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Don’t miss this opportunity to book a talented, dynamic literary artist for your school or library through the Young Alberta Book Society’s Taleblazers Festival, which takes place October 3rd through 31st in communities all across Alberta. YABS will organize the readings, workshops and presentations in your library or school AND will cover the travel cost of the artist, making a visit that much more affordable. Hosting venues are still responsible for the artist’s fee, YABS membership fee and one meal per half day. Go to the YABS website today for your opportunity to apply.
DEADLINE: SEPTEMBER 23, 2011
What an absolute pleasure this was to read. Unlike Carr's (2010) The Shallows, I felt in control of my destiny when I read Power's (2011) Hamlet's Blackberry. And really Powers saying "the more connected we are, the more we depend on the world outside ourselves to tell us how to think and live" echoes the sentiments that Carr has in his book The Shallows (p. 2). This notion that by being connected all of the time..."we're losing something of great value, in a way of thinking and moving through time that can be summed up in a single word: depth. Depth of thought and feeling, depth in our relationships, our work and everything we do (p.4). But even though Powers is pointing out the negative impacts of being connected all of the time the reading experience was different. Perhaps this text spoke to my rose coloured glasses...Relax. All will be well. You are in control and it is so "simple: to lead happy, productive lives in a connected world, we need to master the art of disconnecting. Even in a world as thoroughly connected as ours, it's still possible to put some space between yourself and the crowd"(p. 5) And furthermore Powers tells me that "building a good life [is about deciding how] to think and live." Just place my index finger on my "temple and tap twice. It's all in there" (Afterword, location 3303). I am the master of my thoughts and actions not the Internet and technological tools.
When Powers writes that "[t]here's a preoccupation with what's going on 'out there' in a bustling otherworld, rather than 'in here' with yourself and those right around you" I thought of how I see students during class time...they are more concerned with checking their instant messages rather than focusing on what's happening in the classroom. I also see this with people who are with others but "absent in presence" as they text madly half listening the conversation that is going on right in their physical space (Watkins, 2009, p.48). And I wonder how many of us find this "external validation provided by incoming messages" that Powers discusses? This need to "go back again and again for verification...Who's read my latest post? Are there any comments on my comments" (p.46)? I know that I am guilty of this behaviour and feeling. If we, as adults feel this way, I wonder how are students on Facebook are feeling? Is this playing a role in how much time they are spending online and in this constant need to be connected? Powers also uses a lovely quote from Paul Tillich..."'loneliness' exists to express 'the pain of being alone,' while 'solitude' expresses 'the glory of being alone." (p.41) I know this sounds similar to Turkle's ideas in Alone Together but I wonder how many of our students are able to feel the solitude of being alone? I mean they all have hundreds of ‘friends’on Facebook...are they really ever able to feel the 'glory of being alone’ (p.41)? By being constantly online our students risk becoming "crowd-dependent, defining themselves in relation to what's out there rather than what's right here" (p. 224). I just wonder what we can do as educators to stop this dependency and I wonder what will happen(s) if we don't do something.
I could easily relate to the stories Powers told and I found the examples he gave on how others throughout history have dealt with the issues of busyness reaffirming and inspiring. This is not the first time that society has gone through a transition where people were crowded, rushed and at risk of losing themselves and this made me feel better…in the past people found a way to cope and we will too. As I was reading not only did I ask myself how can the examples he gave can be useful to me and my family but I was also asking how can these techniques be incorporated into our busy school days. How do we help our students how to create a distance as Plato did, find the inner space that Seneca found? Can we find technologies that will help us develop inwardness? (I know that when I am feeling really stressed, losing myself in a good book is a way I cope). Can we ourselves use old tools such as pen and paper to help us organize as Hamlet did, use positive thinking and rituals like Franklin, create our own Walden Zones, or model McLuhan and “take control of the new technologies ‘instead of being pushed around by them’” (p.199)? If we don’t learn it, how can we expect our students to learn it? Perhaps, they will come to the realization on their own...but is it fair to leave them to their own devices?
To fend off the crowd, Stoics believed, it was essential to cultivate inner self-sufficiency, and Seneca returns to this notion over and over. Learn to be content within yourself, to trust your own instincts and ideas. Those who achieve this autonomy, he argues, are best able to enjoy and make the most of their outward lives. They thrive in the crowd because they are not dependent on it" (p.110). Are schools and parents teaching our students to thrive in our connected crowd? Or are we teaching them that in order to thrive they need to be connected constantly? I ask myself, as a teacher am I guilty of teaching that "connectedness is intrinsically good, [so] it follows that one should try as hard as possible to stay connected at all times or, to put it another way, avoid being disconnected" (p. 35) Am I and are our schools teaching students to be "digital maximalists" (p.35)? When Powers accuses "grown-ups [of] teaching [young people] to live, implicitly and explicitly with a conviction they can't fail to miss" I worry (p.55).
