Changing Times

My first career choice was education. I joke that I have enough letters after my name to complete the alphabet. Certifications, degrees, trainings, etc. landed me more information than I ever used, a deep look into the human brain and how it learns, and how issues preclude people from learning. Like most things in life, education does not exist in an isolated bubble. Sociology, psychology, biology, chemistry, environmental impact, generational contribution, economic/religious/racial/gender identities are all pieces that influence the whole being whether in a place of learning-physically or mentally-or not.

I’ve talked with my writing friend about those long-ago days when research was conducted for hours and days at a time in public libraries and the bowels of university stacks where periodicals were looked up then searched for on shelves, microfiche was retrieved from drawers, microfilm was carefully laid into machines and displayed on a huge screen inches in front of us, encyclopedias were carried by the armful to long tables where they were laid out, skimmed, cross-referenced, and notes made of bits of information needed for research papers or to increase our own knowledge.

To use a beloved card catalog required skills that not everyone had. Unfortunately, I think those skills have dried up from lack of use. One thing I remember about the amazing amount of research I read (and wrote!) is that no matter the subject there was always at least 2 sides, and if one looked hard enough, one could find research to support their idea. This, at least, is still around should we decide that there is more than just our opinion that exists, and that if others’ ideas are different, it perhaps is not cause for ridicule and hate. 

There is much that has changed since those days of analog research (and I must say that I miss them!). In fact, I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds that the world changes faster than I can keep track of. The invent of technology, then the rapid advances that led to what we take for grated in the form of the Internet and all that it holds available to us, is just a tiny piece. As with any advance, not all of it is positive.

I was part of the charge forward in using technology for education. In the years of professional development that I instigated, I used the mantra, “Don’t lose the math in the technology.” Back then, classroom teachers used their creativity in making class, group, and individual pieces that supported the curriculum and encouraged kids to not only learn, but also to get along with each other, to be a “good loser” in games, to know that they won’t always win, to figure things out without having to be told and handheld each step of the way. With technology, there were parts of the curriculum that became accessible to more students and showed everyone concepts that before were difficult to understand.

Usually, any one “thing” isn’t all good or all bad. Now, there is more technology than student interaction. For some, this increases their isolation and restricts the opportunities they may have to learn how to appropriately interact with others. Without developing these skills, they grow to adulthood missing how to be in a “community”. Without the chance to figure out how to do things, their creativity is stifled and they lack the ability to solve problems.

This post isn’t about education. That field is just a foundation upon which I can draw a great deal of information. This is really about the role technology plays in our lives. As with everything else, we get to choose how to use it, when to engage with it, what to believe about it, and what portion of our attention we’ll give to it and what we find there. I’m not a Luddite. As an observer of human behavior (because of my first career), I find how people engage with technology (in fact, with everything) interesting. With the massive amount of knowledge—real and contrived—available to people via the Internet, it requires skills like selection, reading/listening for logical facts/words/directions, knowing when to dig deeper and when “information” has become frayed and untrustworthy…I suppose I could call it a strong sense of discerning what is usable and what isn’t.

With the technology we have at our fingertips come opportunities to learn a great deal about the world and what lives in it. The opposite is also true, in that we could locate information that feeds division, prejudices, and the lack of choice to investigate in order to understand instead of encouraging and justifying ideas that keep one closed off to other possibilities. Just because we know of other choices doesn’t mean we should/need to follow them. Not only is knowledge king, but understanding instigates acceptance, kindness, community, an exchange of information that can lead to creative solutions, and an improvement of our world.