So yesterday I was having one of my first business meetings since my (seemingly eternal) vacation and got to the restaurant a bit early. While sitting on the bench waiting for the rest of my party to arrive, I couldn’t help but overhear the polite, benign conversation that the women next to me were having:
“Well, my daughter is 16 and all she does is text message. She doesn’t even call anyone anymore, she says she would rather send a text!”
“I know what you mean. And they talk in a different language too.”
“They do! And it’s not one I could ever learn. The kids these days, they do everything with computers. But it’s not better or worse than the old days though, just different. A different kind of learning.”
“I agree. But I think it’s definitely a more of an impersonal way of learning though”
“You are right. No imagination. Everything is just fed to them. They don’t really think for themselves.”
“And libraries! What about them? Remember how WE used to have to do all of research at libraries, with the card catalogs and everything? Now they just get all of their info from the internet, without having to work for it.”
“And it’s probably not checked for accuracy as well! I tell ya…”
If you set aside the fact that I was rather blatantly eavesdropping, there are some interesting points in this little snippet of conversation.
First – these women were at a nicer restaurant and therefore it is reasonable to assume were coming from at least a middle class socio-economic standing. Their impressions are based on the teens within their peer groups, who will certainly be more connected than those in the greater population, especially when it comes to cell phones. Also, most trend research of late tends toward teens preferring textual communication over verbal, be it through SMS, IM or social networks. So their observations (albeit riddled with eye-rolling) were pretty on the mark with the current research in the marketplace.
Second – I completely agree with them that we are experiencing a sea change toward a totally new way of learning, and it’s happening very quickly. One that is integrated with technology, almost seamlessly in some cases, and allows for whole new paradigms of education, outreach and potential. It’s quite exciting on many levels.
Third – this is where I start to disagree with them. They begin to take the mindset of “I’ll never be able to do that sort of thing.” ‘Kids these days’ are not another species with capabilities outside of older generations’ possibilities. They are definitely in a different context and are learning differently than generations past, but that doesn’t mean the older generations can’t learn the same concepts.
Think of children/adults who know multiple languages. They aren’t hard-wired any differently than their peers. They just grow up with different surroundings than their non-multi-lingual friends, be it family, schooling, or environment, etc. If you place someone in the right context and give them the proper tools, they can learn anything. I really believe this. It’s because of this belief that the older generations rally cry of phrase “I could never do that!” in regards to any having to do with technology, gets under my skin.
Forth – and this is a major point for me, that these new technology-heavy contexts in which our younger generations are learning, are not ones that foster imagination and that they are simply passive funnels of information feeding our children info without forcing critical analysis.
This is frustrating to me not because I live and work within this new technology context, but because there is a possible argument that ALL learning is potentially passive in this way. There needs to be some method of forced critique – in the earlier years by a teacher or parent, and in later years, self induced. Without being taught, then forced to practice critical analysis, you will only be able to absorb a small fraction of the information being being thrown at you.
Blaming the tools or environment of teaching as the sole reason for the severe lack of critical analysis in the younger generations is a lazy argument. It’s the same argument that sociologists of education have been debating for years. Can a child learn in a poorly funded school? The answer is yes, if the faculty has the bandwidth, resources and dedication to make it happen. The reason that kids aren’t learning critical analysis skills is not the internet’s fault, it’s usually the curriculum, faculty or family’s fault.
Using the example of the library from my eavesdropped conversation, if a child is not taught how to navigate a library and, consequently, how to interpret and critique the information they find there, the library as “haphazard” an environment for learning as the internet is.
And to say the internet and new technologies stifle imagination is just plain silly. Fan fiction, art and other user generated content being produced at levels that would make Bollywood blush. Active online member forums and communities where topics are debated at all hours of the day and night internationally. Completely artificially designed virtual worlds where new identities are tried on like clothes. And isn’t imagination a key factor in the development of any new language, i.e. text/chat-speak? These are just a few examples of completely new ways imagination is being utilized just as much as (if not more than) playing house or action figures ever did.
Hopefully, in the near future, we can start bring the analysis, from street-corner to ivory-tower, of this new universe of technology and digital frontiers, into the positive and hopeful realm. Let’s stop gazing in wonder/awe/apprehension/fear at what’s happening. Dive in. Those of us in there already, the kids and the early adopters, are having a great time.
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