Yes? Digital Technology is the Future

Professor Monahan asks us to discuss where we lie are on the spectrum of digital generation theory.

Are we techno utopians that believe the internet can save the world?

Are we techno dystopians that believe the internet is a harbinger of the end of civilization?

Are we cautious enthusiasts who want to figure out how to use the new technological changes for good?

Are we skeptical of the entire discourse?

Yes?

To all of it?

We are in a transitional moment in our culture. This transition exists for many reasons, but one of the most profound is technology, especially digital technology. Our technology changes so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up or anticipate the possible outcomes or consequences.

The kids who are growing up in today’s world live in an entirely different technological landscape than I did, and I’m only thirty. While I think I fit the digital native category, I was born in 1985: I didn’t grow up with cell phones or with constant internet access. Computers and growing tech were prevalent throughout my childhood, but nowhere near to the extent that exist today.

Right before this class started, the mother in law of a friend of mine posted an article on Facebook titled “It’s ‘digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies.” I have multiple issues with this article, but I thought it was interesting that this sort of fearmongering and finger pointing towards technology is occurring in an age where technology is so ubiquitous. The thought struck me that this was written by someone who is not a digital native, and I wondered how scary this new world must be to someone who can’t keep up (or apparently take responsibility for their parenting styles)? (It should also be noted that the author of this article is a doctor in a rehabilitation clinic for addictions and might have more than a small personal agenda to support here). This sort of digital immigrant, as Marc Prensky points out, “w[as] ‘socialized’ differently from their kids, and [is] now in the process of learning a new language” (Prensky, 2001). And of course, this is exactly the topic of the article we read by Plowman and McPake on “Seven myths about young children and technology”.

This is certainly not a new idea either, Alvin Toffler addressed this in his 1970 novel Future Shock and the debate has continued to rage ever since.

In one of my other classes, Children’s Resources, one of the very first things we discussed was the necessity of not limiting information given to children because we think it might be too advanced for them. Children need to be able to take in information and extrapolate from it what they need without adults interfering in the process. I think this point is also necessary when looking at children and what technology we present to them. My first response to the article comparing ipads to heroine was thinking about how I would never deny my children access to the tools that they will need to succeed.

I absolutely believe that digital technology is the current state of the future, and that children today must be exposed early and often to what is available to them in order to afford them future success.

My mother did not let me play videogames as a child. Much like the themes in the above article, she believed that too much screen time was detrimental to my well-being and would firmly boot me outside to go play in the sunlight. Granted, I was much more “addicted” to reading, and she had larger problems prying books out of my hands when it came time to focus elsewhere, but…at the end of the day, one of the things I’ve noticed when comparing myself with friends of mine who did avidly play video games is the extreme difference in technological skills that we carried out of childhood. My friends who were gamers did much better in the STEM areas than I ever did, and have largely chosen professions that utilize technologies that quite frankly I can’t even begin to understand. And again, that was over twenty years ago, so I can only imagine what might happen to child today who is denied access to technology. As Bennett, Maton and Kervin state in their article on digital natives: “Immersion in this technology-rich culture is said to influence the skills and interests of digital natives in ways significant for education” (Bennett, Maton and Kervin, 2008). If digital technology is the wave of the future, the children who will succeed will be those who are comfortable with that technology and understand how to use and create it.

Marc Presnky’s article on digital natives starts with the quote “Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach” (Prensky, 2001). I think this is extremely true. The sister of a friend I grew up with recently began high school. Her school required all incoming freshmen to have Mac laptops. Would this have happened even ten years ago? Probably not. My own elementary school now teaches classes on how to use the internet, on internet safety, and incorporates that discussion into regular coursework. Students use Twitter to talk to others all over the world, and introduce video-making and social media into their arsenal of regular classroom tools. They do this because:

If we want the children of today to continue to be learners tomorrow, we need to help them develop a sense of themselves as competent learners who can function in diverse settings. In order to accomplish this goal, the Lower School curriculum exposes children to different approaches in learning, enhances their awareness of their own individual learning styles, and aids them in discovering that there are many resources for information and knowledge, both within and outside of school. (The Columbus Academy, Lower School)

Can the internet save the world? I think the Egyptian Revolution is a good example of how the internet can cause drastic change for both good and ill. A Wired article about the Egyptian Uprising and social media says: “Did social media like Facebook and Twitter cause the revolution? No. But these tools did speed up the process by helping to organize the revolutionaries, transmit their message to the world and galvanize international support” (Gustin, 2011).

We can certainly argue over the politics and whether we believe what happened in Egypt was right or wrong…but think about that: The fact that common people were able to use a tool like Twitter to help an actual revolution take place. That is no small thing.

In the long run, are the Egyptians better off? I’m sure that only someone living in Egypt right now could even begin to give you that sort of answer. The Wired article makes a good point though, social media and other digital technology is a tool, a tool that is still being used by humans, which we all know are capable of great good and great evil. So while these tools can cause wonderful things, they can also cause terrible things. Globalization, which I believe to be one of the major things that digital technology is ensuring will happen, can be both good and bad. It can bring jobs, communication and assistance to those who need it; it can also take them away.

The protests at Standing Rock are a good example of this as well. It seems like most mainstream media is refusing to cover the protests, but Facebook has allowed continual information and communication to spread. The fact that journalists who are covering the action are being arrested, point to social media becoming a safer, more efficient way of covering future revolutions.

But am I skeptical? Of course. We are only in the beginning of the digital world. Even if we consider technology that was developed in the World War eras of the mid twentieth century, we have not yet even ventured for a century into this new world of technology. In the span of human history, that is a mere drop in the bucket.

I think there’s a huge reason that dystopian futures are so popular right now. People can obviously see the possibilities of a world brought about by technologies with devastating effects, effects we cannot predict.

But I am hopeful. I think that technology gives us the capabilities to do things that we have never imagined before. I think I will see the types of change in my lifetime that my grandparents couldn’t even dream about.

What will these drastic changes in our technological landscape bring? Only time will tell.

 

References:

Bennett, S., Maton, K., & Kervin, L. (2008). The digital natives debate: A critical review of the evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(5), 775-786.

Gustin, S. (2011). Social Media Sparked, Accelerated Egypt’s Revolutionary Fire. Wired.

https://www.wired.com/2011/02/egypts-revolutionary-fire/

Lower School. (n.d.). Retrieved September 14, 2016, from

http://www.columbusacademy.org/Page/Academics/Lower-School

Kardaras, N. (2016). It’s ‘digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies. New York Post.

http://nypost.com/2016/08/27/its-digital-heroin-how-screens-turn-kids-into-psychotic-junkies/

Plowman, L., & McPake, J. (2013). Seven myths about young children and technology. Childhood Education, 89(1), 27.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, Digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.

Toffler, A. (1970). Future shock. New York: Random House.

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