I have this horrible habit of leaving emails, texts, and now blog posts chilling in “draft” form. This week, my excuse is final exams. I am so not a multi-tasker. I am a hot mess right now, actually. Like, a Britney-esque hot mess circa 2007.
Photo Credit: Toni Underwood, 2008
So continuing below is the blog post I wrote on the weekend … and realized tonight that I hadn’t posted. OOPS!
Our readings for the week got me thinking about how prevalent social media has become. I watched the Danah Boyd keynote about Teenagers who are Living and Learning with Social Media. What struck me is how much social media has changed since this keynote was videoed. MySpace is a non-entity now. Facebook is considered an “old person” site – so my students and my son tell me. I asked them, “what is the best social media site?” They tell me it’s not a site really, but an app. SnapChat. Apparently, if you don’t have this app, you are a digital dinosaur. Well, all righty then.
This tied in with what I read in Neil Postman’s 1998 article, “Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change” I look at how the mighty dinosaurs ceased to exist. I watch the rapid growth of technology that is portable and easily accessible (for those who can afford it) and I am becoming increasingly afraid that it is not going to end well. I look particularly at Postman’s conclusion to his article:
“First, that we always pay a price for technology; the greater the technology, the greater the price. Second, that there are always winners and losers, and that the winners always try to persuade the losers that they are really winners. Third, that there is embedded in every great technology an epistemological, political or social prejudice. Sometimes that bias is greatly to our advantage. Sometimes it is not. The printing press annihilated the oral tradition; telegraphy annihilated space; television has humiliated the word; the computer, perhaps, will degrade community life. And so on. Fourth, technological change is not additive; it is ecological, which means, it changes everything and is, therefore, too important to be left entirely in the hands of Bill Gates. And fifth, technology tends to become mythic; that is, perceived as part of the natural order of things, and therefore tends to control more of our lives than is good for us.
Technology controls more of our lives than is good for us. That quote bears repeating. The most popular form of discipline or punishment in my students’ homes is the removal of technology or “taking the phone away.” This is a punishment of epic proportions because STREAKS. Teachers in our school have rules about usage and most classrooms are equipped with “phone garages” – made by our carpentry classes, these can hold 36 phones while their owners are learning. Some teachers have even attached charging ports to their device garages so their students’ phones can charge while they’re in class. OY! I will admit, I am as reliant on my phone as the next person… but I can go all day without charging my phone and still be at over 50% battery remaining … and I believe this is because I rarely use social media at work and I use texting instead of SnapChat to communicate.
Recently at our school, we lost internet access. No big deal for me – I am kind of old fashioned and I teach ELA, so we still have books to read and I have paper copies of most other literary resources that I can pull out if I need to. It was almost refreshing that the phone or the bells couldn’t ring and I didn’t have to worry about being bombarded with emails. I could go about my lesson without fear of interruption.
My classroom was productive; however, in other parts of the school there was full blown panic. Teachers who use online formats to store their lessons and content had nothing to teach … and the (digital) natives were getting restless. This outage came only days after an email was sent stating that the wifi passwords had been changed to protect bandwidth and staff and students would no longer be given passwords or access to wifi on their personal devices. I half expected there to be a mass exodus from the building.
How dare they not provide access to wifi for our students or staff? A question one of my students asked stopped me in my tracks.
“Isn’t denying access to the internet a breach of basic human rights?” – a student.
Woah. On so many levels this was a teachable moment. Before I could say anything, another student in my class asked what the basic human rights might be… which lead to a very heated (but polite) debate on the topic. As I listened to my students ponder the question that was asked, I felt like I was in some alternate universe and had been transported back in time to the early 1990s in my grade 12 high school English class. George Orwell’s 1984 was the book we had just finished reading and it had introduced us to the saying that has come to epitomize life without freedom: BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU. Since the internet was still in its infancy and not yet mainstream in the fall of 1992, we were having difficulty imagining a world like Oceania, where all human actions are scrutinized by Big Brother, where screens can watch what we are doing, and where all of our actions can be recorded. It’s only been twenty-five years since I graduated high school – but the idea of owning a home computer and having internet access was pretty much nonexistent. Now, our students can hardly imagine a life without internet access.
In 1984, the protagonist, Winston, works in the Records Department at the Ministry of Truth and rewrites and distorts history. This reminds me of a John Mayer song, “Waiting on the World to Change” which states:
“when you trust your television*
What you get is what you got
Cause when they own the information, oh
They can bend it all they want.”
*television = any media source, really
This brings me back to Postman’s article. Though written 20 years ago, I still find relevance in what was written. As Postman says, “[t]here is no escaping from ourselves. The human dilemma is as it has always been, and it is a delusion to believe that the technological changes of our era have rendered irrelevant the wisdom of the ages and the sages.” Students really do need teachers to help them navigate the technology highway. I would take it a step further and say that the older generations (dinosaurs like me) can learn from the younger generations just as much as – and maybe just a bit more! – than the younger generations can learn from us. We’re all in this together!