Who’s to blame?

There is a long list of the negative effects of the internet and technology on our society and on our children, particularly the effects on children in the classrooms. Certainly, I include myself among those who had a predominantly negative view of the changes in the way children operate these days in and out of the classroom. The positive or negative effects of technology and the internet can be debated, and indeed some of the aspects of both the internet and technology can be viewed at the same time as both positives and negatives. A partial and random listing of some of the negative effects includes:

  • The internet/technology makes children intellectually lazy. They have all that information instantly available.
  • The internet/technology makes us impatient – we have access to what we want when we want it wherever we are.
  • Children have forgotten grammar and spelling because of internet/technology (think about the proliferation of ‘text-speak’ in our lives).
  • Our ability to write effectively has declined because of the informal nature of social media.
  • The internet/technology has changed the quality of interpersonal interactions – not only the way we interact with each other personally (face-to-face), but how much we interact with each other personally.
  • The internet/technology has changed how much time we spend in the ‘real’ world because we are always in front of the screen.

It is not my intention in this post to examine the quality (positive or negative) of the effects of the internet/technology. Rather, I wanted to examine our choice of specific words when we discuss the effects of technology and the internet and the implications of those choices. The above list is my summary of some of the issues raised, but in a majority of the conversations I have had as well as in most of the online sites I have visited, the choice of words is important and telling. “Technology makes us lazy/impatient.” “Technology creates children who have forgotten spelling and grammar.” “Technology has made us more obese because we are always in front of screens.” When we discuss these issues, we often choose (consciously or not) words that shift the blame to an external agent – technology. We relegate ourselves to the role of passive victim, the one being acted upon, rather than as active agents who are free to allow (or not) these changes. We shift the responsibility to technology and refuse to acknowledge our complicity.

It can be argued that this is merely a question of semantics and that I am missing the point. We have changed because of technology. It would be negligent to minimize the importance of and the qualitative effects of the internet and technology in our society and classrooms. I would argue, however, that it is equally important to examine the manner in which we think about technology and to shift from language that blames the internet and technology for the changes we see, for the changes that we allow. Technology is, after all, merely a tool. How or when we use that tool – or whether use the tool at all – is ultimately our choice, our responsibility.

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7 thoughts on “Who’s to blame?

  1. @Dr. Ransom: I just finished your CourseCast, “Productivity, Teaching, and Learning Tools” – yes, I was a bit behind the course schedule. About 1/4 of the way into the course cast, at “Who Controls the Tools?” you touched on the same thing I was getting at in this post.

  2. After reading your post, I never realized how we so easily blame technology for these changes simply based on our wording. I agree with you on how you mentioned that in most cases, we consciously or sub-consciously shift the blame away from ourselves when in fact we ourselves might actually be the ones at fault. Thinking about my own experiences, I don’t want to say that I blame the technology for the changes that have occurred, but rather I would say that I blame myself for allowing the technology to change me. I think like you said we have to remember that technology is just simply a tool, not a lifeline like so many kids are treating it as.

  3. There’s no doubt that there is somewhat of a reciprocal relationship here. Marshall McLuhann (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_McLuhan), a leading Canadian scholar on media and communications of this time, frequently is quoted on a key concept that he developed: “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” Thinker and educator, Neil Postman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Postman), wrote frequently and deeply about such issues as well. I think you’d enjoy reading both authors, but perhaps especially Postman’s works.

    I’d also like to point out that the list of negatives that you share are largely of those of pop media and anecdotal. There is little to no real evidence to support any of them. I think what we are struggling with most here is that new tools are indeed shaping us… and we are perhaps not paying attention to the ways in which it is like we should be… especially in the field of education. So, often in an effort to explain the unexplainable, we resort to qualitative anecdotes that might describe behaviors that we are seeing, but not really get to the heart of the issues behind them.

    Are children really less able to pay attention today, or are they simply less willing to sit passively and unengaged with uni-dimentional and rote learning tools since they experience the opposite every day outside of school? Is this more an indictment on “kids today” or on “education today”??

    Have children really “forgotten grammar and spelling” or is this simply a result of using new forms of communication that don’t follow traditional conventions? The little bit of research that has been done in this regard supports the conclusion that they have not and that when both worlds are acknowledged in the classroom, students are more than capable of performing to standard literacy conventions and expectations.

    So, I would concur with your final conclusions here… that we are indeed in charge of our tools but can easily let them take over if we don’t pay attention, talk about related issues, learn needed strategies, make wise choices, learn to leverage our new tools in meaningful and powerful ways,…

    I suspect formal education should play a primary role in all of this. We’d better start paying attention.

    • I agree that the examples I listed above are mostly anecdotal and related to social media and very few of them are ones that I have experienced first hand in the classroom – after all, I haven’t been in a classroom since I was a student. However, I have only my experiences in social and work situations to draw upon. I have noticed that indeed many of us, especially the younger generations who grew up with internet and FB and texting, seemingly have poorer one-on-one social skills and have developed an expectation of immediate gratification. I made the assumption that these behaviors translated into the classroom setting as well. Perhaps I have also forgotten how I was as a young person and in my ‘old age’ resort to thinking, “Oh, these kids today….” I look forward to returning to the classroom and being able to rethink my perceptions and help kids to think about their/our use of technology.

  4. @Istvan – there certainly has been an impact… no denying that. That phrase, “Oh, these kids today…” is probably as old as dirt. The challenge, I think, is in our response. We can blame them, we can blame the technology, or we can deal with it and do our best to equip today’s youth for the world that they will inherit. There is no doubt that you will bring with you a wealth of experience and wisdom into the classroom that can benefit your students immensely. They need wisdom. They need caring adults… who understand their world and who can demonstrate that understanding by their participation in it.

    • @Dr. Ransom: I’m as old as dirt! And I believe that every generation of adults has said that about the younger generations….
      The whole idea of ‘blame’ is exactly what I was looking at in my post. It is evident in the language we use to describe the effects we see. We have shifted the ‘blame’ – or a better word choice might have been ‘responsibility’ – on to technology. We have come to think of it in terms of an external agent acting upon us without our consent. Sure, at times we might not even be aware of the effects , but when we say “Technology has made us…” we refuse to ‘own’ our role and blame the tools. So where do we go from here? what do we DO with this? That’s what I’d like to examine in the next post.

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