My two-year old niece has a pacifier which she refers to as her “ra-ra.” This small, plastic item brings her great comfort when she is tired, upset, or bored. She demands it when she needs it, then sucks on it, carries it around, or offers it to her toys. For some reason, when I observe the interaction of the general populace and their electronic gadgets, I am reminded of my toddler niece and her ra-ra. I see everyone from teens to housewives, from grown men in business suits to elementary kids with their backpacks, from college students to senior citizens hypnotized by their phones, Ipads, Ipods, etc.
Though I occasionally roll my eyes at this technological hypnosis, I’m used to it for the most part. I am incorporating various forms of media into my lesson plans and I’ll be the first to admit that my students know more about computers, texting, and Instagrams than I do. I’ll quickly sing the praises of technology and the many benefits that come with it: organization, quick access to information, the speed and global reach of the Web, a smaller world, and strengthened relationships thanks the courtesty of social networking. However, I’d be a fool to not acknowledge the negative side of technology as well.
In previous blogs I’ve bemoaned the dependency technology is creating in our society and the overall weakening of our senses and social skills that come from hours glued to a screen and keypad, not to mention the lack of privacy and the damaged relationships that come from an obsessive use of media. Yet there is one concern that I have just begun to identify in adolescents and adults alike, and I directly relate it to technology. This negative is shorter attention spans. It used to be that people would stand for hours listening to the Bible read or sit glued to the radio to take in a favorite radio program. Kids could memorize pages of Shakespeare or other famous poetry and lovers separated by great distances would write lenghty missives to one another and have them sent by the U.S.Postal Service.
Now everything must be done within seconds and anything that last longer than 10, 15 minutes at the most, is considered boring, outdated, and ridiculous. If I lecture for just 10 minutes my students eyes are already glazing back and I’ve noticed the same thing during our pastor’s sermons or speeches given at Christmas parties. We want instant messaging, microwavable dinners, and movies on demand. If our dog won’t be housebroken in a week, he’s out of here! If my computer slows down, it’s trash. But life is spread throughout a lifetime and the richest flavor in wine or cheese comes from the ones that are aged the longest. The best memories are unplanned and the deepest lessons are processed over and over again.
In a recent TIME article, Annie Murphy Paul wrote an article entitled “Your Head Is in the Cloud.” She points out that because of our technological conditioning we not think of where we can find the answers to a problem, rather than trying to solve it on our own. We don’t try to remember as much anymore, because we assume it will always be available to us and finally, our memories are not of the new information, but of where the information can be accessed later on. Unfortunately, she states, this utter dependency on technology is setting ourselves up for disaster, should something every leave us without our computers or Internet access. Besides that, computers will never understand context and incorporating context into our lives and discussions is a skill that is being continually cultivated.
In summary, computers, Interent, phones, etc. are wonderful additions to life. We should learn about them and put them to productive use, but we should never make them our link to existence. Our brain will always be more dependable and convenient than our favorite form of technology and we should never stop strengthening it. There comes a time when our answers to life come from within our own minds and our meaningful to those around us, not from a ra-ra that restrains us to the confines of infancy.