Distracted, Dazed and Confused: How Much Tech is Too Much for Our Students?
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the annual Paideia/CESA Conference in Dallas, Texas. Each year the conference focuses school leaders on three essential elements: stronger biblical worldview integration in our curriculums, financial sustainability of our schools, and intentional focus on our pedagogy. The last of these reflected on “Technology for Human Flourishing.” Are our students using technology for the higher purposes of learning: reflection, deeper understanding, nuance, more engaged collaboration, and to create more leisure time for family with efficiency? These questions were asked along the way.
Especially thought provoking was the CESA keynote from Maggie Jackson, author of Distracted: the Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. Jackson posits that there are some distrubing side effects of 24/7 tethered world. Most notably, Jackson is concerned that the daily living conditions of our students tied to a smart phone and a computer may mean the loss of creativity and focus. Jackson shared some alarming statistics about depression, detachment from peers, loss of attention, inability to have meaningful conversations and other points that gave one pause.<a href="https://polldaddy.com/p/7472652" target="_blank">Take Our Poll</a>
These were cautionary tales from someone who was heavily engaged in the 24/7 news cycle and accustomed to being tethered to technology to get the next story having worked previously at the Boston Globe. I questioned Jackson on that point because for every cautionary tale about those too immersed in the tech edges there are equally saddening stories about adults who did not keep up with the times and lost lifetime careers in industries.
In the summer of 2012, I recall a sad Friday in Huntsville when three friends from church all lost their jobs at the Huntsville Times. The newspaper consortium was going to 3 papers a week and concentrating all content to their mobile web based publication. To become more nimble, they were going to layoff 60% of the staff. On that fateful Friday, every staff member of the Times was asked to report to work and labor at their desks until their name was called in alphabetical order. The powers that were would share each individual’s fate over the course of the day. Adams, Bowers, Catzanza… One of my friends had worked at the paper 30 years. His name started with a W. It was a long day. Eventually, he gave up when they were around the S’s. Ultimately, enough was enough. He didn’t want to work in a business that treated people this way.
He later shared with me that there were just two considerations the employers made for layoffs:
who was making too much money
who was not capable of creating digital content.
The senior long thinkers treasured by those like Jackson were left with about two months severance and no idea what to do next.
I share this cautionary tale because as Christian educators we have a sacred duty to be mindful about three critical areas when developing out students. We have to protect their hearts (certainly dangerous when evil content is more readily available). We have to inspire them to be lifelong learners. We do both so that they can ultimately carry out the third area: be an instrument for the great works God has preordained for them to do according to Ephesians 2:10. It should be no easier to live with ourselves if we bury our heads in the sand and say “no to tech” if it means we produce students unprepared for the 21st Century world they are supposed to create meaning within.
Maggie Jackson’s 2009 book offers cautionary tales about the life we lead immersed in technology.
Ultimately, I like Jackson’s approach with this work and her speech at CESA. She uses technology and advocates for its wise use, just with significant limits. Though she claims no distinctly Christian worldview, she seems to live with technology much like John prays for Christ’s followers in his Gospel. In John 17:15 it is written: “my prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” We live in a technologically advanced world. Nothing in the near term is going to change that. As a matter of fact, it may be the way precisely God wants it. What we can do as Christian educators is set up some boundaries or guardrails to technology so that it becomes a help for our students and not an idol.
Stay tuned to Dewey’s Dimes for Quick Tips in the Parent-School Partnership on setting up Tech Guardrails for our Students