Friday, May 6, 2011

Low-tech Woman in a High Tech World

Petra --Book art by Brian Dettmer.
You've got to go check this guy out!

We've been using Google since the nineties here at our homeschooling household, and, let me tell you, it was a heaven-sent replacement for our garage-sale-set of 1959 World Book Encyclopedias*.  But I have to admit I do miss leafing through those musty pages, following the reference leads from book to dusty book.

 I have a cell phone, too, of course and am always grateful for the security of instant contact in an emergency -- not to mention the ease of communicating with our far-flung family.  And,  no kidding, texting is the bomb!  But, man oh man, is it hard now to really remove myself from distraction; focus on anything from prayer to following a recipe is almost always interrupted by a text or phone call. (Bless you, though, children, this does not mean I want you calling or texting less!  I'm just sayin'...)

A prenatal MP3 player...
Get yours here!
  I have an MP3 player, but have fond memories of record albums and 8-track tapes.  I had a wonky 8-track player in my first car that played everything in high speed;  Monster Mash is hysterical when the  Beachboys sound like chipmunks.  And I still enjoy listening to music on the radio -- just for the unexpectedness of it.  The MP3 player never plays songs I don't like, but it also never serves up anything new, either.

It's an amazing technological world our children are growing up in.  And it's wonderful and exciting, but I have to admit that it worries me, too.  Though we have Blue Ray players and laptops and wireless Pandora at our house....  we've tried hard to keep things real, too.  We've brought our children up in a farm setting so that they would understand the cycle of life and the beauty of God's providence in nature.  We've tried hard to instill a good work ethic and a core of creativity and practical ability.  All the kids know how to cook, for instance, and can figure out how to corale an escaped cow into the barn if needed.  They can play for hours with nothing but chalk and rocks and jumpropes.   And time to curl up with a good old-fashioned book is a luxury they all enjoy.

  But they are still children of the digital age. There's no getting around the fact that the world is spinning around our babies very, very quickly and it's all very enticing.  Everything is instantaneous and loaded with fireworks.  Anything a child could possibly want is at his fingertips -- a click away.  If a kid wants to be a ship's captain and sail the seven seas, he doesn't have to read a book or play pretend with his Leggos, or learn how to sail so someday he can own his own boat--  all he has to do is click a couple buttons, fly through Paypal, skip the tutorial, and he's off in an amazingly detailed and exciting adventure on the high seas -- in a video game.  Easy.

And, sure it's fun, but is this high tech, high speed environment really good for "growing up"  our next generation? Is it good for the psyche of our nation that these things are taken for granted? Since I'm an "old-timer,"  I can Google my research but still remember how to use an encyclopedia; I can enjoy my cell phone and appreciate not being lassoed by a phone cord to one room in our house; I can slip in my earbuds and power walk to Jack Johnson, but remember the hours of Statler Brothers spinning on the turntable of my parents' stereo when I was a kid...  And I like having that history.  This next generation doesn't have the comparisons and appreciations that my peers and I do.  Children today arrive in this world on a Disney digitally-simulated rocket ride into space -- and don't remember the rickety old wooden roller coasters of my youth... 

No babies really inhaled nicotine
in the making of this image --
we certainly do hope...
 And I haven't even touched on the topic that worries me the most: the sad fact is that a lot of what's "out there" is not as wholesome as the high seas adventure computer game I mentioned -- but it's just as easily accessed.   How do we work around not only the innocent diversions of our high tech world, but the dangerous temptations and the evil that is also just a click away?  How can parents and educators compete with it all -- and teach children enough focus that they can really apply themselves to anything amidst all the distraction?

