“That’s what makes the magic happen in the classroom. It’s that interaction between the teacher and the student and the content.” –Member Dr. Carey Wright of @MissDeptEd #ChiefsOnChange
To see video, go to Twitter @RaymondMyers
Make America a Destination Again
“Give us your tired, Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
Statue of Liberty.
The United States and other countries might have been successful at connecting young citizens to the wonders of the Internet but there also seems to have been a price to pay in terms of interpersonal relationships with their peers. Teenagers are suddenly less likely to date, less likely to leave home without their parents, more likely to put off the activities of adulthood. They are spending more time alone with their digital screens,and the greater the screen time, the greater their unhappiness. Eighth graders who are heavy users of social media are 27 percent more likely to be depressed.
“But the big issue around social media is not privacy alone. These companies are feeding the epidemic of loneliness and social isolation. It’s not that the heavy social media users are sadder. It’s not only that online life seems to heighten painful comparisons and both inflate and threaten the ego. It’s that heavy internet users are much less likely to have contact with their proximate neighbors to exchange favors and extend care. There’s something big happening to the social structures of neighborhoods (Brooks, NYTimes, 4/20/18).”
Many of us who are socially wealthy don’t really know how the other half lives.
Let’s talk! It appears that in our growing technologically interconnected world, we really do have to make time for face-to-face conversation. Sherry Turkle has written extensively about this subject, recently in her book, “Reclaiming Conversation” and shared some of her thoughts in a recent interview with Sean Iling of Vox.
“We grew up with the internet, so we think the internet is grown up, but it’s not. The internet is very young, and our ways of using it are very young. I think we’re starting to see a backlash. . . But there are certain kinds of communication that can’t be done via texting or video messages or whatever, and I think people are starting to see that. If you want to be a true friend or partner or lover or colleague and you want to really connect, then you have to look at the person you’re engaged with; you have to actually be with them. That’s how progress is made. I think enough people are beginning to understand this.”
Sean Illing: You’ve written a lot about empathy and how these technologies are making it harder for us to be empathic. I wonder if you think they’re encouraging us to treat other people as objects or as actors in our own personal drama. As you say, we’re always living through our screens, always performing, always projecting our image and our story.
“That’s an interesting way to put it — that we become actors in our own personal drama. I think, over time, the so-called “internet of things” emerges and then we sort of become things on the internet. We talk a lot about authenticity, but actually what we’re doing is curating the self, and that’s what I worry about in terms of empathy. Empathy requires that I get into your mental space, into your head, into your experience, and give you the comfort of knowing that I made that effort to listen and care, and that I’m taking responsibility for what I hear. It’s a commitment that we make to other people that involves us getting out of our own heads, and the constant self-curation online, the constant self-gratification of smartphones and social media, makes it harder for us to do this.We grew up with the internet, so we think the internet is grown up, but it’s not. The internet is very young, and our ways of using it are very young. I think we’re starting to see a backlash. Yes, there are many things about the internet that are amazing, like the fact that we’re having this (online) conversation right now. But there are certain kinds of communication that can’t be done via texting or video messages or whatever, and I think people are starting to see that. If you want to be a true friend or partner or lover or colleague and you want to really connect, then you have to look at the person you’re engaged with; you have to actually be with them. That’s how progress is made. I think enough people are beginning to understand this.
Empathy requires that I get into your mental space, into your head, into your experience, and give you the comfort of knowing that I made that effort to listen and care, and that I’m taking responsibility for what I hear. It’s a commitment that we make to other people that involves us getting out of our own heads, and the constant self-curation online, the constant self-gratification of smartphones and social media, makes it harder for us to do this.”
Please allow me to explain. A long-awaited report with a lengthy title that tries to say it all has finally been published: “Decreases in Psychological Well-Being Among American Adolescents After 2012 and Links to Screen Time During the Rise of Smartphone Technology.” I hope that clears things up, but let me quote a paragraph from Tuesday’s Washington Post that might also help.
“Adolescent self-esteem, life satisfaction and happiness, having risen since the early 1990s, plunged after 2012, the year smartphone ownership reached the 50 percent mark in the United States, the report said. It also found that adolescents’ psychological well-being decreased with the more hours a week they spent on screens, including the Internet, social media, texting, gaming and video chats . . . The report’s findings were not all dire: Teenagers who get a small amount of exposure to screen time, between one to five hours per week, are happier then those who get none at all. The least happy ones were those who used screens for 20 or more hours per week.”
Looks like face time is back, and I don’t mean the FaceTime on your computer screen.
This post is not meant to make you worry about all your digital assistants, but I guess the best advice is just to remind yourself that “somebody” or “something” else may be listening. But who really cares about all my mundane conversations in the privacy of my own home or someone else’s? Personally, I don’t have any state secrets to share, but it all does seem a little spooky to me. The again, why would you share you secrets with a talking machine?
Danny Hakim, in NY Times Sunday edition, put it this way: “At least I can take comfort that I’m not the only one who wonders about these things. In the past three years, the Better Business Bureau told me that it had received 9,876 complaints about Amazon.com. Seventy-nine were related to the Echo speaker, which features Alexa, and just a single one of these complaints mentioned privacy concerns.”
So why should I worry? Let’s face it, we may all be living in an era when our lives are an “open book,” or at least those parts we share with our digital assistants!
P.S. Please have a look at mypeacecorpsstory.com, podcast #018, where I discuss my “technology-free” Peace Corps years in India
Melinda Gates does not presume to be a professional parenting expert. But she does have some thoughts to share based on her own personal experience as a mother who happens to be married to Microsoft’s founder. They are primarily reflections on her own parenting experience and what she might have done differently. Her over-riding concern is that parents should decide for themselves what works for their family, but adds that “I probably would have waited longer before putting a computer in my daughters’ pockets.”
