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What apps are doing for (and to) our kids

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There is a fascinating new book out that helps makes sense out of how technology is impacting kids today. It's called App Generation and its co-authored by Dr. Katie Davis, a professor at the University of Washington's School of Information.

There are some clear benefits and also some risks that we should take note of. Davis spoke in Seattle last week.

Apps have turned smart phones and tablets into very powerful tools but they may create the impression that there should be instant solutions for every problem. 

There are some positive uses the authors describes as "app enabling"  — those that allow people to perform mundane tasks efficiently. But the downside is how technology can  undercut personal development — what they called "app dependent."  

Specifically, the authors examined how the app mentality in youngsters influences their sense of identity, intimacy and imagination. 

As young people package themselves for the outside world in this hyper-connected environment, their internal lives are sometimes neglected.

From the perspective of intimacy with others, the authors found that always being connected had the effect of inhibiting deep connection to other people. Short cuts to relationships, at the worst, turned into more transactional than transformational experiences. 

The impact of the app mentality on imagination was a mixed bag, Davis told the audience. In visual arts, the technology seems to inspired more creative, but in writing the evidence suggests that these tools may actually inhibit creative development.

So what do we make of this. Davis said it creates an opportunity for us to develop and use technology in an app enabling way. 

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that these cool new tools bring as many problems as they do solutions. The secret is in how they are used.