When I first started working in this field, i became concerned that the children growing up in the next generation would understand computers at a profoundly deep level, since they had been playing with them since very early childhood in many cases. My peer group has a very good handle on the nature of all the parts that make up computers and the software that makes them useful, as well as the connections between those bits. Since we hadn't gotten the opportunity, in most cases, to play and explore very complex computers as we were cutting our teeth, there was the potential to be less able to grasp the deeper parts intuitively.
Now that i'm a few years away from that initial concern, i'm beginning to see that my fears haven't necessarily come to pass. There are some kids coming along who are exceedingly intelligent, as there always are, but the wave of young minds who would effectively eat our occupational lunch hasn't come. Why? Well, a great many psycho-social reasons, certainly, few of which i'm equipped to explore with any authority. There are a couple, though:
This wave of knowledge seems to have gone in a different direction than i anticipated. We are seeing a couple generations of users who get applications quickly, and integrate them just as fast, but they're not necessarily more native engineers than those who came before. They seem to be overwhelmed by the noise and connection potential of this stuff. Witness the amazing level of cellular telephone and text message use by teenagers, along with their capacity to grab free or cracked copies of any music or software they want without remorse. They're learning to be super-users, not builders.
The above needs to be qualified a bit. There are, of course, those who will still be taking things apart to see how they work, just as there always have been. Instead of the tv or console radio in pieces on the living room carpet, there's a freshly-compiled BSD installation, or new Linux component, or set of scripts. Perhaps there are only, in each generation, a limited number of minds that work that way, regardless of generation.
This quote, from Dave Winer at www.scripting.com:
"My father decided to retire as a college professor. He's been doing it for 29 years, and was considering staying on one more year. He decided to retire for two reasons. First, he's always been researching better ways to teach students in his field. In the past his dept would adopt the ideas that worked. They've stopped doing that. The second reason is more disturbing. His students are cheating, and when he catches them, they fight about it, instead of being shamed. Being a professor seems pointless to him in this context. Makes sense. What's the point of teaching when people just want the grade, not the education?"
Not sure how to even comment on that last bit. Perhaps having all that information and research so close at hand when the time comes to write your paper is akin to being a little hungry and left alone in the cookie factory. Who's to know if you grab a little from here, from there, and wrap it together in a new way? Not terribly different than when some of us were coming along, different in ease and scale. When i wrote papers or reports, i was limited by the things i had access to at home (Encyclopaedia Brittanica) and at the public library, in most cases. Now there are hundreds of papers just sitting there, most for free, to 'rewrite' as needed. Should we expect original critical thought in 7th graders? Why not?
Perhaps there's just too much emphasis on the easily-measured result, not the process.
Anyway, not sure what lit this particular thing today, perhaps Dave Winer's bit. The world has a way of not turning out entirely as we expect, it seems.