Wednesday, January 30, 2013

To digital or not to digital?

Wikipedia defines a digital native (DN) as, "a person who was born during or after the general introduction of digital technologies and through interacting with digital technology from an early age, has a greater understanding of its concepts..."  I feel that this definition is, in many ways, too friendly and does not care to thoroughly vivisect or consequently analyze the true relationship between the current generation of school children/college students and technology.  Recently, a colleague of mine defined DNs as having a, "symbiotic relationship with technology whereas we are expats of the analog world."  This "we" refers to my colleagues at work, where the ratio of non-digitals to digitals is quickly approaching 50/50.  Having been born in 1979, I don't know if my birth date qualifies me as a DN, but having had the opportunity to play Pong and Burgertime on their original consoles as well as Loderunner, Winter Games, and Karateka on an Apple IIe just might be the very first metaphorical DN passport stamp ever used.  I've played MUDS, I've browsed bulletin boards, I've logged into AOL and Prodigy only to pay $9.99 an hour in order to take part in the "digital revolution" of our country.  Does this give me DN street cred or just make me the first elderly member of DN. society?

Working with young people and their parents, both of whom can often times be buried in the opportunities provided by ever-advancing technology, I have often wondered if I truly occupy a hut in the DN village.  I am 33 years old and played my first entertainment system at the age of 5.  Although I received my first cell phone when I was 22 years old, I have owned and operated an iPhone for the past 5 years and recently purchased an iPad.  I get upset about the prospect of visiting a place where there might be a spotty internet connection and the thought of visiting a locale where I cannot use the internet at all makes start to hyperventilate a little.

Given the aforementioned and somewhat embarassing aspectss of my relationship with technology, I still feel a stronger affinity to the "expats of the analog" world than to any DN and I would like to note a few differences between the two groups:

1.  Patience is a virtue that is slowly but surely no longer being valued as we embrace technology every more closely.  DNs know patience as the time required to wait for a webpage to refresh, a text to successfully be sent, or the time required for their Killing Spree cooldown in WoW to be over.  When researching a paper or project in school, DNs are upset when the first link on Google doesn't provide them with enough information.  Heaven forbid they should have to to search more thoroughly or *gasp*, enter a library and use primary, secondary, or tertiary sources to acquire information.  Analog expats know patience in a more geological (relatively speaking) sense.  Waiting for your children to come back in from playing outside;  waiting for the next book in a favorite series to be released; or watching as the chocolate chip cookies swell, turn brown, and start to smell really delicious are all measures of patience for the analog expat.  Does this make analog expats better than DNs?  I don't know.

2.  Silence.  Have you ever sat in a public transit vehicle and looked at the 17 year old sitting across from you?  Like clockwork, look to their ears.  I guarantee that approximately 75% of DNs will have an earbud in or a headphone on at least one of their ears.  Look to the group of DNs sitting together and conversing.  Even when interacting directly with one another, you can follow the cord from their ear down to an electronic device somewhere on their person.  Can anyone very truly be invested in a conversation when there is a podcast, music, or a book-on-tape (lulz, yeah right) playing in their other ear?  I know silence as sitting on my back terrace watching cars drive by.  I know silence as the pit-pat of my feet as I run through the neighborhood and wonder what is going on in the houses I pass.  Studies show that no one is truly capable of multi-tasking, so is it possible that DNs will eventually evolve out of that inability?  Are they already more capable than their analog forefathers?      

Friday, January 04, 2013


Yesterday a student and I were chatting.  I mentioned to him my worries and pet peeves concerning my students' participation in a national language exam.  As it so happens, many of the students have little to no motivation to put effort into the exam, as they are often resigned to the fact that they will not succeed and as such, choose to put as little effort into answering the questions as possible. 

His response went something like this, "Well, most of us just don't give a ****."  I may have been and might still somewhat be an overachiever, but I am convinced that the extent to which the teenage blase attitude currently extends has reached a new summit.  I feel that working with young people in their teenage years might have focused my lens more tightly than it should be, but I worry about a generation of people who never had to use phonebooks, never had to use an encyclopedia for a school project, never had to sell cookies door-to-door, has no idea how the dewey decimal system works, and would rather order pizza via their iPad than make a 3 minute phone call.  I mean talking to some "rando" at a pizza place is uncomfortable, amirite?

Don't misunderstand me.  I enjoy the convenience that technology and its cousin the internet bestow upon us all.  Sometimes I would rather not speak to a person face to face but instead send an email.  I do not however, doubt that this particular tendency is the result of technological influence on my life.  I wonder how the world expects a generation of young people who start using iPads and cellular phones between the ages of 7 and 12 to understand why it is important to keep hard copies of books in libraries, why it is important for them to know who their neighbors are, why it is important to be able to have a conversation (albeit awkward) with someone you have never met. 

Maybe it is just me.  I tend to view the world around me as the same place it was when I was growing up.  It frightens me to think that my views on what is useful, just, practical, and necessary are going to some day be viewed as old-fashioned and trite.  I pray that what I know as a vital set of life skills will always remain exactly that, vital.  Even though I say I view the world as unchanged, I know that is not true.  The world changes more quickly than ever, at least according to the Charlie Rose's interviews.

Technology and the internet gives my students endless opportunities to be curious lifelong learners.  They have incalculable advantages over their forebears in that they are able to find answers to their questions with a button click, a finger swipe, or an uttered word.  On the flip side, this easy access to virtually unlimited amounts of information and knowledge has a tendency to dull their curiosity's blade.  Why do you need to keep the knife sharp if the substance you are cutting is so pliable?  We need to find a way to encourage our students and children to keep looking.  To keep wanting to look, simply for the sake of having worked to achieve something if nothing else.  Every time we get something for nothing, we get a little bit more satisfied.  As Hatebreed says, "Satsifaction is the death of desire" and I for one, would hate to live a life where desire is absent.      

Thursday, January 03, 2013

I just spent two minutes looking at prior posts on this blog.  There are many typographical errors.  Some may call this "character" or "charm".  I find it embarrassing and apologize most humbly.

I'd like to write about the hometown I have had the chance to experience for the past 8 years.  Baltimore, you are a neat place.  Your fans are loyal, your population is diverse, and your well-dressed but overpriced brother, Washington, DC, tends to look down its nose at you.  That is until its residents realize they need a place to live and cannot afford to live in or around DC itself.

The people are what make a town.  Not the places.  Not the teams.  Not the universities.  People in Baltimore are normal.  I appreciate this a great deal.  There are wealthy people here.  There are poor people here.  There are crazy people who eat their roommate's organs here.  There are people here who anonymously spray paint the Baltimore Ravens' logo on the sidewalks of our school's campus at playoff time here.  There are people who speak English fluently but because of their "Balmer" accent I cannot understand them here.

Regardless of the cannibalism, silly accents, and graffiti, Baltimorons are normal.  Regardless of their backgrounds, regardless of their level of privilege, real Baltimorons are good, stable, dependable folk.  They remind me very much of the people I grew up with in Cincinnati.  Some may call them small-minded, I like to think of them as content.  I'd like to thank Baltimore for making the last 8 years enjoyable and revealing.  I look forward to making it a decade!