The information Powers provided on the Basex study that "found that workers were spending more than a quarter of their day managing distractions" worries me (p.61). If a result is that productivity is lowered and innovation stops how are we managing as we teach our students? Is our productivity and innovation being affected? How is our teaching impacted and how is our students work impacted because to believe that this is not just happening in the classroom and education is false. I loved the advice Seneca gives to Lucilius "Measure your life: it just does not have room for so much" (p. 112). Are we measuring our lives? Are we learning to find balance? How can those of us who are not balanced teach others to become balanced? I think that taking Seneca's advice of selecting one thought a day to "digest thoroughly that day" is sound. I agree with Seneca's contention that "mastering the outer world is one thing, but it's an even harder trick,..to master the inner one, especially when you live at a time when the two are at odds" and as Powers points out, we live in such a time (p.107). How do we train ourselves to "become self-absorbed and not let outside things distract it" as Seneca was able to do (114)?
Franklin's realization is that "in order to change a deep-seated, habitual behavior through ritual, the individual must believe that he or she needs to change. It's about not just how but why. Inner change depends on inner conviction" (161). How does this impact us as educators? How might we be able to help students see the value they have in disconnecting?
"Today, thanks to our screens, as we work we're constantly contending with far more tasks than our minds can handle. We find it increasingly hard to concentrate on any one them for more than a few minutes" (p.59). What impact does this have on our high school student and how we are teaching? What impact does this have on teachers?
When I read what Intel tried to help workers put some distance between themselves and their inboxes I was intrigued and wonder how this would look in a high school where both staff and students are constantly connected. I am sure everyone can relate to how full our inbox gets and how much time we spend answering emails. Doesn’t the idea of having no emails from staff who are in the same building as you sound wonderful? And imagine, if someone has a question or request, they need to come see you face to face…how refreshing. Could we get students and staff to agree to try this? Should we be creating these environments in our schools? Should we have a dead zone and a high traffic zone? Can we be speaking to our parents, students and colleagues about some of the ideas outlined in this book? How do we get them to see the inherent value in finding distance from our connected lives?
When I read the chapter on The Walden Zone I looked at the practices in my own home and the behaviour I am modelling for my own children. Because my children are still too young for this connectedness --- neither have cell phones, Facebook accounts, or their own computers, it doesn’t apply yet but as they grow older will play time at the park or games night at the kitchen table be replaced with play time on Facebook? I agree that “digital connectedness has diluted these vital aspects of home life” and I wonder as a society what do we do to “set up camp on the periphery” so our homes can become and remain “a sanctuary from the crowd”? I think this is what has happened to a lot of the high school students I see and I wonder how many of our students homes are providing “shelter from the crowd” (p.178)? Are parents creating these environments or modelling this disconnected behaviour in their own homes? I like the idea of having a day and a room where no devices are allowed.
We are now in the place that the philosophers in this book were in. The place "where this kind of connectedness ha[s] reached its highest and most intense expression...for personal well-being and happiness, it [is] necessary to restore some of that distance to everyday life (p.87). We now need to work at finding that balance and helping our students find that balance. But “[its] easy to blame all of this on the tools. Too easy” (p. 2). Powers isn’t telling me that “the screen is bad. The screen is, in fact good. The point is the lack of proportion, the abandonment of all else, and the state absent-present state of mind this compulsion produces”( p.224). Instead we need to find the balance that the philosophers and Powers were able to find and as educators I believe we need to help our students find this balance. However, when I take off my rose coloured classes, I know it isn't quite as simple as how Powers depicts it---but is there anything wrong with me using the old technology of the book to escape, for just a moment, the digital world?
As I shut down my computer and get ready to take my dog for a walk in my ‘away’ space, the ravine, I will be reflecting on the following questions:
1. How can we use old technologies to help students find balance?
2. As schools integrate more technology should we have “dead zones” in schools (p.176)? If so, where should those zones be? What would it look like?
