A New Generation Hard-Wired to Technology

For youngsters born since 2010, social researcher Mark McCrindle says they are growing up surrounded by technology they will regard as part of the hard wiring of normal life. The rest of us will have to adjust. Illustration Credit: Michele Marconi

For youngsters born since 2010, social researcher Mark McCrindle says they are growing up surrounded by technology they will regard as part of the hard wiring of normal life. The rest of us will have to adjust.

Illustration Credit: Michele Marconi

A new generation is walking around and will likely confound parents, teachers and marketers as much or more than Millennials.

Generation Alpha, which consists of people born after 2010, will be more digitally savvy – and digitally enslaved. As social researcher Mark McCrindle discovered, technology will permeate every aspect of life for Generation Alpha members – from toys to consumer expectations.

Grandson Hudson deftly manipulates an iPad, almost as if it is an extension of hand.

Grandson Hudson deftly manipulates an iPad, almost as if it is an extension of hand.

I can attest. We just bought a birthday present for Hudson, our 6-year-old grandson, that will allow him to assemble a robot and code how it operates. In my day, I thought it was a big deal to have a puppet with strings that moved its lips and limbs.

McCrindle and his project partner Wired Consulting predict voice technology will become more dominant in the Generation Alpha era. No one will debate how much screen time is good or bad because almost everything will operate with a screen. There will be an internet of toys that responds to commands and demonstrates their own emotional intelligence.

Delayed gratification will be an extremely hard concept to sell this generation, which will be accustomed from an early age to instant feedback.

“Virtual Reality” may recede as a term, replaced by prevalent virtual experiences – from space exploration to house-hunting to dating (less risky and expensive).

Robots may go from scrappy metal competitors for good jobs to trusted companions offering uncomplicated relationships.

In short, Generation Alpha will be different than any generation before it, perhaps by a greater extent than any previous succeeding generation. That difference could further strain educational pedagogy, consumer marketing and parental patience. “We have been doing this for a long time” won’t be an effective message to this emerging cohort.

This new generation bursts on the scene before existing generations have answered all the questions digital technology has posed. Many of us aren’t sure we have thought of all the questions yet. For example, is Facebook as addictive as nicotine in cigarettes? Was the Facebook addiction accidental or intentional? Is there a market for Facebook farms where people can unplug for a week or more and learn how to talk someone in person?

Our grandson competes in chess tournaments and whips older kids. He may just be bright. He could assemble 100-piece puzzles when he was three. But when you watch him and his buddies deftly manipulate iPads, you realize these kids don’t separate the normal course of things from technology. Technology to him is the norm.

Gary-Conkling.jpg

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Public Opinion Polls Stay Predictable in 2017 Election

Public opinion polling earned a black eye in the 2016 election cycle when most polls failed to predict a Donald Trump presidential victory. Few changes in polling techniques have been implemented in a handful of 2017 statewide elections and poll accuracy seems reconfirmed, at least for now. The X-factor of Trump wasn’t on the ballot.

Public opinion polling earned a black eye in the 2016 election cycle when most polls failed to predict a Donald Trump presidential victory. Few changes in polling techniques have been implemented in a handful of 2017 statewide elections and poll accuracy seems reconfirmed, at least for now. The X-factor of Trump wasn’t on the ballot.

Public opinion pollsters got a shiner in the 2016 election with off-base predictions about presidential and congressional elections. That may have signaled the need for major changes in technique, but that hasn’t happened, according to a story in The New York Times.

However, one unsuspecting change might right the ship. Pollsters are literally giving more weight in surveys to the level of education of respondents. Weighting respondents by education is far from easy. Candidates don’t perfectly align along educational attainment. In 2016, because of the profile of the presidential candidates, educational levels mattered. That may not be so in future elections.

For pollsters who think big methodological changes are unnecessary, Virginia may prove them right. Hillary Clinton polled five or six points ahead of Donald Trump in the 2016 election. She eventually carried Virginia by 5.3 percent. Polling in the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial election held on Tuesday showed Democrat Ralph Northam leading his GOP counterpart Ed Gillespie by as few as 3 percentage points.  With more than 80 percent of votes tallied, Northam posted nearly a 7 percent lead.