“Phones and apps aren’t good or bad by themselves, but for adolescents who don’t yet have the emotional tools to navigate life’s complications and confusions, they can exacerbate the difficulties of growing up: learning to be kind, coping with feeling of exclusion, taking advantage of freedom while exercising self-control. It’s more important than ever to teach empathy from the very beginning, because our kids are going to need it.” One online resource that she mentions is Common Sense Media (commonsensemedia.org) which advises families on how media can best be adapted to support more shared life experiences. For example, “One of my favorite things you can do is plan a ‘device-free dinner.’ It’s not complicated. It’s exactly what it says: an hour around a table without anything that has an on or off switch . . . (with) the promise of an amazing conversation.”
Well, maybe they won’t all be “amazing conversations,” but at least we can increase the odds of having some. And Melinda Gates also believes that in learning to better listen and talk with each other, we may all develop a deeper sense of empathy for one another. I agree, and I don’t think you will find an “app” for that yet?
Okay men, maybe it’s time to break some of those old male stereotypes in the digital age of the twenty first century. Some women, you know who you are, may say it is a hopeless cause. All men really want is someone to listen to them and go easy on the advice. It seems like the most preferred female response is a simple, “Mm hmmm.” But now that we are in the digital age, men may finally find that they can open up more freely through texting and other social media, expressing their most innermost thoughts. Well, as they say, “good luck with that.” Even in the case of the youngest social media users, sex may be be the key determinant in how they choose to express themselves (or not) online.
I am not sure that this online behavior has been scientifically documented, but there seems to be plenty of anecdotal data to suggest some behavioral differences in this regard. Here is one writer’s experience: “A few months ago . . . my nephew, now seven years old, got his first cellphone. There was his number on our family group text, a long message chain that my sisters and I use as a place to deposit our complaints about the day and his puns. So far, his contributions have been a string of plane and car emojis. Excited though, to have this new way to talk to him, I sent him a message. I saw the flickering bubbles that showed he was typing back. Then nothing. For the next twelve hours, his side of the conversation was blank. Finally, a day later, a single response: ‘Hey.'”
In defense of our seven year old “brother,” it may just be overwhelming to keep up with older aunts whether they are conversing online or in person. Be strong, young man! Maybe not so silent.
Now why would you want to make your coffeee shop wi-fi free? It may seem a bit nostalgic, but some cafe owners would like to bring back the art of the conversation in their shops. What a concept! You can actually sit at a table and converse with friends, colleagues, or perhaps even strangers, as you sip your coffee and discuss all the latest news and/or gossip. Just think, you can actually create your own Trump-free spaces where you can choose NOT to hear or see all the breaking news about his latest tweets and antics. I know that keeping up with him can be addictive, and unfortunately, he loves to keep you hooked.
Back to the coffee shop. Without wi-fi, these shops may soon become our oasis in the desert of social networking and instant communication on any topic at any time. Some shop owners do not see the wi-fi restriction as revolutionary but as a response to society’s deep immersion into all things digital that leads people to seldom communicate face to face. To promote conviviality, some shops have adopted a no wi-fi policy and gone a step further: doing away with some comfy furniture and narrowing counters to make them less accommodating for laptops.
So maybe we could all use a little more face time (not FaceTime) to actually talk about what is happening in this age of Trump. He may be addicted to always being in the news, but we should not be addicted to him. He is Not Making America Great Again.
Ours is now a world of constant communication. We can reach colleagues, friends, and family in an instant thanks to our technological connectivity anywhere from wherever we may be. It’s hard to imagine that it has not always been this way. And as teachers struggle with implementing technology in their classrooms in the most advantageous ways for all students, they often find technology getting in the way. With students’ heads bowed scanning the screens of their iPads or other digital devices, teachers must often compete for some modicum of attention for a lesson they are presenting.
Maybe there’s really nothing new about this classroom phenomenon. Teachers have been competing for students’ undivided attention since the days of Aristotle but the most consequential outcome in the digital age may be the loss of students’ conversational and broader social skills. As one writer expresses it: “Kids have to use their five senses, and, most of all, they have to talk to each other.” In a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study across more than three dozen countries (not including the United States), moderate computer use in school results in modest academic gains. More frequent or heavy computer use has a negative impact on student learning.
So students in the digital age may actually be learning less as they use their computers more. Besides turning off or moderating their use of digital devices, what should these young people do. Maybe have a face-to-face conversation with someone?
Unitasking is becoming a lost art, and the art of conversation may also be dying with it. We have become so accustomed to multitasking enabled by omnipresent technology that we may have lost the ability to reflect silently on what is happening to us and around us as we lead our daily lives. Please don’t interpret this as a call to join a monastery or withdraw from our inter-connected world. I think that the loss of some of these inter-personal skills might reflect some unintended consequences of ubiquitous technology.
The “app generation” may be less patient than its predecessors, expecting that the world will act like algorithms: certain actions will lead to predictable results. And these results should be imminent and not require some possible discussion of differences with people, online and off. Extended face-to-face conversations with friends, family may also be disappearing from our everyday existence. But perhaps the greatest loss of not engaging in these conversations on an ongoing basis (telephones can still help with this) is our own diminished ability to empathize with others.
Some research has shown that we can still recover from our technology dependencies. We can always make time for corrections and remember who we are – “creatures of history, of deep psychology, of complex relationships, of conversations, artless, risky and face to face.”