3. How can we help parents and students realize that without reflection time we risk losing depth of thought?
4. Are we modelling what we need to in order to help our students develop balanced lives?
5. Is the younger generation feeling out of balance or are we projecting our worries onto them?
Carr, N. (2011). The shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains. [Kindle IPad Version]. Retrieved from amazon.com
Powers, W. (2010). Hamlet's blackberry. [Kindle IPad Version]. Retrieved from amazon.com
Watkins, S. (2009). The young and the digital: What the migration to social-networked sites, games and anytime, anywhere media means for our future. [Kindle IPad Version]. Retrieved from amazon.com
Chicken Little the Sky is not Falling
As I was reading Nicholas' latest book The Shallows I felt a lot like Henny Penny being alarmed by Chicken Little’s cry---"the sky is falling, the sky is falling" except Carr’s cry is that humanity is wasting away as it cedes more power to the Net and computers.
Don’t get me wrong, I did learn a lot while reading this book. Contrary to Carr’s thesis, I was involved in a lot of deep thinking, reflection and strong emotion while I was reading The Shallows. I was fascinated by his discussion on how society and the brain changed as a result of the written word and cartography. I did not realize that Socrates was worried that with the printed word reading would replace remembering leading us to lose depth of thought (p.55). But as I read this text, I found myself thinking the same thing about Carr. Is he like Socrates when he warns that as we depend more on the Net "[o]ne of the greatest dangers we face ... [is] a slow erosion of our humanness and our humanity" (220)? I feel more hurried but I refuse to believe that I am less human. It is important for us to take the advice of Foxy Loxy at the end of Walt Disney’s Chicken Little, "you can't believe everything you read" (1943) and perhaps this is my biggest take away from this book. As educators and leaders we need to remember to continue to model reflective thinking, questioning and basic good reading skills whether reading information on the net or in a printed book.
Carr offers no concrete solutions to the problems that he claims are being caused by the Internet and our access to information. He states he had to turn himself off from technology so he could write his book but this is not a realistic option for students and people today. I can see those who do turn off the technology and hide in the cave becoming victims of Foxy Loxy. What I don't like about books like this is it gives those who don't want to use technology an avenue to support turning it off or never turning it on. I wonder how many readers of this book will also note that Carr also confesses to re-setting his e-mail to run all of the time, jacking up his RSS feed and playing around with the latest social networking sites. He himself admits he is not sure he can live without it(p.199)?
I also question his belief in the power that Google and the Internet have over me and my ability to think. His argument that when we are on Google we are somehow letting the search engine think for us is misleading. I agree that it is a caution we need to be aware of and teach our students as they use search engines but am I really giving up control when I am on Google? Not if I am digitally literate! I never go to Google without a question I want to answer---the fact that I am having Google give me places to find the answer doesn’t mean I am ceding control of my thoughts. It isn’t telling me what to think---instead it is pulling up places I can go to for possible answers. When I go to my Amazon account and they have suggestions for me am I letting Amazon decide what I read? He is forgetting that when Google, search engines and sites make recommendations for us we get to decide whether to follow the recommendations. Now, more than ever, teaching students and users how to look at this information is critical and reading this book has reaffirmed this for me.
When he talks about how reading is changing---I agree but is “skimming becoming our dominant mode of reading” because one Rhodes Scholar says he doesn’t see a need to read books anymore (p.138)? I don’t think so. I myself am an avid reader, most of my friends are avid book readers, my kids are readers of books and the high school students I are teach are readers of books. But..they also read on the Net and when reading on the Net they are skimming but skimming is not all they do. I guess we need to make sure that as educators we allow time for students to continue to do the deep reading and contemplation that he is warning is being lost as we go on the web. Furthermore he states that "[to] make a book discoverable and searchable online is also to dismember it. The cohesion of its text, the linearity of its argument or narrative as it flows through scores of pages, is sacrificed" (164). Somehow the book is losing its ethic. Is it really or is it evolving?I agree that “the contemplative mind is overwhelmed by the noisy world's mechanical busyness" (p. 166). And this book has made me think about things that I need to be aware of. How can we help our students and ourselves cope with this busyness? How do we teach our students what is being lost by thinking they can multi-task? How do we protect our students from becoming overloaded with diverse stimuli online (p. 213)?
Let's take a look at what he hasn’t discussed at all. How collaboration online has helped us? How has being more aware of the world has allowed us to become more compassionate and aware that not everyone lives like we do? Are we not better global citizens because of an awareness we now have? Carr’s central message that we are at risk of losing our ability to think deeply and that "as we cede to software more the toil of thinking, we are likely diminishing our own brain power" is very disturbing (p.216). I have hope for humanity and our continued capacity to remain ethical and humane in the digital age. I don't think Carr does.
The Online Reference Centre (ORC) grant-in-aid for 2015/2016 has been approved and the ORC will remain available to all Alberta K-12 students, parents, staff and pre-service teachers.