Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Digital Blessing and the Digital Curse

Maybe "technology" has always been a blessing and a curse.

I often hear fellow Gen Xers look at this generation of millennials and Gen Zers (or whatever this current group of elementary and high school students will be dubbed) say that they are so glad they grew up in the 70s and 80s when there were no digital distractions.  Our technology was a television with six channels and an Atari . . . later cable TV with 40 some channels and the Sega Genesis game counsel.

If the technology had existed back in the 80s, I have no doubt we’d be doing the things that make us condemn this generation for (texting and driving, texting while talking to each other, airing copious amounts of dirty laundry on Facebook, taking selfie and selfie after selfie, and binge watching their favorite shows on Netflix).

In fact, last night at Cash’s T ball practice, I looked around and saw that every adult (save one) at one point was not paying attention to their kids.  Instead they were staring at the black screens in their hands.  So maybe we have become just like this current generation (and, oh by the way, the current generation of kids had their phones away.  They were playing and coaching our kids).  And even the kids’ older siblings were playing in the park and running around – there wasn’t an iPad or digital device in sight . . . other than the ones their parents were using.

But as I look at my students (both my College in the High School students at LHS and my students earning remedial credits at the ALC this summer), I do have concerns.

I have concerns that students are too distracted.  They lack what Cal Newport class the ability to do deep work.  Simply put, he wonders if young people will have the power of concentration to focus on hard tasks for long periods of time.  This might include focusing on building a house, sending a detailed email to a customer, or writing a coherent paper in order to get them through college. 

For my College Comp students, I have taken to setting a large box on a table at the front of the room and demanding they all (me included too) place their phones in the box while they work.  This isn’t every day, but when we need to get some deep work done – such as reading several chapters or developing a thesis – they need to be able to focus without the digital distractions.

And to be fair, that is all they are.  Distractions.  Has a post on Instagram or a Snapchat ever really changed someone’s life?  I’m still waiting to see it.  Most of it is just status up dates or trivial information.

Right now I have a student who is plenty bright and talented, yet she lives to check her phone.  This is the ALC.  If this were LHS, I’d ask her to place her phone in the box.  But since it’s summer school, I place the burden squarely on the kids to manage their time and earn their remedial credits.  So she is constantly drawn into the drama that is going on in her phone.

After school I was driving home and saw her walking down main street staring at her phone and typing with her thumb.  I thought, what could be so important that she has to respond at this very moment?  I mean I’m an adult who loves my life.  I have an amazing family.  I’m very successful at my job.  I constantly try to help and connect with people.  Yet, I don’t have any drama going on.  I mean if anyone should be on their damn phone 24/7, shouldn’t it be an adult with all this stuff going on in my life?  

I worried that maybe this girl - and a whole generation - are becoming addicted to the drama of social media.

What will happen when she has a husband and a family?  Will she still feel compelled to have drama?  What will happen to her family?  If she is so addicted to drama, will she ever even be able to land a husband and a family?  Or because she feels the need for drama, will that sabotage all of her future relationships?  Since normal, healthy relationships are minimal on the drama, will a normal, healthy relationship seem unnatural to her without the inherent drama she has grown up on?

What will this girl’s life look like in 30 years?  Will she have the phone implanted permanently into her brain?  I mean if she is on her phone constantly now . . . what will that earn her in the future?

I’m being facetious, of course.  But all the drama that social media depends upon scares the hell out of me.

I mean what would Instagram or Facebook be if people didn’t comment on their statuses?  Those platforms exist because people cannot unplug from them.  What would happen to Facebook if every American took just 48 hours off of it? 

Someone would think the rapture had occurred.  That’s for sure.

Don’t get me totally wrong here.  I think the digital devices have a ton of potential, but it all comes at the price of dealing with the distractions and the drama.

When it comes time for me to – unfortunately – do a chore around the house (such as seal the shower with calking) or change the headlights in the Highlander, I can consult the Youtube app on my iPhone and within seconds have a guided tutorial on how to do it.  I’m sure I could even look up a tutorial on Youtube about how to look up a tutorial on Youtube!

I think it’s also great that we have so much knowledge (for free) at our fingertips.  Yesterday I saw a critter that has been living under my neighbor’s shed dash across his lawn into ours and head for our deck.  I quickly grabbed my iMac and Googled “Wood Chuck” and “Ground Hog” to see what it actually was.

Likewise, if we are studying a new concept in class, I know students can Google it and have instant access to supplemental knowledge  When I was introducing the class to Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map, about a cholera outbreak in Soho, London in the later 1800s, I mentioned – referencing a documentary on the death of the dinosaurs, in which the scientist claim when the meteor hit, a majority of the dinosaurs were already dead thanks to disease and in doing this he mentioned how dysentery had killed more animals and people on earth than anything else – how cholera has killed more people than anything on earth.

I had misspoken.

If this would have happened in Mr. Matzke’s class in 1990, we’d have taken it as gospel and moved on.  However, since this was 2015, I saw a student look at his iMac and begin typing.

He was fact checking me.

I love it.

That’s the power of digital.

But it comes at a cost. The distractions and the drama.

That is why I say yet again, students need digital role models.  That’s why they need their teachers and parents on social media modeling how awesome it is to be an adult who is an active, life-long learner.  That’s why I friend or follow my students on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

What drama do I post?

None.  Maybe I’ll repost some political commentary, but not much.  If anything, on Twitter, I’ll favorite some more controversial stuff, but I will rarely share it or comment on it.

I usually post humorous cat videos.  I’ll post about my amazing family.  I’ll definitely blog (as I am now) about serious issues related to my job and to being an intellectually, active life-long learner.

Just yesterday as I was leaving the ALC I saw a large black truck with “In Memory of . . .” stenciled across the back window.  In the bed of the truck was an American flag next to a blue cooler.  “Redneck,” I thought as I walked by.  Then I noticed that in one of the cup holders on the top of the cooler (the ones that are built in to the top), an open Bush Lite!

Of course, I it took me a nan-second to Tweet: “You know you’re at the ALC when . . .”

And as soon as I hit “send,” I knew it was a mistake, so I quickly deleted it.

I was falling prey to the same drama and distractions that the kids do.

That cannot happen.  So I went home and wrote a blog post on what I have been watching and reading instead.

I just know that my generation missed out on a golden opportunity to leave our mark and enact change.  As these next two videos illustrate.

No comments: