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Millennials See Tech's Dark Side as Well as Its Benefits

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The generation that has come of age surrounded by technology is keenly aware of the advantages that technology gives them but also sees the potential pitfalls, a new global survey of millennials finds.

The survey, conducted on behalf of the Spanish telecommunications company Telefonica and the Financial Times, found that overall, many millennials see technology as helping their career and economic prospects. Globally, 83 percent said technology makes it easier to get a job, and 69 percent said technology creates more opportunities for all.

But many also saw a darker side to technology's march forward, with 62 percent saying the advent of technology has widened the gap between rich and poor.

Millennials often get a bad rap for being self-involved or unaware. But Frédéric Michel, global director of public engagement for Telefónica, said he thinks the findings show that many young adults in North America and around the world are quite mature, and already see that things are not one-dimensional.

"They basically are very, very aware of how technology can help them improve their career path," Michel said. "And at the same time, they are also conscious that technology can't solve everything."

That could be because many millennials have come of age in a time of great technological change, but also great economic uncertainty. Only about half of the millennials surveyed said the economy was on track, either globally or in their own region, and many said they worry about things like progressing from school into the workplace. That's the type of worry previous generations may not have had because the jobs were much more plentiful.

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They survey of more than 12,000 millennials ages 18 to 30 was conducted across 27 countries and has a margin of error of less than 1 percent.

Neil Howe, president of LifeCourse Associates, a consulting firm that focuses on generations, said he's not surprised to find that millennials have more nuanced feelings about how technology can both create opportunity and widen the wealth gap.

He said when most people think of the term millennials, they think of affluent, educated young people. But there is also a big pool of less wealthy, less educated young adults who are struggling to find their path in a world that is increasingly reliant on technology.

That world has fewer well-paying, low-skill jobs their parents and grandparents held, and millennials may well have seen people in their family lose a job to technological change.

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At the same time, they have seen that some of the world's wealthiest and most successful people, such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, got there by being at the forefront of technology.

Howe said some of the youngest people also may not be getting access to the right kind of technology to help them get ahead. He said some experts have now started talking about a "reverse digital divide," in which kids from less educated and affluent families spend more time doing things like playing video games, while kids from more educated and wealthy families are being exposed to more educational technology and other developmentally appropriate activities.

Kristen Purcell, director of research for the Pew Internet and American Life Project, found a similar disparity by income when she surveyed advanced placement and National Writing Project teachers about access to technology and learning.

The survey found that teachers in the lowest income schools were least likely to say that their students had access to necessary technology, either in the classroom or at home.

In addition, more than eight in 10 of the teachers said they thought technology was leading to greater disparity between affluent and disadvantaged schools.

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Purcell said it stands to reason that such a disparity would persist as those students got older and entered the working world.

"We've consistently found in our research on technology use, just in general among adults, that yes millennials are heavy tech users. They lead the way. They've always lead the way," Purcell said. "But there are still income differences. … Usually (it's) the most educated, most affluent adults who are leading the way in technology adoption."

— By CNBC's Allison Linn. Reach her by email or follow her on Twitter, @AllisonDLinn.

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