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A Word for the Real

Brigid Fox | Brevard, NC

Several years ago, I was visiting a friend who was getting her Ph.D. in counseling at a large state university.  Part of her commitment included working with the student services counseling program.  She was telling me how difficult it was for the college “kids” to overcome their social anxiety and go out and have a good time without self-medicating.  There was a good deal of substance abuse that she was witnessing as a method of overcoming the stress of the social situations. At the time of our conversation, these students were the first of the smart  phone generation.  They were the earliest of the tech-savvy, social networking, texting, gaming group.

As a teacher of younger children, I was thinking about the help and guidance I might provide to help tomorrow’s college students be aware of (and hopefully avoid) some of the pitfalls of going out on your own.  My friend and I started thinking about the role of the phones and social media in relation to this situation.  The phones and computers seem to be feeding sense of urgency for feedback that does not allow for the individual’s acceptance of him or herself as valuable no matter what.

Through this conversation, I began thinking about ALL the technology that has been lately introduced into our young people’s lives.  I do not have technophobia, nor am I a Luddite, however I do find there to be many unintended consequences of our rapid introduction of technology into schools and personal lives.  Watching our social dynamics change so dramatically – especially once the Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat bug takes hold – leads me to consider how the use of these tools can be tempered, postponed, or at least allow for a counter balance to be developed.

I want to give a shout out to good, old-fashioned, hands-on discovery.  When I offer an experience with a single set of tools and materials, there is more than just academic learning going on.  There is a whole network of neurons that is being stimulated as the children “jockey” for a position to see what is going on, to work out choices and consequences of touching or talking to their classmates. They get to know how to spatially organize to help everyone get an opportunity, then sometimes negotiate another showing of the experiment. When the experience is projected up on a screen, maybe using a document projector or video from the computer, then yes, everyone gets to see the same thing, but at what cost?

I think of reading books aloud as well and making use of children sitting close to see the pictures, again navigating the social arena of trying to get the best visibility.  Many times, my students will need to speak up to let me know if they missed a part or a picture.  This is easy to remedy, and met with a smile on my face in recognition of their enthusiasm.  The feedback they get is real life.  It is not a “thumbs up” or a “heart”.  It is an emotional connection they can interpret and deal with in a real way.  A sense of calmness settles on them rather than the need for more feedback.

It is nice when we see videos at our desks on our ipads or chromebooks, but again, where is the smile and the human connection, aside from possibly the human on the other side of the screen?

Honestly, I do not know if our use of technology can be directly linked to any of our social concerns for our teenagers and young adults, and I have not read any studies that have proven that.  But I do think that the making things “easier and more accessible” can create problems on down the line.

My favorite image of struggle being so important is the hatching of sea turtle eggs.  Scientists are very good at locating and observing sea turtle nests.  When the turtles hatch however, everyone stands back.  There is much scrambling, tumbling, sliding, climbing, and trampling as a clutch of turtles hatches and makes their way to the sea.  It has been noted that no human assistance should be given to struggling turtles because this would affect their resiliency once they arrive in the water.  It turns out that the ocean is full of dangers for these tiny creatures, and the only way they can become ready to navigate is by practice.  They must scramble, tumble, slide, climb, trample and be trampled upon to survive.  In this case (as with everything), nature knows best.

I know that the social dynamics of our culture will forever evolve.  I am ready for that.  I am also aware that there is great value at practicing the falling, as well as the picking up of oneself.  It should not be feared and mediated, rather celebrated as a difficulty that has made us better people.

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