As I started this school year with 500 new students and over 50 new staff, I’ve had three priorities during their induction to learning technology: organizing their Google life, managing distraction, and balance.
By far, the biggest drain on my mental resources has been the issue of balance, whatever that means. I guess my problem with the term “balance” when used in the context of technology is that it implies two competing, opposite forces. Here’s how my Macbook defined balance…
Just to see if this actually matches the colloquial understanding, I put the question to our Gr. 9 & 10 students in an assembly.
Me: Draw me a sketch of what you think of when you hear the word “balance.”
I guess I really don’t like the dichotomy of false choices that it creates. Balance implies we choose to do this or that, one thing or the other, but not both.
When we categorize things as opposites like this, we immediately begin putting our value judgements on those categories. One is better than the other or has it’s “time, place or purpose.”
We run into this all the time in school as: balance between online reading and printed books, handwriting and typing, socializing (assuming that it’s best done in person) and studying, screen time and… so on.
So, I’m afraid that when we say the words “balanced use of technology,” it really comes across as…
“don’t use technology too much because it’s bad for you.”
But, is it?
Does it really, as Sherry Turkle might claim, lead us to a lonely life with a facade of hundreds of online friends that we decide to interact only on our terms, avoiding the “messy” bits that can accompany face-to-face relationships?
Or, is it something else entirely?
What if our online relationships actually were more than lose, trivial interactions to people we’ve never shared oxygen with? What if we can actually make meaning, learn with, and even love people we “know” solely through online interactions?
Alexandra Samuel has a quite a different perspective on this issue and I think it’s worthwhile to watch these two talks back to back.
In her article for The Atlantic, “Plug in Better: A Manifesto”, Samuel both acknowledges the biggest issues we have with technology, digital, and social media and offers us a road map of how to do things better by unplugging from:
- FOMO (fear of missing out)
- information overload
- the shallows
I’ve decided to use these five points to make mindful use of technology actionable for our students. Grade 9 & 10s have already used these to frame one goal for themselves to work toward and we’ll check back in with them in a month to see how they’re going.
Who’s right? I’m not sure this is a right/wrong situation. I do think that being able to carry on a conversation in person is an important life skill, especially when it gets uncomfortable. But I also think that online relationships are real life too. Being in nature brings all my senses to a state of hyper-awareness and having Google Maps on my phone helps me find nature and back home.
I think it’s not either or, it’s both and…
Most of all, I also know that we need some new language to describe a healthy life that includes technology.
Who can help?