Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Icy Bite of POLARized Arguments

I recently read the last Chapter in Zimmerman's insightful book about culture wars in education, where he pointed out that, media headlines to the contrary, very few people are one-sided in the world views. Most at least understand the other side of the argument, and many possess seemingly incomensurable opinions simultaneously. Articles, investigative reporting, and conversations, however, often frame debates quite differently, for the sake of simplicity and perhaps clarity: There are two sides to this issue, and everyone falls on one or the other side.

This good/evil paradigm similarly surfaces in the technology debate, specifically the one that is raging regarding the impact of digital technologies on our brains, our students, our literacy skills, and our schools.

There are the Nicholas Carr's of the world that believe google is making us stupider, driving us away from contemplative, deep thinking and directly into dangerous, multi-tasking, "surfacey"utilitarian thinking. Among his ranks are people like the author of the article "First Church of Robotics", who fears that seeing computers as fellow creatures and not just tools causes us to view humans as mere computers. He calls the technology-enthused movement a new religion, one that demands faith in computers to even make aesthetic choices for us, such as which movie to rent or music to download. Then there's the author of "The End of Human Specialness", who proposes frighteningly that digitally charged mankind is suffering from a decay of belief in self, and calls for a break in tweeting and blogging so that we can "fully exist." It goes without thinking that these guys are the villains in the story. (I am, after all, enthusiastically blogging, aren't I?)

But there are good guys too. And they are the folks who created a new test to measure digital literacy, called iCritical Thinking Certification, a test that calls upon students to solve real problems using technology tools. There are the multitudinous PEW surveys that again and again hit home the point that technology-use is increasing, and perception of technology is overwhelmingly positive. Various reports cite statistics about teens as content creators and consumers, quotes from interviews affirming that social network sharing is here to stay, even quoting experts about how Internet is NOT making us stupid or negatively impacting our reading skills. And I can't forget to mention that nauseatingly (see previous post) optimistic authors of "Connecting the Digital Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century", who laud the deep critical skills inherent in today's call for digital and visual literacy.

But to tell you the truth, I'm left watching the battle wishing the two sides would just annhilate each other. Because technology talk, especially technology talk about education, needs to be more than just persuasive . . . it needs to be thoughtful. I get what Nicholas Carr is saying, and I think some of his cautions are essential to take into account. The cognitive overload I experience each day is palpable, and I often yearn for a time where my reading was limited to the books on a shelf in a library. And I've multitasked throughout this entire blog (I checked my email four times, called Uverse to get my VISA rewards card, worked on a schedule for my daughter's daycare, etc) and I definitely noticed the extra amount of energy it took to switch from task to task. And honestly, I couldn't stand "Connecting the Digital Dots" article, which was vague to a fault and blatantly over the top. And I'm not so sure that investing our time in creating a standard way to measure students' technology skills is the best use of our time, although it may be a realistic one.

All of this to say, all of us are large enough to hold paradoxical thoughts and understandings about technology. And, even if we aren't large enough, our world is certainly is.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree-- I've only been a student for a few weeks and a full day of emailing, blogging, texting and looking at videos has my eyes hurting! Even though it seems amazingly useful, I don't think I can keep this up. It does seem like a philosophical battle and I think Carr's "side" has some good, balanced things to say (at least, for staying focused on school/life goals).