Political polling is not a perfected science. Conscientious pollsters continuously look for factors that can skew results, such as the sea-shift from landline phones to cell phones, and adjust to account for that shift. If you didn’t include cell phones in a sample, you would under-represent young voters and minorities and people who work more than one job.

Trump’s largely unexpected victory in 2016 confounded many pollsters and led to serious questioning of polling techniques. Did pollsters conduct late surveys to capture voters who decided at the last minute? How did pollsters compensate for respondents who intended to vote for Trump, but didn’t want to say so publicly? Did surveys fully take into account more remote areas, which went strongly in Trump’s direction? And how do you accurately predict turnout, not just overall, but by key constituencies that can determine whether one candidate wins or loses?

Challenges to getting accurate polling results may be intensifying as the electorate becomes more polarized, which is a hard factor to measure. While educational levels may be an obvious factor to include, figuring out how – and whether – it is a reliable indicator of voting behavior isn’t so obvious.

Politicians and news media put more stock in public opinion polling than voters. They are the ones that pay for it and, in varying degrees, expect polling results to reflect reality. Voters have no such expectations or fealty to polling results. If anything, polling results can incite small groups of voters to go to the polls or stay home, to vote one way or the other.

When all is said and done, polls don’t matter. Elections matter. Hillary Clinton led in the polls, but lost the election. Donald Trump sleeps in the White House. Clinton sleeps in hotels on her book tour explaining how she lost an election she thought she would win.

History may show 2016 is an aberration in polling perfection. Pre-election polls proved out in the gubernatorial elections today in New Jersey and Virginia. No curve balls, even though Gillespie in Virginia did his best to imitate the political bombast of Trump.

While the gubernatorial election outcome may give pause to Republicans standing for re-election in 2018, the predictability of public opinion polls in this cycle may reassure the buyers of political polling to keep investing.

Data on Gun-Related Injuries in America

America’s love-and-hate relationship with guns remains a major political debate, despite disturbing data about the significant impact of gun-related injuries on women, children and emergency rooms.

America’s love-and-hate relationship with guns remains a major political debate, despite disturbing data about the significant impact of gun-related injuries on women, children and emergency rooms.

The Las Vegas mass shooting has rekindled the US debate over gun restrictions. The shooting that left at least 59 dead and more than 500 injured also has surfaced data showing gun-related deaths and injuries and their clinical impact on the US health care system.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in 2014 there were 33,594 gun-related injuries, 21,386 suicides and 11,008 homicides. Other data suggests half of American households own at least one gun and that most guns, including ones used in mass shootings, are purchased or obtained legally.

A study published in Health Affairs indicates gun-related injuries send thousands of people to US emergency rooms annually. Men make up the vast majority offer admissions, and young men ages 20-24 are the most likely males to wind up in an ER. More than 8 percent of ER patients with gunshot wounds end up dying there.

The mean per person cost of emergency department care was $5,254. For the almost 38 percent of patients who are given inpatient care, the average cost is $95,887.

The authors of the study say that gun-related injuries represent a significant clinical and financial burden that might be reduced by implementing universal background checks for people with a history of violence or previous convictions.

It is worth noting that nearly twice as many Americans die each year from drug and alcohol-related causes, which US policy leaders have called a national epidemic.

Other CDC data indicates:

  • 93 Americans – seven of whom are children and 50 are women – are killed on average every day with guns.
  • The US homicide rate is 25 times larger than the average of other developed nations.
  • Black men are 14 times more likely than their white counterparts to be shot or killed with guns.
  • The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of a woman being shot and killed by five times.

College Students and the First Amendment

A Brookings Institution survey reveals that college students may not be completely comfortable with freedom of expression on campus – or fully familiar with what the First Amendment protects.

A Brookings Institution survey reveals that college students may not be completely comfortable with freedom of expression on campus – or fully familiar with what the First Amendment protects.

