‘Net Generation’ Does Not Exist, Study Says

April 23, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
Younger university students
Younger university students are easily distracted by social media and texting, according to new research. (Littleny/Dreamstime.com)

Despite being immersed in technology, not all students use or are skilled in technology use, according to new research. But mobile phones and social networking were found to pose a distraction from study for students under 25.

The research, led by Dr Christopher Jones of the Open University, looked at how today’s university students use technology for social and study purposes. Over 2,000 first year students at five English universities were surveyed and a sample of 68 students interviewed for the study. Some students also kept a written and video diary of their technology use over a 24-hour period. 

“Our research shows that the argument that there is a generational break between today’s generation of young people who are immersed in new technologies and older generations who are less familiar with technology is flawed,” Jones said in a statement. 

“The diverse ways that young people use technology today shows the argument is too simplistic and that a new single generation, often called the ‘net generation’, with high skill levels in technology does not exist.”

The results showed that a small minority of students do not use e-mail, while others are initially confused by the range of technologies now available at universities. Nearly 98 per cent of students who took part in the study owned a mobile phone, around three quarters owned a laptop, and over a third owned a desktop computer.

Little divide was seen between the sexes, with male and female students reporting similar IT skill levels. But male students were more confident in using spreadsheets, and graphics and audio visual programs, and in carrying out computer maintenance and security checks.

Technology use between younger and older students was, however, seen to differ. Students 20 years old or younger were more engaged in social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter, texting, instant messaging, and watching videos or uploading photographs, whereas technology use in the over 25s was found to be more related to study rather than leisure. Nearly 80 per cent of students over 35 never engaged in social networking sites.

This overuse of technology, particularly social networking and messaging, and its distracting effect, was frequently mentioned in interviews. But coping strategies, such as turning off devices while studying or only indulging during set breaks, were developed by the students.

Despite now having the technology to study anywhere, students still choose their bedroom or the university library, just as students did 10 years ago, the research found.

Over two-thirds of students said their access to technology at university was adequate to meet their study needs, and there is no evidence that universities are failing to meet students’ technological demands, concluded the researchers