Dependency on tech translates outside classroom

Olivia Mitchel, Staff Writer

Looking back on the high school application process, I find myself classifying the bulk of the essay prompts under the umbrella of influential figures, past challenges, and personal growth. Amidst this abundance of mundane, personal prompts, one written prompt, prior to a high school interview, stood out: Does technology help or hinder our learning? There it was, the question of my generation, staring me right in the face.

I felt that I could argue either side. I had grown up in an age of technological innovation in which technology began to find its place in the world of education. I learned to type at the age of five and by the time I got to middle school, personal email accounts and typed essays were commonplace. But although I did not fully accept it, I was also cognizant of technology’s drawbacks. On top of exacerbating my tendency to procrastinate, excessive screen time affected my mood and sleep patterns.

Responding to the essay prompt, I became aware of myself hopping back and forth between the pros and cons of educational implementations of technology. I suspected that other applicants, being young internet enthusiasts like myself, might argue the affirmative, so I settled on the side of cynicism.

To this day, I am troubled by the ever-expanding prevalence of technology in educational settings.

The current generation of high schoolers never witnessed the world prior to the birth of the internet. We have grown up with the ability to have all our questions answered simply with the click of a button.

Throughout elementary school, I enjoyed playing computer games and watching videos online. My parents often restricted me to a limited amount of daily screen time. At that stage, I didn’t realize how little self-control I had in regards to my use of technology. Moreover, I was in denial about the ways in which excessive screen time negatively impacted my psychology.

Technology has certainly brought forth revolutionary changes in the world of education. The Urban school provides each student with a personal laptop and nearly every Urban teacher uses the SMARTBoard, giving students the ability to access class notes at any time. Online databases and news sources have made research materials more varied and accessible. There are numerous programs to help students take notes, organize their thoughts, and write essays. Sites like Khan Academy provide tutorial videos that in an effort to “guide learners from kindergarten to calculus using state-of-the-art, adaptive technology that identifies strengths and learning gaps.”

Useful as they may be, however, the innumerable supply of online educational resources is overwhelming. And as unrealistic as it may seem, the thought of an Urban history or English class free of computer use actually appeals to me. With laptops out of sight, class time might be more efficient and students would be more engaged in discussion.

The sight of multiple open tabs and running applications can be unsettling. Yet, according to the data from the Kaiser Family Foundation cited by DigitalResponsibility.org, youth spend seven and a half hours a day consuming media apart from daily computer usage for schoolwork. Why do we resort to technology when we don’t need to? We are addicted. The answer is as true as it is troublesome. We have become too dependent upon these little devices that exceed the capacities of human intelligence.

In March 2012, Sherry Turkle, Professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, presented a TED Talk entitled “Connected, but alone?” in Long Beach California. Turkle, who holds a doctorate in Sociology and Personality Psychology, is also a writer and researcher in psychoanalysis and human-technology interaction.

At the 2012 event, Turkle said, “Technology appeals to us most where we are most vulnerable.” Whenever we are forced to speak on the spot, we are vulnerable. In Urban classrooms, students stare at their laptop screens, preventing full immersion in the lesson. In the hallways, students keep their phones in hand, using these devices as shields to protect us from any potential discomfort associated with human interaction. By setting up virtual fortresses, however, we only close ourselves off and become more lonely.

I’d like to leave you with what I consider being vital steps in avoiding the unhealthy effects of disproportionate technology use:

1) Use social media platforms warily. A virtual “like” is rarely a satisfactory source of gratification, nor does it truly signify connection.

2) Look for opportunities to have real, live conversations with real, live people. Show your presence through eye contact and deliberate listening. Allow yourself to stumble. Genuine conversation is improvised, not formulaic.

3) Spend time completely alone. Test your patience by resisting the impulse to unlock your phone out of utter boredom. Use this time to reconnect with yourself and your emotions. Become aware of areas of pride, anxiety, and everything in between.

4) Go for a walk and leave all technology behind. Ask yourself a question and chew on it for a while. It’s okay if you don’t come up with an answer!