It’s Not Inevitable

I am not a great believer in “inevitability”. I believe that each of us has the power and the responsibility, especially as educators, to create social environments and classrooms that reflect our values, beliefs, and aspirations. When I hear educators use inevitability as an argument for adopting technology, I cringe.

“Today’s 21 year olds have watched 20,000 hours of TV.”

“Today’s 21 year olds have played 10,000 hours of video games.”

“Today’s 21 year olds have talked 10,000 hours on the phone.”

“They’ve sent/received 250,000 instant messages and e-mails.”

“70 percent of 4 year olds have used a computer.”

Source: Did You Know 2.0

I understand that these are the facts and that they paint a picture of the digitally oriented childhood that many of our children are experiencing right now. I also understand that technology can transform our classrooms into rich learning environments. But I object….

So what do I find objectionable? How about spending nearly 7 years of eight hour days watching TV? and nearly 3 years of eight hour days playing video games, and an equal number of years of eight hour days talking on the telephone. I believe that the statistics…13 years of eight hour days spent watching, gaming, and talking on the phone… are abominable!

Thirteen years! Think about that! It certainly doesn’t represent the value I place on the limited time I have on this earth. It doesn’t reflect the value I place on using my gifts for some purpose larger than myself.

Somehow it seems sad.

I know I’m setting myself up to be accused of being a Luddite, missing the point about technology in our classrooms, digital natives, and all that; but I have a responsibility to speak out when I see something that doesn’t seem right.

We are the adults. We can choose to let our children know that it is time to turn off the TV, to get off the computer game, or to hang up the phone. We can choose how much time our four year olds will spend in front of a computer.

I remember when my two daughters (now young college age women) were in elementary school; they would be invited to neighbor’s homes to watch rental movies that were R rated. No one else seemed to object. As parents Liz and I felt pressure to “go with the flow”. I kept saying to myself, “I feel like I’m crazy for objecting to this”, but we did.

I’m sure our girls would have turned out just fine if they had seen the R rated movies. Liz and I are not naive, nor do we think watching a few movies would undermine a lifetime of childrearing; but it’s the principal of the thing. What would we have been saying about our beliefs and values if we just shrugged our shoulders and said, “It’s how things are done nowadays, go ahead.”?

I have the same objections about multi-tasking. When I am talking to someone, I do not want them text messaging friends with their phone at the same time. I do not want them staring at a computer screen or at a Blackberry hidden under the table during team meetings or classes. Paying partial attention to what’s going on around you is not an effective way to learn, run a classroom, or do business; and besides, doesn’t this type of thing seem rude?

I keep thinking of Montag in Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. He lives in a world where his wife is entertained by TV shows on interactive video walls that include her in their stories. They are more real to her than the world in which she lives. Books are banned and burned, not by authoritarian decree, but by the people themselves. Who had time for books? Books offended this one or that one, so why not ban them? After all, they made one feel sad at times and who wanted to feel sad?

Montag finds his way out of this emotionally disconnected culture and discovers a camp of others who have also run away. It is at this camp, along the abandoned railroad tracks, that he makes his home.

We can make the case for technology in our classrooms without resorting to “we can’t beat ’em so why not join ’em” arguments. We don’t have to accept the inevitability of 20,000 hours of TV watching, or global climate change, or poverty. No one is better positioned than educators to vet technology use so that it reflects the best aspects of our culture, not just the most popular.



3 thoughts on “It’s Not Inevitable

  1. Pete, I agree with you that 13 years for a 21 year old to spend gaming, etc. is crazy. I’m not so sure that is accurate for the average 21 year old, but I haven’t researched it further. But even if the stats were half of that… 6.5 years, that is crazy. My discipline in education was physical education prior to making a shift towards instructional technology. One of my big issues is balance. Technology does not need to take over a classroom or education for that matter. It needs to compliment lessons, experiences, and learning.

    I have to share though, related to using a BlackBerry, from the NYSCATE conference. While sitting in the front during Milton Chen’s keynote I was using my BlackBerry to post quotes up on Twitter. I had an uncomfortable feeling about it, thinking that Milton, or anybody else for that matter, would think I was texting. In a sense I was, but for the network of people that were not present. Is this rude? Or is it simply a shift? I was completely engaged in his presentation. Sharing ideas, thoughts, feelings about what he was saying. I will often make notes using my BlackBerry that are immediately uploaded to a journal within our works email system where I can revisit them on any computer.

    For me, it’s about one thing… balance.

    Thanks for your post.

  2. Brian,
    I believe in balance also.

    The Blackberry reference has to do with a post from Will Richardson

    “Google CEO Eric Schmidt told a story about how as an “older person” he had trouble with the fact that during his one-hour a week staff meeting, everyone had their heads in their computers. So he decided to ban computers from the meeting, and the next week, everyone around the table was leaning forward, looking much more engaged…until he realized they were all checking their Blackberrys under the table. And then, regarding this state of affairs at one of the most successful companies in the world, he said:

    “This is a battle that we have lost, and I think it’s fine. And I think it’s a statement of how important this technology is, and I think it is a permanent change.”

    Here is how I responded to Will:

    Here are some divided attention scenarios that we should think about:

    A student comes to see a teacher about a problem either content related or personal. It’s serious and they are nervous about approaching the teacher for help. While they are explaining what is going on, the teacher continues to turn to the computer to type and looks up once in awhile, to nod and say “uh huh”. How is the student feeling? This can happen with a teacher and administrator, parents, etc.

    You are at a Broadway play with you family and your teenage daughter is typing away sending text messages. You shelled out $100 bucks for her ticket.

    You are out to dinner with a friend who is constantly answering her cell phone and having conversations with her friends.

    Or someone has asked to video conference into a statewide meeting to save travel time. They have their mic on mute all day, and the poor shlubs who have traveled and are at the meeting look up and see her doing other work, talking on the phone, and to other folks coming into her office all day.

    I have heard many presenters talk about the ability to multitask and the plasticity of the brains of millenials.

    What about appropriateness, attention, and basic courtesy? Are we saying that because the tools allow us to do these things, we should?

    Are all things multitasking equal?

    Isn’t this a great time to redefine what a meeting is? What a classroom is?

    Anyway, I think “accept it all because we can’t ban it all” is not an answer that is satisfactory.


  3. This is a great post. We are raising a generation (two now, really) of jacks-of-all-trades and masters-of-none. You cannot pay full attention to what someone is saying to you if you are typing away at a keyboard. Your mind is focused elsewhere, even if you don’t realize it. Manners seem to go out the window when cell phones and electronics are at hand.

    We have forgotten that all the electronic gadgetry is meant to be a tool. It is not knowledge in and of itself.

    I have 8 year old twins. They have never used the computer. All the information they need, they can find in books. They don’t watch TV, except and occasional opera or ballet or nature program on DVD. As a result, they spend hours reading every day, play games, and have lively imaginations.

    A big part of the problem is that the adults (even grandparents) have gotten caught up in this trap and what they are modeling for kids is more of the same. It takes a rather strong person to say “no” to it.

    Thank you for your thought provoking article.


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