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The Virtual Revolution episode 4 - Homo Interneticus?

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Dan Gluckman - Product Lead | 15:35 UK time, Friday, 19 February 2010

So far in The Virtual Revolution, we've looked at the impact of the web on power, international politics, and business. Now, in the final episode of the series, we're focussing on us. Is the web, with its instant connections and access to information, having an impact on our relationships and possibly even the way we think?

'Generation Web'  - the generation who have grown up knowing only a wired world - will enter adulthood having spent 10,000 hours online. On the programme you'll see neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield, expressing concerns that the impact on their brains has been underestimated - a point she made back when production launched. But author Charles Leadbeater, who has advised the government about the web's impact on economics and education, thinks that such fears are the expression of an age-old problem - one generation finding it hard to comprehend what the next is doing.  "I think a lot of this is a kind of middle class, middle aged panic about the web", he says. "They are panicked by the future [and] panicked by what they think their children are doing."

There are plenty of anecdotes - but surprisingly little hard evidence on this subject. Which is why in the making of The Virtual Revolution, we were so keen to join forces with Professor David Nicolas, head of the CIBER research group at University College London.

Today we've launched the Web Behaviour Test, devised with Professor Nicholas and with Professor Clifford Nass of Stanford University (who investigates multitasking behaviour). We've identified eight web 'species' that have evolved over the past twenty years. Taking the test will tell you what sort of web animal you are, and help contribute to an experiment which should show if people who use the web a lot, think differently from people who don't.

The experiment will run for several months, and the results will be reported back in the summer of 2010. But during the filming of The Virtual Revolution, we ran a small scale trial. Just over one hundred people of different ages and genders took the test - some who use the web rarely, others who use it all the time. The results were suggestive. Generation Web answered their questions after looking at half the number of web pages and only spending one sixth of the time viewing the information than their elders did.

Hopefully our full experiment will find out more.

So what do you think? Are you worried about the impact of the web on your relationships, identity and even the way you think? Or do you agree with Charles Leadbeater, that this is just an ill-informed moral panic? Let us know in the comments below.
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