When I was a professor in California, I asked a class on Culture and Society to not use their electronic devices or email for three (3) hours, and then to write a paper on the results. The answers were fascinating and eye-opening.
So, when I saw the prompt was Technology, I decided to address their answers and then what happened when I had no access to technology for ta few days. The differences in our reactions are telling of the influence of technology across generations.
First, the students rebelled at even the notion that they should go without their electronics for three hours. But, after explaining that I want them to see just how much technology impacts their lives, or that it doesn’t hurt them at all, they were more willing to do the assignment. It might have helped that it was 15 percent of the final grade (sometimes that’s the only way to get work done).
The answer that was most revealing was the female student who wrote that being off the grid for three hours was akin to “social suicide.” She wrote of missing calls and texts from friends for meet-ups and with news about other friends. She felt that if the assignment had been longer, she would have suffered major effects to her social calendar. The whole tone of the essay was so angry that I thought she would try to exact revenge on me.
But, one male student wrote that as he didn’t have anything to check constantly, he strolled the halls of his dorm. He met some “really cool” people who lived next door to him or on the same floor whom he had never gotten to know. He was astounded to find how many hours a day he devoted to his electronics, and he was determined to change. The tone of his essay was astonishment and gratitude.Most of the essays were more like the first essay than the second one.
My experience was completely different from any of my students. When we went to Portugal the first time this year, Douglas and I did not know that our phones would not work there. Moreover, the wi-fi in the apartment was so iffy that most of the time that we could not see our emails.
At first, I was so upset to be “disengaged” from the world, especially the news. But then, as the days progressed, it was so freeing! It was as though we had lost an appendage that was restricting our freedom of movement. We talked to each other at dinner! I lost a lot of my anxiety, by not knowing what was being said or done by the politicians in Washington 24 hours a day.
If I had written of my experience, the tone of the essay would have been celebratory. So, now, I sometimes cut my phone off. I do it so often that my grandson has told me in no uncertain terms, “Grandma Gina, keep your phone turned on!” My oldest daughter reiterated his plea, stating, “What if something happens to one of your children or grandchildren, how will we reach you?”
I understand their frustrations, but I do not want to be tethered to a phone 24 hours a day. I have a landline so that I can be reached in emergencies. But, chastened, I try to remember not to leave the phone at home or forget to charge it. My younger family members are appalled that I would be so careless and loose with something so important to their nervous systems and social calendars.
I wonder if people will soon start having chips embedded in their skulls for their phones, so that they are not inconvenienced by having to charge the phones, as the brain will do that for them. Technology is great, and I am amazed that phones can be cameras and that we can tote them around with us.
But it also have many cons, such as the loss of letter writing or whole sentences. I wrote my pastor yesterday to let him know that Douglas and I would not be in church. His answer was “K.” Just one letter. That cannot be good!
What is your take on technology? For it or against it, or neutral? Is it a generational thing?