The “Google generation” and some implications for ehealth

The findings of a recent report on how the "Google generation" uses technology and searched for information has some potential implications for ehealth (view the full report [35 slides] or read a summary article via ars technica).  In this case, the Google generation was defined as those kids born since 1993.

Kids seem to be familiar and comfortable using technology (i.e., what people would call ‘technologically savvy’).  However, this competence in using technology doesn’t translate into their ability to find information.  Assumptions about youngsters improving their search skills by experimentation and use alone would seem to be false.  What else was interesting was that kids prefer interactive activities (duh!), but they weren’t so picky about visual over text.  Visual was preferred to text, but it wasn’t a huge difference.

For those of us interested in ehealth, I think there are some important things we need to consider.  For example, my supervisor, Alex Jadad, often likes to challenge people by saying that we need to build a system that our kids will use because they are technologically savvy.  They may be more comfortable with information and communication technologies, but we can’t assume they’ll be "experts".  Some things to consider:

  • Comfort and familiarity using a technology lead to improved ability to find or understand information.
  • Recognize the importance of peer knowledge.  Maybe there is some value to this whole social-networking/web2.0 aspect of the Internet after all.  I know of a few colleagues interested in things like Facebook for potential applications to health.  Sounds like something straight out of social cognitive theory.
  • If people have difficulty finding information, maybe we need to spend more effort in making resources easier to find.  Do we need a clearinghouse for health information?  Maybe something like an ehealth specific Digg service could be of use?
  • Are we doing enough to help people, not just young people, understand the information they do find?  Maybe we need more resources helping people search and understand health information.

What seems clear is that we need to be careful about the assumptions we make about people using technology.  Young people may have a head start in terms of comfort and familiarity, but they aren’t "automagically" experts of finding information.  In fact, according to this study, their comfort and familiarity may lead to a shallow understanding of technology.  Something to think about.

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