Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Is Technology Destroying Society - Part II

Before and After Prince...the conversation continues...for those who are willing to engage in the clash of ideas until they find the spark of truth

Working in educational technology I have an opportunity to engage many people from all walks of life in a conversation about ed tech. Inevitably there seems to rise into the conversation a message of fear and distrust. It goes something like this:

Oh, so you work in technology?

Yes, educational technology - I teach people how to use technology in their learning.

Oh. Don’t you think there’s too much of it?

What? Learning?

No, technology. Don’t you think it’s driving people apart? Everywhere you turn you see people on their devices. Nobody talks to each other anymore.

And as soon as I hear that, I begin to wonder: Do they understand technology? How it’s used and can be used? Do people understand the power of the small computer in their pocket called a smartphone? I realize more than likely they don’t. Nor, it seems, have they experienced the power technology has to connect us to each other!

So I tell them a story. A story about chocolate milk and a runner.

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I have four kids and as long as I’ve been raising kids, I’ve been pretty health conscious. I became a vegan at 13 and radically changed the way I ate and saw food. So when I had kids I was even more conscious of what I made and what they ate. Which is why it really surprised me when my 15-year-old son - the third child - said to me one day when we were shopping at Trader Joe’s, “Oh, I’ll be right back. I’m gonna go get the chocolate milk.” I had my phone out, since I use the app Wunderlist to grocery shop. It’s a great app that allows me to create collaborative lists with my family - that way they can add items to the grocery list anytime, anywhere!

I stopped, looked up and laughed. “Boy, I have been raising kids for 22 years, and have never bought chocolate milk for my home. Why do you think I’m going to start now?” And he answered simply, “It’s good for runners.”

You see my son is an athlete. A runner, specifically, and he is also very curious. Always ready to find out new things.

This time I just looked at him in amazement at his audacity and laughed. “Right. Good for runners.” And he quickly whipped out his smartphone and said, “Okay. I’ll prove it to you. I’ll find three research articles, vetted from universities with research, that say chocolate milk is good for runners.”  And in that moment anyone walking by will see me looking at my phone and my son standing in front of me looking at his phone. What perception could they have? What story could they create?

Wow, how sad - look at that. They can’t even put their phones away when they go grocery shopping.

Look at that. Even grocery shopping they can’t talk to each other. So sad. Families today.

What is unfortunate is that the reality is exactly the opposite. In that moment my son and I were probably the most connected we’d been the entire grocery trip. So why does this matter? Aside from the fact that a false judgment is laid on me and my son?

Perceptions and beliefs are very closely related. Research tells us that perception is created through the culture one lives in, one’s belief system and one’s experiences. When it comes to the rapid changes we’re experiencing in technology, our experience with these new tools is limited. Therefore our beliefs and cultural information around technology continue to shift as we learn more.
Unfortunately, all of this is in our subconscious, so we are not aware of the crashing of belief systems going on inside of us. So with little information to go on consciously, perceptions about communication and closeness are created with the information we do have - face-to-face experiences. Face-to-face experiences are something we have had lots of experience with, and we are in a culture that says when people talk in a verbal face-to-face exchange and certain body language features, they are close and it is associated with a positive relationship. If we do not see these expressions of communication, then we’re in danger of assuming the opposite: this family has no communication. And when technology is present, it is a stranger at the door...we don’t do well with strangers in Western it must be the culprit. Especially since we know so little about it. Compounding this further is it picks up on the other false belief we have: Kids. They have no respect. Not like they used to be. We see the use of technology as something the “young” these days...teenagers, you know how they are...and not as something we could all relatively embrace, utilize and make meaningful in our lives!

Again, why is this important? So people don’t like technology. Why is that a problem? These perceptions can drive people to reinforce a false belief that technology is bad and creates separation among families and society. The problem with this false belief is not only is it based on little information and experience, it is keeping people from engaging in the positive benefits of technology. It also serves as a distraction - we can focus on technology and not the real reason why kids may or may not be communicating with their parents. Chances are if there are problems in the home now with technology and relationships, it existed long before technology arrived at the door: Technology only enhanced the problem. Maybe that’s why we don’t like it.

Yes, technology is rapidly changing how we do things - all things. So while there are drawbacks to technology - information once released into the internet is irretrievable, mistakes are more difficult to erase from the public view, bullying (which has always existed in some form) now has a public platform - there are also infinite benefits! Families from around the world can communicate relatively cost-free or over wifi using apps like WhatsApp. Students can collaborate with peers from around the world on projects using tools like Google Docs. And now students in elementary school are learning to code using free programs like and CS First.

We are also beginning to see where students have an opportunity to engage in a class that is either fully online or blended (where they are partly online), and every student’s voice is heard. Unlike a traditional classroom when many of my generation went to school, only some students’ voices were heard - generally those brave enough or smart enough to raise their hand. Today, with Learning Management Systems like Haiku or Apps like Slack, students can engage in a conversation with peers, guided generally by an idea posed by the teacher, although students can pose questions also, creating a much richer learning experience where they are active agents of their own learning. Or students engage in online discourse, driven by a question the teacher posts and to which all students must respond. All students. All students’ voices are heard! That is exciting!

Technology is radically changing not only how we engage with each other, but how we are living.

This video from Corning shows a view of how the not too distant future could look. What’s exciting about this video are the possibilities for learning, engagement and connection it offers to the family and the world.

If our perceptions don’t change about technology and how we engage with technology, we are in danger of falling behind and more importantly, not supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs as they explore, make mistakes and learn using the tools of their generation.   Why tie them to the tools of our day -  pen and paper, which are so one dimensional - when they have the world ready to hear their voice and to learn from and with them.