Monday 29 April 2013

On technology, requirement and the human mind.

When I first started teaching in high schools I became quite depressed. Armed with a first degree and a teacher's diploma, I expected the freedom of thought and the level of professionalism that the books I had read outlined. Also, I had attended a good high school that gave me a very positive orientation to the possibilities of growth within schooling.

So the wall of political will that presented itself to my first attempts at educating others was first frustrating, then enraging, then depressing because of the resulting futility

Whereas political interference will always push educational endeavour around, adolescents have changed in their average response to the world in which they live. By way of specific example, I walked past my twenty-something daughter who was sitting in front of a loud TV while at the same time bending over her cell-phone with her ears plugged in, stabbing away at the keypad, no doubt chatting with twenty friends.

"At least put off one screen," I said. "There's no way you can attend to all of this at the same time." She was indignant. "I'm looking at it from time to time," she said, with the tone of voice that implied that I was in her personal space and needed to go away. But I wanted to make my point.

"Choose a screen," I demanded.

She looked at me, and in that look I learnt a great deal in a very abrupt moment. I learnt that my engagement with her, at that point, was irrelevant and undesireable to her, and would not result in any dignified or fruitful exchange. I learnt that every lesson I had ever learnt in my life meant nothing in respect of our formal or spontaneous ways of relating to each other. Not only was she incapable of choosing a screen, she wasn't capable of attending to my demand. She was in fact not being rude, malicious or disobedient. Her ability to to choose, to be mindful, to discern, to line up her emotions with the world beyond the screens had been incapacitated.

Earlier in the week, a quote from Albert Einstein had come to my attention:

"When technology overtakes human interaction, we will have a generation of idiots."

I don't mean to call my daughter an idiot. I don't think of her like that. Yet I grasp what Einstein predicted, because it's happened. Interactive screens have come to be the first call, the imperative, resulting in pseudo-communication and stunted emotional communication, whether with others or oneself.
All too soon, post-interactive-screen humans won't know how to converse with each other in terms of emotions, meanings and decisions. I guess it's okay for my generation. We learnt spontaneously through painful experience that being alive meant avoiding mistakes and calamities. Because we learnt about real life through real life itself, we can handle this technology appropriately, knowing that intelligence has to be applied to more than a screen. Because of marketeering, consumerism and rapidly evolving technology, the contemporary generation accepts that immediate gratification is a given and that the challenges of demand and self-discipline are not high on the list of enjoyable activities.

The cell-phone has proved to move the minds of high school learners far more than the clumsy attempts of the politicians. The cell-phone, smart-phone, tablet, ipad, ipod, kindle and ican are not merely in your face, they have become the face.

This face smiles when you want it to, chats non-stop, gives you all the information you require, makes your music, plays your videos, stores your memories, and never disciplines you unless you set the alarm or make an appointment. It lines up with all your desires and expectations and is continually engineered to do so more and more. For you to line up with anything? Foreign thought. That's a dire situation best avoided. No-one's going to pay money being forced to line up with a sense of reality. You pay money to have things lined up with you.

This expecation takes shape before high school years and becomes ingrained during high school years. School has nothing to do with it, really.. The strategy should not be one of school vs face. This fight has already been lost. The face should be used by educators to set tasks, make deadlines, issue summons, forcing attention away from pleasure to requirement.

A percentage of adolescents will always be able to impose self-restriction for the sake of growth and wisdom. The majority won't.

We need to research the impact of dwindling responsiveness to requirement, and since adolescents are more densely populated in schools than anywhere else during daytime, schools are useful sites for researching solutions to problems presented by the face, rather than anothe futile fight against the face.

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