Part III – Our Digital World
By DR. JEFFREY L. MITCHELL
In a series of Extra Credit articles, I will explore some important contemporary issues in education.
Inspiration for this series of articles comes from What are the 10 Most Critical Issues in Education Today … originally a blog post by Bernard Bull and, due to its popularity, a book resulted, called What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education.
The fourth in this series of articles focuses on the challenges and opportunities for education of life in a digital world.
Born at the very end of the baby boom, I am neither a digital native nor a digital neophyte. A digital wannabe, perhaps?
As I recount my technology milestones over the past 30 years of the personal computing revolution, I remember how excited I was as a college student to buy my first computer. A PC “XP,” if I remember correctly … that set me back approximately four times as much as my current smartphone. My smartphone, by-the-way, according to some very basic research on the Internet, is about 10,000 times faster than the “anchor” I purchased in 1989 — not to mention ease of use.
Gone are the days of having to be so precise with entering your instructions for a computing job that if you missed a comma, the entire job would crash … and you would not be given the best guidance on where to find the issue.
Wow, isn’t it great that technology is easy and ubiquitous!
Not so fast.
Neil Postman in his 1992 book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, (similar to many others) warns us of the “affordances and limitations” of technology. Things are gained, and things are lost.
What has been gained? So much, it is hard to summarize. But immediate access to literally limitless information and people might be a start.
What has been lost? Everything that happened when we were not on our devices prior to the digital revolution.
An interesting idea is that of “Technopoly.” In his book, Postman describes technopoly as a society in which technology is revered and ultimately it is shaping us more than we are shaping it. This is a persistent caution from many scholars.
As Sherry Turkle noted in Alone Together, “We know that once computers connected us to each other, once we became tethered to the network, we really didn’t need to keep computers busy. They keep us busy. It is as though we have become their killer app. As a friend of mine put it in a moment of pique, ‘We don’t do our e-mail; our e-mail does us.’ We talk about ‘spending’ hours on e-mail, but we, too, are being spent.”
FOMO and Nomophobia: Examples of Societal Impacts
At Currey Ingram’s recent Neuroscience and Education conference, Larry Rosen, an expert on the impact of technology on culture, students and learning, talked about the notion of FOMO, short for Fear of Missing Out. This is the now very real and everyday fear that many of us have that something is happening on social media and we are missing it.
Also, nomophobia is now a thing. This is the irrational fear of being unable to use or be without your mobile device for some reason. I am confident he is not nomophobic, but it was interesting observing my 19-year-old digital native son be without his mobile phone (after he broke it, again) for about three days. He is typically a pretty level person, but he was becoming visibly agitated after “significant” time away from his phone.
Research on the Influence of Technology
In his presentation, Larry Rosen responded to the question: What do we know about how technology impacts the brain? The answer at this point is that the research is not keeping up with the logarithmic changes happening in society. There seems to be evidence that some brain functions and systems are being impacted but it is not at all clear in most cases whether this is positive, negative or neutral.
With that said, specific negative outcomes like addictions to gaming are very real and very pronounced, especially in Asian countries. Dr. Rosen indicated that there are now hundreds of
treatments centers in Asia that specialize in gaming addiction.
What Can We Do?
What does the research say about how to be in charge of our technology? There seem to be a
number of approaches or practices that might be impactful.
1. There is the A-B-C method.
a. Start by being AWARE of what distracts you.
b. Use BREATHING strategies to help regulate thinking and emotion.
c. Take CONTROL of your technology time by proactively inserting “tech breaks”
into your day. Find windows in your day that your device must not be touched.
2. Create tech free zones in your home or workplace.
3. Limit the number of screens you have open or that you are working on.
4. Move tempting apps to less accessible areas on your device.
5. Check your email on a schedule.
6. Use automatic email replies, as appropriate.
7. Use monitoring apps that show you how much time you are spending on your device.
8. Use Apple’s “Nightshift” mode to automatically adjust the display so that it gives off
warmer hues that are more conducive for pre-sleep viewing.
9. Calm and Headspace are meditation apps for iOS and Android. They have a number of
features designed to enhance the mindfulness of users. Features include: email
reminders, progress tracking, program training, audio and video features (e.g., music,
nature sounds and scenery).
The Ship Has Sailed but we can still navigate its course
Whatever our future holds, there’s little doubt that technology will be weaved into it. We must
continue, however, to explore and uncover the affordances and limitations of technology.
Formal education at all levels must dive into the essential and inevitable gains and losses that
come with the revolutionary change associated with paradigmatic shifts in technology. What it
means to be human has a lot to do with maintaining agency over the tools that we use.
Dr. Jeffrey L. Mitchell is head of school at Currey Ingram Academy.