The technology bursts in the past decade make my head swim. Cell phones still make phone calls but it’s no longer the primary function or purpose of owning one, computers still use desktop software but the primary function has shifted to online activities. In fact, if you own a computer but don’t have an internet connection some would argue it’s like not having a computer at all. These are just a few examples of big boom changes but I’m sure you can come up with several others. The point is technology keeps growing.
This is great, but it’s also problematic. The ultimate question in my mind is can the learning curve keep up with the growth? Moreover, who is responsible for that learning curve?
Case in point, several years ago I was hired by the Albertson’s Foundation to teach some classes. Their program was called ‘Teaching with Technology’ and it existed for the very problem mentioned. The foundation had donated millions of dollars worth of computer labs in several high schools state wide. However, there was a big gap in the learning curve for educators knowing how to use those new tools, let alone teach them to students. So they began a program to fill that gap, which I thought was noteworthy and wonderful because they could have just shrugged and walked away saying they’d provided the tools and now it was the school’s jobs to figure out how to make use of them. They had provided the growth and they also provided solutions on the learning curve. In short, they addressed both questions I stated above.
Switch to today and I see both questions unresolved, in fact not even addressed. Today it’s not a donation of expensive equipment and software to a select few, it’s essentially a donation of new socializing tools to the masses. I say donation because these new technologies are generally available for free to the public, paid for by advertisers. They carry names like Facebook, MySpace, Blogging, Google/Yahoo Groups, and a million more; technology that impacts daily social interaction and one’s ability to function in society and the work place. There’s no responsibility in providing the new tools, it is exactly a shrug of the shoulders with an attitude that they simply provide – it’s someone else’s job to use, teach, etc. The primary consideration is making money or a name for themselves. Consequently, every day I’m online I see more and more stupid things without regulation that will cause long term consequences. Here are a few of my concerns:
1) Conversational and social interaction skills are being replaced with texting and other artificial means.
2) Publishing has become so easy it requires no thought or common sense.
3) Reality is becoming blurred.
True story: two teens are seen sitting in a room without a word spoken, yet both are holding phones and their fingers are moving wildly over them. When asked who they’re talking to they reply “each other.” You’ll see someone reach for a phone while waiting in line long before you’ll see them smile at someone else or say a simple hello. And now that publishing is as easy as hitting send, sharing all kinds of information from thoughts to pictures is not only common it’s a way of life. But no one ever stops to think if there’s any consequences to what they might be sending. Which brings us to the third point. We’ve now seen headlines about youth committing suicide over the above issues, whether bullying online or sexting consequences and harassment, the line of reality for the youth involved became unclear. The grave results prove the learning curve gap and raise the question of responsibility. Everyone wants to place fault somewhere, but few recognize that ultimately we missed the two important questions the Alberston’s Foundation addressed years ago: Can the learning curve keep up with the growth and who is responsible for it? When this generation is grown and dealing with all these problems, which will consequently affect everyone else, it won’t matter who was responsible for teaching them, it will only matter that they were never taught.
I think we need a ‘Teaching ABOUT Technology’ course and I think it needs to focus on youth. I think it should be taught be parents, teachers, leaders, and business owners alike. I think our youth need to be taught the same rules apply. That common sense dictates you need to ask for permission before posting pictures of anyone but yourself, that once you commit something in print you can’t get it back – that plausible deniablity is gone and you’ve now left proof of your immaturity or stupidity, and that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Common decency and respect should be as important as they once were.
Psst…here’s a little secret: children and youth who don’t experience communication skills involving conversation, verbal exchanges, etc. won’t just magically know how to do it when they get older. They won’t know how to develop and nurture important relationships with real people if their only experience involves a technology middle man to both hide behind and talk through. They can’t know how their decisions today will impact their options tomorrow. Today’s kids have never known life without these technologies, they know nothing different. How will they learn if no one teaches them? They live in a world that is all about them, a world where they are just beginning to experience accountability for their actions, a world that doesn’t expect them to act like adults but where they have access to all the same grown up technologies. The “adults” don’t seem to have any better handle on these new technology toys as I’ve seen just as many of them texting or talking on cell phones during meetings, movies, etc., sharing private information in public ways. No, e-etiquette is as non-existent as decorum in today’s social circles. We’re going to regret that one day.
So to any youth who may chance upon this article, or responsible adults who wish to help youth they care for, may I share a few simple points of wisdom?
1) Never publish (that means send, text, type, upload) anything that you would be embarrassed or inconvenienced by if someone you weren’t expecting to see it saw it.
2) Think before you share. Once committed, you can never get it back. There is no erase or undo button for the consequences.
3) Don’t pretend to be anything you’re not just because technology makes it easy.
4) Remember that everything you do today has an impact on tomorrow, even if you can’t see it yet.