Technology: a curse on the civilised world!

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There are lots of things that worry tabloids, current affairs programs, and talkback radio shock jocks. Some of these things are immigration, neighbours from hell, love-rat rip-off merchants, termites, crash diets, dole-bludging playstation addicts, the utter degeneration of civilisation as we know it BEFORE OUR VERY EYES... the list goes on. But one of the perpetual flavours of the month for these harbingers of doom and global devastation is the future of our children. And one of the big recurring themes is about the deterioration of education, the substandard ability of teachers, and the (usually negative) impact of technology on the classical education of our little angels.

In the last couple of weeks, there have been some stories that have come to my attention along the theme of technology and kids. Here in my home state of Western Australia, the press swooped on our much maligned minister for education who suggested that maybe the important thing about history was the context, and that the dates were secondary and far less engaging. In fact, she remarked, kids could get dates from google. "Don't learn it, just google it: Ravlich" was the mature contribution by our state's newspaper. As though, somehow, computer literacy is a poor second to being able to rattle off a whole load of dates by memory. So one big black mark against technology. On the other hand, some people are pretty into technology for our kids: firstly, a story about engaging kiddies in learning in Goa using FOSS educational games at the local telecentres. Secondly, also about India, a story about RMS visiting the state of Kerala, who are now set to migrate all their highschool students to GNU/Linux within three years. (The New York Times were pretty focused on the fact that Kerala are COMMUNISTS. And we all know how we should feel about COMMUNISTS...) Back to the good old U. S. of A., and there was a back to school seminar held for some primary school kids in Arizona about how to be net safe and avoid internet predators. Excellent work.

Now while this looks like us in the West of Australia are a backwards lot and India and America are sailing joyously towards a techno-friendly future, I assure you this is not the case. Many people in the western world share this view. One of the things I find really disturbing about education at this point in time is the emphasis on a very narrow form of education - headlines that scream about children not being able to spell, not being educated 'properly' - because they use phones and computers too much. It's like denying that there might be something good about using technology - and thereby educating children to become technology-literate as one of our priorities. I'm not sure why this is - I'm pretty sure most of these kids are going to be using computers in their future careers, not hanging out at the printing press or using a quill and ink to work out graphs. My analogy is who kicks up a fuss now about using graphics calculators in maths? Who says 'no, that's not REAL maths, you have to work out everything by hand!' The emphasis about learning now should be about HOW we can learn, and how to be discerning learners. On this note, I am so glad that companies are taking it upon themselves to educate children about net safety. I am also glad that people are seeing FLOSS as a viable educational tool. And I hope that FLOSS developers maintain an awareness of how important the technological education of children is, and that they continue to develop educational programs for students. Because I might live in a backwater town, but it would be nice if computer literacy could become as common as using a graphics calculator.



magallon's picture
Submitted by magallon on

Just yesterday I was commeting with my SO how you keep hearing that "technology" brings us closer. For example mobile phones. Before mobile phones became a sort of commodity everyone used to answer the phone in a very polite fashion. I remember that as a kid I would pick up the phone, say "hello?" and the other person would politely say "good morning, is your father home?" Now, with mobile phones, I have to think of myself as lucky if upon answering the phone I get something as simple as "hi". It's more like "I need this ...", "go there", "where are you?!"

Is "technology" bringing us closer? No, I don't think so. It's making us more localizable, but it's also bringing us farther appart. Go have dinner with someone, if your party's phone rings, you don't even get a "excuse me, I'd like to take this". Phones have become some sort of NMI nowadays.

Phones in the classroom are even worse. I teach a class twice a week, and it's not uncommon for phones to ring wildy during class and students not even bothering to go outside to take the call. They just start talking at the spot. Once during a written test a student's phone rang and he was about to answer it, when I interrupted and asked what he was doing. She replied that the phone was ringing. "Yes, I can hear that, and I can also see that you are still writing your test." She couldn't grasp what the problem was.

So, yes, it's important to educate our children with respect to technology. It's also important to remind them that there's a world outside the digital one.

Terry Hancock's picture

As a technologist and an early adopter, I have generally allowed my kids access to technology at a very young age. There are pros and cons to this.

Video games are a great example of the technological yo-yo: first of all, as Roberta Williams (the woman who started Sierra Games back in the 1980s) noted, interactive computer games are a big improvement over vegetating in front of TV shows, because they encourage active thought. However, video games also tend to be more violent and contain less meaningful moral context than (even) TV shows (and both are worse about that than most books). However, studies (sorry, I'm not looking that up nowâ€"take my word or not) have suggested that video games improve hand-eye-coordination, the rapid processing of visual information (TV helped with that, too!), and reasoning ability.

