ICTs are here to destroy young people and to put an end to our society. People who think that things were better in the good old days will not shed any light on the different aspects I will be dealing with in this blog. Neither can we expect help from nerds, techno-addicts or those who believe the Internet is the solution to every problem in the world. It is not even the solution to every problem related to education.
If I had to describe myself as an expert in an area, I would say I am an expert in doubting, rectifying and correcting. I have learned that the marvellous plasticity of our brain has prevailed during our evolution because it is thanks to this very plasticity that we can change and adapt to nearly any new circumstance. But, watch out! We should not let our brain adapt to whatever comes up… as it has the capacity to do so. Let’s study the reality in which children live, let’s consider the different aspects. Let’s do an assessment. And then, after all that, let’s try and keep the positive and usable things we find, and let’s identify the negative aspects to try and prevent them or fight against them when they appear. ICTs bring many good things, but also some very bad stuff.
The so-called digital gap turned into a generational gap long ago, and it has already changed into an evolutionary gap, which is a seriously important milestone.
But, is it really such a big deal? Definitely it is. Or perhaps not? Let’s doubt about this too, to begin with ;-). We will discover the answer together, little by little, also dealing with other related-issues, such as identity, privacy, safety or addiction.