Our second son, Kevvy, has a blog where he discusses a lot of these issues dealing with education and technology and it's interesting to see his take on these things.    He recently linked to an educator in a high-tech high school who  lamented:

Not long ago, students would ball up scraps of notebook paper and pass them around the room. They now instant message three friends at once. Boys would tuck copies of Sports Illustrated under their textbooks — now they open another tab at They no longer fold elaborate fortune-tellers out of loose-leaf; instead they go online to check horoscopes or play role-play games. When I spoke at a conference last year on being a young teacher in a progressive technology school, the most important understanding shared was that I was not as interesting as what they could pull up on their screens.  (Find the link to the rest of the article here.)

Cartoon taken from Paul Silli's blog post
 "Why Should School Districts Invest in

It's a puzzle, isn't it?  What are ya gonna do?  It's not like technology is just here for a trial run and we can decide against it....  We don't have too much trouble in our world keeping tabs on things, though; our Catholic school kids' experience is low tech for the most part and closely supervised, and we can easily control our homeschoolers' use of the computer, --but it's easy to see how gadget control in the classroom could be a problem in the larger world.  If it's not laptops, it's cell phones; and if it's not cell phones, it's ipods...  Kids these days!  =sigh= 

I guess there's consolation in the fact that every new "modern day" has its unique problems.  Our great grandparents worried about the dangers of electricity and our grandparents watched the effects of television with a wary eye (and rightly so, imho) -- and the effects of these inventions have been enormous -- but most of the world  now takes them for granted. For better or worse.

If only the better part of discrimation came with the worst part of all the access; if only wisdom came with the knowlege. Like most new things, we always have been and always will be able to choose how much -- and whether or not -- we use technology.  It's not all bad.   I'm convinced that there are ways of harnessing the use of modern technology to enhance education and further our society in good and wholesome ways.  And I know that there are teachers and parents out there right now who are working toward this goal...  But it does seem like a the very nature of the problems with our day's new inventions makes them difficult to control.  Information is everywhere!  And it's not all good, either.  It scares me for the upcoming generations.  Too often our worst instincts take over and before we know it, the lowest common denominator becomes the norm. 

Horse and Buggy Days -- Paul Detlefsen
 But don't get me wrong -- I'm not living like the Amish here in Western Colorado; I'm as addicted to technology as anybody. (Check it out: I have a blog!)  But I still wonder if we weren't really better off in the days of the horse and buggy when we provided our own entertainment -- by writing letters and sending them by snail mail, by playing our own music instead of listening to someone else's recording, by reading stories aloud instead of watching television, by enjoying nature instead of playing the wii, and by talking with each other in person instead of texting.  I wonder if we weren't happier when we had less.  When we saw and heard less and perhaps understood more.  I mean, when life was slower don't you think enjoyment may have been sweeter?

Wouldn't you like to live in a Jesse Wilcox Smith kind of world?

I would.

But, then,  before I had internet access, I don't think I knew who Jesse Wilcox Smith was...  And in less than ten minutes, I was able to download seven of her beautiful paintings and share them with others who might not have ever heard of her. 

So, hmmm... Technology: good or bad?

I don't know.  It's complicated.

*  Just an interesting aside:  Check out how to repurpose old encyclopedias:  Hints from Heloise, June, 2010


Sarah Oldham said...

I enjoyed this post very much. You said exactly what I think about technology. I really want a Nook Color or a Kindle and I can easily get one . . . but I want to hold out for my birthday. Technology also means speed. Right now kind of speed - for good or bad. Bad for me in that I will spend before I think. Uff da!

I teach CCD in a gov't building that does not allow picture taking. I have to be very watchful of my kids not to take pictures w/ their phones . . . I've had to mention no cell phone use several times. I've taken their phones from them, too. What I do is make them put their phones on their desks in front of them. They are not allowed to touch them. If they do, I take them until end of class. I am a big meanie. ;)
The new gadgets are very distracting to the kids - which actually disables them from REAL TIME face to face communication.

Lady.Catholic said...

As a mom, sometimes I wonder if I should be happy with this new technologies or not as I also want my child to experience and learn the old fashion way. I would also, like to agree with Sarah that gadgets are very distracting and the kids lose their focus on the more important things.