In the last four hours, three items were shared with me that are basically (in my mind) all on the same topic. The first was an article by Sherry Turkle from The New York Times entitled, “The Documented Life.” Turkle has been known to have a negative view on the impact of technology on our lives, and although I believe that we should always be thoughtful of the impact on anything that happens in our lives, I do believe that she has a narrow minded view of technology. In the article she says,
It is not too late to reclaim our composure. I see the most hope in young people who have grown up with this technology and begin to see its cost. They respond when adults provide them with sacred spaces (the kitchen, the family room, the car) as device-free zones to reclaim conversation and self-reflection.
The irony of this quote is that because of technology and the ability to share this piece, I have the ability to have a conversation about it with others that may be interested in the content, while also having the ability to reflect it in this blog post.
Could I reflect on this piece in a journal, notebook, or sitting in a room alone? Absolutely. That being said, I do think a lot more about what I am reflecting on because I know others can see it. As author Clive Thompson stated,
Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.
The next article, a rebuttal to Turkle’s piece, was fascinating. Not only did it provide great counter arguments, but it talked about a few other times where people questioned the validity of things in history that we now just accept as normal:
Socrates, who came from a culture with a strong oral tradition, was concerned by the rise of people writing things down: “[Writing] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.”
In 1906, composer John Philip Sousa feared how recorded music would destroy the ability to socialize at parties: “The country dance orchestra of violin, guitar and melodeon had to rest at times, and the resultant interruption afforded the opportunity for general sociability and rest among the entire company. Now a tireless mechanism can keep everlastingly at it, and much of what made the dance a wholesome recreation is eliminated.”
In 1925, Princeton University Dean Howard McClenahan tied the car to a moral crisis: “The automobile gave increased opportunities on Sunday and thus lessened the chances of church attendance. The general effect of the automobile was to make the present generation look lightly at the moral code, and to decrease the value of the home.”
History is full of Turkles, and naturally so. Hers is such a terrifying idea, and yet such an appealing one: If we are at the vanguard of social change, then we–that is, we the elders, roughly ages 30 and up, who can remember a time before the latest disruption–are the precious and special last bearers of humanity.
At some point, our youth will probably embrace the technology they use now as normal and question the new technologies that will be appearing in their world. If we know anything, this process is cyclical and it will happen again, yet many will forget that. I am not saying that we shouldn’t question and critically think about the developments in our world, but we should also not to be so quick to judge.
Which brings me to the last item that was shared with me. Apple has recently released a new holiday ad that, to me, highlights how we often wrongly judge how people that they are not “enjoying” the moment, when they are simply enjoying it in a different way:
I have felt this judgment many times sitting in staff professional development where someone looks over at me and wonders what I am doing on their phone, yet never questions the person doodling in a notebook. Why? Because the notebook is familiar to most. The interesting thing that I have learned is that I don’t even question the person “doodling” as I am not sure of their learning style and sometimes this motion helps people to process ideas.
Are all kids like the one in the Apple video? Absolutely not and it would be naive for me to say that technology hasn’t changed the way we do things. It definitely has.
Many would question the kid in the Apple video that he is not living in the moment and the device is distracting, yet I believe that sometimes documenting that moment, and having the ability to relive it over and over again, is something that is extremely powerful. As I go into my first Christmas holidays without my dad, I am thankful that my brother was willing to take time to create this:
The above video creates such emotion every time I see it, and although it was not a moment that I lived in, I feel like I am living it every time I see and hear my father’s voice. Memories are one thing, but don’t tell me that this “documentation” doesn’t create something powerful.
Instead of trying to “judge” what other people do with technology and simply wag our finger from our proverbial porch, I believe we need to try to understand the good and the bad by immersing ourselves into this world. Just because
“A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.” —Marshall McLuhan