In the past 10 or so days since news of the Te’o hoax broke, the media has been on overdrive, covering every possible inch of the story.
Yet the interesting thing about the story is that all of its players–Te’o, his hoaxer (and accomplices) and the Deadspin writers who broke the story are all in my generation–the generation that has grown up right alongside of social media, texting, Twitter, Facebook and the like.
The very technology that allowed Te’o to fall into this trap did not even exist 10 years ago.
The very technology that allowed two students to uncover evidence much faster than ESPN did not even exist 10 years ago.
The very technology that this story has been growing on, the live web, has given my generation an advantage when it comes to reporting on this platform.
Gary Small, a neuroscientist at UCLA studies looks at how technology has altered the way young minds develop, function and interpret information. He explained to Reuters back in 2008 that
“We’re seeing an evolutionary change. The people in the next generation who are really going to have the edge are the ones who master the technological skills and also face-to-face skills”
Small’s research has shown that the brain is very sensitive to the changes in technology, as it would be too any environmental stimuli. The kicker is that as adolescents and young people, our brains remain more elastic than our older counterparts, allowing us to learn the new technology faster. Because this generation has grown up along with the technology, we are more adept at mastering it. (There’s a reason that Brent Musburger doesn’t have a twitter account.)
Researchers have used the term digital native to describe those of us born during or after the introduction of various digital technologies, and research at Harvard has shown that we do, indeed, have a greater and faster understanding of digital concepts than those born before the emergence of digital tech, aptly dubbed the digital immigrants.
Thus, this generation has an advantage when it comes to investigative reporting on the new platforms–which is how the young Deadspin reporters beat ESPN to the story in the first place. (Well, that and ESPN’s reputable need for ‘access’)
This is good news for the cohort of students and young journalists out there looking to make a name for themselves–but the traditions of good journalism, such as fact checking, attribution and yes, more fact checking–aren’t going anywhere, and that’s something that some of us digital natives may need to keep in mind before their own speculation (see video) becomes an apparently undefendable truth.