Technology and Life in General

by stryson

I have a major love/hate relationship with the role that technology seems to consistently take in my life, as well as the lives of others. I’ve been reminded of this profoundly on several fronts recently.

The first came in the form of a blog post that can be found here. The short version of this post is that a teacher in England was targeted by local media and portrayed as inappropriate to the extent of being a creep, entirely based on tweets that were taken entirely out of context, apparently. Provided I’ve gotten a well-rounded enough picture of the situation from what I’ve read, her plight is deeply disturbing to me. We now live in a world where it’s very hard to keep anything private, particularly when the internet is involved. There’s some degree of common sense that must be followed in regard to one’s own conduct on the internet, but it appears that this teacher did, in fact, take precautions to make these tweets private, which should have theoretically made them inaccessible to outside parties. However, these news sources got wind of them and found ways to obtain (and exploit) what they managed to dig up. This is absolutely infuriating to me! The complacency with which many people now handle blatant breaches to one’s privacy completely baffles me.

A parallel concern of mine in regard to this situation is that teachers are not saints. The expectation that just because one has a certain profession they’ll never swear or say things in an uncensored manner is just completely unreasonable. Yet, in the age of Google, our lives outside of school are easily on display, not just for our coworkers, but also for the parents of our students… and our students, themselves. I caught a fifth grader searching my name on Google – during a class that I was teaching at the time – a couple of years ago, and I completely read him the riot act about privacy. I was mortified! There’s nothing terrible that comes up with a search of my name (I check on this now and then to be sure), but the principle of it bothered me deeply. Growing up, I lived up the street from my first grade teacher. I didn’t go snooping through her yard or peering in her windows. This feels like the modern and remote equivalent.

A key difference may be the lack of consequences. People are almost encouraged to have inappropriate curiosity. There’s no way for someone to “catch” you looking at their information, so why not? That same invincible attitude fuels the barrage of emails that I (and teachers in general, from what I can tell) get daily. As a general rule, people are way more willing to say things that might be considered rude, harsh, or irrational in an email than over the phone or in person. There’s no risk for the sender to get immediate negative feedback, which they might receive in the form of a verbal retaliation or a more subtle reaction through body language if they were communicating in person. Sending an email also takes less effort than the former ways in which parents contacted teachers. They’re no longer obliged to leave a message with the school secretary, or to hand-write a note and hope their child gets it to its destination. This is not always a bad thing! I can think of many instances where I’ve been able to help a child who struggled with his or her homework because a mother has sent me a quick note via email, or I’ve been made aware of a social problem going on among students in my class that I might not otherwise see. However, the dark side to this is that there are people who take advantage, sending an abundance of emails about issues that may not be important, or that might be better dealt with in person. Emails are also often sent impulsively; I get many “while I’m thinking of it” emails – sometimes even from Blakberries or iPhones while they are waiting to pick up their children outside of the school.

Today was a light email day; I count 9 message threads in my Outlook box. Yesterday, I had 20. Friday was 17, Thursday was 16. I counted 7 emails in the first hour of the school day on one day last week.

It’s a double-edged sword; the ease of communication can absolutely be used for good. It’s incredibly frustrating to realize how much of my planning and reflection time is consumed by reading and writing emails, though.

Anyway – I digress.

I’m not the only one ruminating on the effects of technology in a social context this week. Sarah Weaver’s sermon this week, which she posted here, dealt partly with the divisive nature of our technologically heavy lives and the basic notion of loving one’s neighbor. Much of the text struck home with me, and I would encourage anyone to give it a read, even if you’re not Christian or religious at all, because I feel she’s definitely got her finger on the pulse of this same issue I’ve been grappling with. I particularly like this quote:

And it is so easy for us to stand behind the mask of anonymity that the Internet gives to us when we disagree with someone.  It is easy to strike back without thinking or even being prayerful when all we have to do is type a few words on a keyboard and hit enter without seeing the reaction our response might elicit.

I’m certainly no Luddite, and this should not be construed as a rally against all technology. It’s a lament for the fading of common sense, manners, and basic interpersonal communication. There must be a way to use this technology mindfully.

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