(response to “What Happens When our Connection is Severed?”)
I felt a bit like a treasure seeker with a metal detector, only what I was seeking was a wireless signal on my iPad in our neighboring elementary school. Just one bar! At last, a tiny bit of signal came through. A connection with the wider world! When our Internet (both wired and wireless) cut out one day, our usual habits of communication were disrupted. The event reminded me how much we are shaped by the technologies we use.
We often describe technology as a tool, which recognizes that we use technology to change our environment. But technology is a tool that hammers back, changing us even as we use it. We usually don’t recognize this – it’s hard to see a change as it is happening to us, but it’s worthwhile to think about. Marshall McCluhan writes that “the ‘message’ of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or patten that it introduces into human affairs.”
Philosophers and psychologists look deeply into the big picture impacts of technology, but we can still be aware of the day to day changes both in our own lives and in school. My children connect with family long distance by Skype, so they and their grandparents will grow up together with weekly visits. At school we use technology help students to individualize aspects of their learning so they can learn at their own pace, whether it is faster or slower than the pace of the class on any given activity. Our digital camera displays give instant feedback on the quality of our photos, our iPods give us instant feedback on the accuracy of our French pronunciation. We can accelerate our learning in many domains.
Negative behavior can also be amplified by technology. We spend hours engaged with our devices and not with our families. Learning can be disrupted by constant distraction. We check email at home, and are unable to rest from work. Students who would not speak unkindly to a peer when face to face can be vitriolic when writing from behind the ‘security’ of Facebook or Formspring.
Change driven by technological development is not new to us. The car (and truck) transformed our cities, industries and economies. As a society we fall in love with a technology and it becomes far more than a tool. Our students are helped when we approach technology with human thoughtfulness, not just reckless enthusiasm or cautious distrust. It is a human endeavour, capable of elevating or degrading. We need to learn where it makes us strong and where it makes us helpless, and lead our students forward with our eyes open.
Image from Pranav Mistry