And you know there's going to be another “however� coming...

It seems plausible to me that too much time with computers and video games contributes to a short attention span and also to this kind of poor memory development. Of course, it's not the fact of the computer, but rather how we use it that does thisâ€"basically, we're letting them get over-stimulated too often. I've been trying to think about better activities for them to counter this effect (you can't just say “noâ€? to what they're doing, there have to be alternatives available!). Fortunately, my kids do also like to read. Getting them to “play outsideâ€? is a bit more of a challenge (that's probably due to bad parental examples, I'm afraid).

On the other hand, the social reality of the Internet is an incredible thing. I'm part of an older group of moderators at an anime fan site which is also a social hang-out for a lot of adolescents and young adults in the 13-25 yr old range. Not only do I find them to have remarkable online interaction skills at such a young age, but I also am impressed with the friendships that are happening on these sites.

Even though this is just an English-language site, we have a remarkably global userbase, with kids from many different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. Internet communications tend to mask trivial distinctions of appearance, and emphasize matters of interest, so people will tend to talk to people they likely wouldn't in real life. For many, this is the first introduction to people who simply don't think the way they've been brought up to, and I've seen remarkable changes in understanding over the last 5-6 years that I've been participating in this site.

The result is that the coming generation has a global social cohesion unlike anything that existed in my youth. When tropical storms caused massive flood damage in SE Asia and the Pacific, we didn't just think “oh, those poor people in that far corner of the world�, we heard about a user who lost her goldfish. When you form personal bonds with people from different nations and cultures, like that, you have the basis for globally shared culture and a grass-roots support for social justice on a global scale. When these kids inherit the world, there are going to be positive changes.

What the real question in my mind is, is do we as parents understand the pros and cons of the technology to get the most benefit and least hazard from it? Rapid change requires us to stay on our feet, and it can be a real challenge to know what the right response to each new development is.

jonnyb13's picture
Submitted by jonnyb13 on

Technology is just like the guy in a relationship. The bad things about it are always noticed, whereas the good go unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is but fleeting. But the bad, alas, those are the ones that stick in people's heads. I for one think that the future is bright for our kids where technology is concerned.

TUCKER2k4's picture
Submitted by TUCKER2k4 on

You start your blog by mentioning the “deterioration of education, the substandard ability of teachers, and the (usually negative) impact of technology on the classical education" of children today. As a college student myself who grew up using technology more and more in conjunction with normal classroom schoolwork, I completely disagree that technology has had a mostly negative impact on the education of children.

The staggering amount of information that is now available to the children in schools now is undeniable. Whether this can be seen as too much information is debatable. Granted, a lot of what is out on the internet is pure nonsense and could be disregarded, with the proper instruction and supervision, using online resources has given students of all ages access to some otherwise unattainable information. You reference a seminar for primary school children in Arizona that teaches safe internet use. I think that this is definitely a perfect example of how the internet can be used safely with proper education.

You refer to your minister for education suggesting that “maybe the important thing about history was the context, and that the dates were secondary and far less engaging" and you say that she remarked “kids could get the dates from google." While technology should play a key role in children’s education, I could not disagree more with these ideas about how to teach our children. Just because children, or anyone for that matter, has the ability to look up bits of knowledge on the internet, does not mean that classical teaching and learning methods should simply be discarded. It is my belief that the current teaching environment must be maintained, but perhaps with a few modifications to the curriculum. While I do think technology must now be integrated, if students rely too heavily upon the internet as a source of knowledge, the whole educational experience will become far too impersonal.

You say that “most of these kids are going to be using computers in their future careers, not hanging out at a printing press or using a quill and ink to work out graphs." I completely agree and would like to stress that technology absolutely needs to be integrated into the education of children, as new technology is what their future in the world will be all about. The world is a constantly changing place, and I feel that it is paramount that we prepare today’s youth as early as possible for what they are without a doubt going to face after their formal education is complete.

I think the educational system is on the right track concerning the integration on technology into education, at least from my own experiences. As a student in college now, I am glad that I was able to experience and use technology throughout my previous educational experiences. It has affected me so much that now, I find computer science as my major, and I know that would never have come to be if it weren’t for the use of technology and the internet in my schooling. I think this trend needs to continue and I can’t wait to see what amazing things the next generation of children raised with technology will offer to society.

-Andrew Walker

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Bridget Kulakauskas's picture


Bridget has a degree in Sociology and English and a keen interest in the social implications of technology. She has two websites: Illiterarty and The Top 10 Everything. She also handles accounts and administration for Free Software Magazine.