US college campuses may be a harbinger of evolving American attitudes on free speech, hate speech and the First Amendment. Survey research conducted for the Brookings Institution reveals sharp divisions by political affiliation, gender and type of university over what speech is acceptable and what isn’t.

The research also demonstrates college students may not know what the First Amendment says.

Regarding hate speech, 44 percent of the 1,500 current undergraduate students at US four-year colleges and universities who were interviewed in the latter part of August, said the US Constitution does not protect it, while 50 percent said it does. (It does.) Students identifying as Republicans, private college undergraduates and males were more likely to say there is constitutional protection for hate speech than Democrats, public college students and women. The gap was largest between men and women. Fifty-one percent of men said hate speech is protected as opposed to only 31 percent of women.

When it comes to controversial speakers on campus, 62 percent of students identifying as Democrats think it is acceptable to shout down an objectionable speaker, contrasted with only 39 percent of Republican students.

There is no difference in attitudes by public and private college students, but again males and females sharply disagree. Fifty-seven percent of men agree it is okay to disrupt a controversial speaker compared to 47 percent of women.

Jason Villasenor, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings, said the most disturbing aspect of this finding is that overall 51 percent of students find it acceptable to shout down a speaker they find offensive. In response to a separate question, 19 percent of all students thought it was acceptable for student groups to use violence to block a speaker. Again, there was a significant gender difference, with 30 percent of males saying it was okay to use violence contrasted to 10 percent of females.

“The survey results establish what has been clear anecdotally to anyone who has been observing campus dynamics in recent years: Freedom of expression is deeply imperiled on US campuses,” he says.

Villasenor attributes student views to a lack of knowledge about what the First Amendment permits. For example, he posed a question about whether colleges are legally required to offset an offensive speaker with someone with an opposing view. Sixty-two percent of student respondents agreed colleges are required to balance offensive or hurtful speech with the other side, though Villasenor said there is no such constitutional requirement.

“Many of the respondents appear to be confusing good event design, which under some circumstances can indeed benefit from the presentation of counterpoints, with the completely different issue of what compliance with the First Amendment requires,” Villasenor says.

He also expressed dismay at student response to his question about whether they preferred a college atmosphere that prohibited offensive viewpoints on campus as opposed to an open learning environment that exposed students to a range of viewpoints. Fifty-three percent of students expressed a preference for a more sheltered college atmosphere. On this question, the widest gap was between Democrats and Republicans/Independents. Sixty-one percent of students identifying as Democrats favored limiting exposure to offensive speech, while only 47 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Independents shared that preference.

Villasenor believes college faculty should assume greater responsibility for “fostering freedom of expression on their campuses.” He is doubtful that will happen because he suspects faculty members may share the same viewpoints as students.

He suggests starting earlier in middle and high schools to teach students about the First Amendment. “We don’t need to turn students into experts on constitutional law, but we can do a better job of giving them a fuller explanation of the scope of the First Amendment,” Villasenor says.

Economic Inequality Through a Racial Lens

Perceptions that racial economic inequality have disappeared are glaringly wrong, which explains part of the public debate disconnect that it has disappeared.

Perceptions that racial economic inequality have disappeared are glaringly wrong, which explains part of the public debate disconnect that it has disappeared.

Racial bias is generally viewed through the lens of race. A new Yale University study shows wealthy white people view racial equality is a fact, despite data and perceptions of low-income blacks that suggests quite the opposite.

Analyzing US Census data, Yale researchers found African Americans are the only racial group still making less money than in 2000.

Jennifer Richeson, a Yale psychology professor who co-wrote the study, said with understatement, “Our views about racial progress and economic equality are fairly inconsistent with reality. She added, “The misperception of improving racial equality is itself an obstacle to actually achieving the progress that everyone seems to be celebrating.”

The improvement people across racial and income barriers perceive is actually wishful thinking. The Washington Post reported, “The average black household made 60 percent of what white households made in 2016 and less than half of what Asians made, according to census data. For every $100 of wealth accumulated by a white family, a black family has little more than $5 – a gap just as wide as it was 50 years ago, according to federal statistics cited by the Yale researchers.”

