Skepticism Re: Computers

and Technology in General

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I believe that there is one important thing that people should know about Cyberspace in general, and computers in particular.

This is going to come as somewhat of a surprise, probably, especially since I am teaching a course that supports the use of computers in the classroom. That one important thing is:

I believe there is too much use of computers in schools and in society in general, that it is leading to increased social isolation of people, to less real learning in schools, and to a massive waste of precious money resources for institutions and time resources for people.

There. I said it. I know I personally have benefited from our increased dependency on computers, since I like them and I have been in a position to teach teachers and students all about them *(see note). However, I believe that this "information age" in which we supposedly live should not involve so much use of machines

  • that work against the development of real communities,
  • that take away from the intimacy of a real teacher-student relationship,
  • that cause people to meet other cultures in cyberspace instead of in the flesh,
  • that prevent us from developing social skills that can come only with actually working face to face with other human beings, and
  • that fool us into thinking that getting online to all that free information is the Holy Grail of education.

I know it sounds like heresy, and to some extent, I guess it is, especially to the large numbers of institutions (businesses, advertisers) which profit from all this software and hardware development (including the obvious planned obsolescence involved). But if you stop and really think about the mania our culture has for computers and technology in general, some rather disturbing thoughts might occur.

  • Why should people spend a large part of their existence getting involved in cyber-communities, when our real neighbourhoods suffer from people not knowing their immediate neighbours?
  • Why should teachers have to spend a large part of their day with computers that they will never really master (because as soon as they do, it seems, the technology changes) at the expense of facing and interacting directly with their students?
  • Why should we exchange e-mails with people thousands of kilometers away in an attempt to learn about other cultures when there are newcomers to our cities who languish because of a lack of connections to the established citizens in their neighbourhoods?
  • Why should we be spending valuable time playing on-line games, running simulations, and having electronic meetings when the only sure way to develop the social skills employers say they want their workers to have can be developed by meeting and working with people face-to-face?
  • And finally, why does every child in every school have to be hooked up to the Internet, when there is absolutely no assurance that the information then accessed will be educational, on a topic schools would care to cover in a course, or even true?

We spend far too much time worrying about students growing up and not fitting into the future because they are not computer literate enough. Cars are important, too, but we don't take a huge part of our day to teach auto literacy. People will do with the technology what they have always done - learn the part of the technology that is important to them at the time. No one knows everything about cars the same as no one knows everything about computers. Most of us haven't a clue how a car works, but we drive them very well when we want to.

And do you really think that children who have spent hours every day in front of a TV screen need more time in front of a computer monitor - especially young children?

I have been in school divisions where, when the choice came to hire / retain teachers or to buy computers, computers won every time. Browsing the Web was more important than learning to read or write properly - the Internet cannot teach children these things. Who is going to teach children how to construct a logical argument, how to speak in front of other people, how to express themselves artistically or musically, and how to work with other people? Teachers model skills, draw from life experiences and promote real scholarship - which happens to be hard work. Will Cyberspace, with its flash animations and programmed rewards, teach people the value of this hard work? Which is better: meeting people in our neighbourhoods who are different from us, or perceiving them through an Internet porthole, which conveys images, but not understanding? (I know . . . a loaded question. How did you know that - did a computer teach you this concept? I'll bet NOT!)

I know people are afraid / feel inadequate when it comes to being critical of our over-use of computers. They think they have no right to complain, since they are not experts. But that's like saying, "since you are not a political expert, what business do you have voting?"

The ability to deal with other people, whether it be in a job, in a family, or just with friends, has never come from the Internet and never will. If you ask people who are in a position of authority or power what they want to see in their employees, they will say the most important thing is the ability to get along and work with others. One does not learn this spending hours every day at a computer monitor.

* How I got started in this business is another story - - one that should be told face-to-face, not over the web. Ask me about it some time. I will tell you my story with passion, humour, and non-verbal clues that I defy any machine to match! I am a teacher, after all. P.S. This is why courses totally on-line will never be as significant as ones where you actually meet with and deal with real people (but that's another story)--> back<--

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