Mrs. Ryan's Class

A Digital Learning Hub for students and parents

Being Present and Ignoring your Device

on October 31, 2015

images-1There is no arguing that the explosion of technology has changed the way people interact and connect with each other. Gone are the days of friendly chit-chat in line at a store, parking lot, bus stop, or park bench. People use their devices to socialize, communicate, learn, and share.

The constant tethering to devices is pervasive in social settings, and is creeping its way into education. As more and more schools adopt BYOD, or 1-1 models, this issue of constant device usage has become a topic of conversation in education. Since I teach at the elementary level, my reality is a little different. I still control how technology enters and is used in my classroom. My school still has rules about when and how kids can use personal devices in school. These plans all have to be discussed and agreed upon by the student, teacher, and parents.

When my students use technology to interact and communicate with each other in an academic setting I still feel like I have control over when and how they do it. We have had several lessons, and I am developing rubric about how to communicate in with others online in an academic way. What I am more concerned about is how people use technology for their personal and social communication. As a proponent of technology, it is my hope that students use digital tools outside of the classroom walls, so then I am also accountable for teaching them how to use these tools appropriately. I can teach students to be aware of how they use devices and help them to be reflective in their use.

In Americans’ Views on Mobile Etiquette By Lee Rainie and Kathryn Zickuhr of the Pew Research Center we learn that “Fully 98% of young adults used their cellphone for one reason or another during their most recent get-together with others.” This survey shows that only 30% of those surveyed use their phones to “retreat from the group” and  78% claimed to use their phones for “group-contributing reasons.”

Although I am also guilty of engaging with my cellphone in social situations, I find this statistic grossly problematic. When you look closely at the “group contributing reasons” in this survey, a large portion of people (86%) are using their mobile devices to post about the gathering on social networking sites, instead of continuing to engage with the people around them with whom they are experiencing this “share-worthy” moment. Here is a funny video of a group of young adults at a baseball game. These young adults were so engaged with their devices (and disengaged from the experience of watching a baseball game) that they didn’t notice they were broadcasted on the jumbo-tron, and as a result, the punch line of a joke. 

In Chapter 8 of her book, Alone Together, Sherry Turkle writes, “It is the more mundane examples of attention sharing that change the fabric of daily life. Parents check e-mail as they push strollers. Children and parents text during family dinners.” This prompts me to think about the importance of being present.

I believe that the greatest gift you can give is the gift of your time, and not just physical time, but quality, present, mindful time. Eden Kozlowski writes about this practice of Mindfulness in her blog post,  An Awesome Place to Practice Mindfulness. Here, she discusses the simple ways to practice mindfulness in daily activities like grocery shopping. Simply disconnecting from your device and being aware of how your cell phone use affects other people is enough to change your thinking and practice.

Instead of practicing mindful thinking and reflection, we are using technology as a way to retreat from our surroundings. Not only are 30% of young adults using devices to retreat from social interactions (as we learned from the Pew Research Study), we are even teaching children to use technology in this way.  In the post, Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll on Children, Jane Brody quotes Catherine Steiner-Adair citing, “We’re throwing screens at children all day long, giving them distractions rather than teaching them how to self-soothe, to calm themselves down.” 

Herein lies another problem with the heavy use of technology – we are replacing human needs like communication, reflection, and stillness with the easy connectivity of technology. Children, teens, and adults alike have become dependent on technology to relax, de-stress, and find happiness. This idea has made me question my desire to plug into social networking sites when I am alone at home, or watch a favorite show on my iPad in bed when I have trouble sleeping. Although technology can offer alternatives to feel connected and important, we cannot replace the importance of a quiet mind and the need for human relationships.

I recently attended the Connect Educators Computer Association Conference “Break Down Walls: Empowering Learners.” The keynote speaker was Angela MaiersMaiers is an educator, technology consultant, and proponent of the use of technology to allow everyone to share their genius and know that they matter. See her acclaimed TedTalk “You Matter.”

As I listened to her speech at the CECA Conference I was struck by the simple analogy she made to address the issue of teaching people how to use digital tools in a healthy and productive way. Angela Maiers aligned using the internet and digital tools to driving.

She argued that when we learn how to drive, the first thing we think about is not “fatality.” We take the risk of dying every day when we drive but most of us are able to get into our cars and take those chances. Why, then, do we focus so heavily on the risks of using digital tools to learn, communicate, and socialize? Why would we allow ourselves to not get in the car?

During her Key-Note Address, Maiers’ overall argument was to acknowledge the possibility of danger when using digital tools, but understand that as parents and teachers we can drastically decrease the nature of those things if we educate. Maiers said, “We are giving kids keys to the car, and we can’t just block the bad roads. The challenge isn’t learning the roads, it’s learning how to drive. It is taking your knowledge of how to drive to feel comfortable driving in Florida, or Iowa, or Connecticut.”

Maiers argues that people need models, time, experience, and education in order to navigate the roads of technology. I think that we all can be those models and provide the experiences and education in how to balance the use of digital tools with human-to-human connections. Our over-reliance on technology in social interactions is not an addiction, it’s a dependency, and a bad habit. We can teach people to create a more balanced life through exposure, education, and self-awareness.

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*Note on the media chosen: I chose to create this response in a written format help myself reflect and practice the mindful thinking that I discuss here. I read the assigned texts last weekend, and attended the in person CECA this past Monday. Instead of writing this response early in the week (as I have done in pervious assignments), I decided to give myself more time to notice, think, and reflect before fleshing out my ideas in a written format. As a result, I think that I achieved a more concise summary of my thoughts and ideas this week. Although I realize the irony, I chose to share this post publicly on my blog as a model to think differently about how we use digital tools as a crutch instead of engaging in real human interactions and mindful reflections on ourselves.

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