“Wealthy whites were also the most inaccurate in estimating racial economic equality in the present,” The Post reported. “Higher-status individuals – i.e. wealthy whites – are especially motivated to perceive society as fair so they can justify their elevated status as merit-based rather than resulting from luck or discriminatory systems, researchers said.”

Richeson tells The Post, “We need to stop deceiving ourselves. It could be a lack of information, but there’s also a role of willful blindness. Wealth inequality based on race is baked into this country’s founding, and we cannot handle it. It is not that these individuals don’t work hard enough or are genetically inferior.”

It would be easy to be pessimistic about the Yale study findings, which cited “continued discrimination in housing and bank loans [that] sabotages black Americans' ability to accumulate wealth. But there’s no real policy push to fix that, because most people don’t see the extent of the racial wealth gap to begin with.” You won’t fix what you don’t think is broken.

Passage of civil rights and voting rights legislation has been deemed by some members of US society as the cures to discrimination. “It is not surprising Americans who don’t have much contact with other races and incomes have drawn false conclusions about other people's economic experiences,” according to the study. “Wealthy blacks have more racially and economically diverse social networks compared to wealthy whites, who have little understanding of the economic outcomes of most black Americans.”

The disconnect rears its head periodically, often in response to jury verdicts that acquit white police officers who shoot black men, as happened this week in Missouri.

“So many of us grew up hearing the story about America that basically said there was slavery and then that was fixed. Martin Luther King marched and then that was fixed. And then we had Obama,” Richeson said. “That’s a nice, clean story that makes everyone feel good even though it’s shockingly inaccurate."

What Birth Rates Say about Immigration

Data compiled by Pew Research shows births by immigrant mothers helped maintain overall birth rates in half of the states and offset declines in births by US-born mothers, including in Oregon and Washington.

Data compiled by Pew Research shows births by immigrant mothers helped maintain overall birth rates in half of the states and offset declines in births by US-born mothers, including in Oregon and Washington.

A lot of research we read about centers on what people think. Some of the most informative research focuses on what they actually do.

A good example is fresh findings by Pew Research on the impact of births by immigrant mothers on US birthrates. The data show that in 2015 immigrant mothers accounted for more than three in 10 births in California, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, New Jersey and Maryland. Nineteen percent of births in Oregon and 27 percent of births in Washington were by immigrant mothers.

Immigrant mothers includes any childbearing woman not born in the United States.

Whether you think that’s good news or bad news, it is real news that has a significant effect on overall US birthrates. From 1990 to 2015, Pew found overall birth rates increased in half of the states and declined in the other half. Oregon and Washington registered slight increases in birthrates over that period, according to Pew’s data.

From a demographic point of view, births by immigrant mothers from 1990 to 2015 helped to sustain the birth rates in many states with declining birth rates by US-born mothers, including Oregon, Washington and California. The only state with a notable increase in births by US-born mothers was Nevada. There were moderate increases in Utah and Idaho and modest increases in Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas. The states with the largest decreases were in the Rust Belt and New England.

The sons and daughters of immigrant mothers, whether in the United States legally or illegally, born here are US citizens. In political discourse, these offspring sometimes are conflated with people who immigrate to the United States. The percent of the US population that is foreign-born stands around 13 percent, according to Pew Research data, but is projected to keep rising to nearly 18 percent by 2050.

A useful way to see the impact of immigration over time is to assess second and third generations of immigrants. Pew Research says the number of first, second and third generation immigrants in the United States has topped 300 million people and could reach 400 million by 2050.

For the majority of America, immigrants have helped to maintain or grow populations and workforces in the face of declining birth rates by US-born mothers. Despite the economic benefits of immigration, these trend lines have created cultural and racial fissures that are animating political debate in the nation. It also has made it easier for Americans who feel disenfranchised to point a blaming finger at an increasing number of people, many of whom, it turns out, are also Americans by birth.