iAmbivalence

June 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

“I also worry that iPads might transform the classroom from a social environment into an educational subway car, each student fixated on his or her personalized educational gadget.”

“But beneath this fretting is a more fundamental beef: the school system, without meaning to, is subverting my parenting, in particular my fitful efforts to regulate my children’s exposure to screens.”

“Still, I can’t be the only parent feeling whiplashed by the pace of technological changes, the manner in which every conceivable wonder — not just the diversions but also the curriculums and cures, the assembled beauty and wisdom of the ages — has migrated inside our portable machines. Is it really possible to hand kids these magical devices without somehow dimming their sense of wonder at the world beyond the screen?”

“And if experiencing this blast from the past weren’t troubling enough, I also get to confront my current failings as a parent. After all, we park the kiddos in front of SpongeBob because it’s convenient for us, not good for them.”

“In the course of mulling this question, I stumbled across an odd trove of videos (on YouTube, naturally) in which parents proudly record their babies operating iPads. One girl is 9 months old. Her ability to manipulate the touch screen is astonishing. But the clip is profoundly eerie. The child’s face glows like an alien as she scrolls from app to app. It’s like watching some bizarre inverse of Skinner’s box, in which the child subject is overrun by choices and stimuli. She seems agitated in the same way my kids are after “quiet time” — excited without being engaged.”

— Steve Almond, writing in the New York Times Magazine

The above are just a few of the many memorable lines in a compelling essay on the increasing trend to fill classrooms with iPads and the larger cultural embrace of technology as a means of delivering education, entertainment, and general interaction outside one’s own mind. Almond nicely captures the ambivalence that unsettles our nerves. We don’t want to reject technology; we don’t want to be seen as “behind the times,” but we also don’t want to lose something essential about our humanity. We feel a dread at what might be coming, when one day we have substituted a monitor for a person, when we care more about machines than our neighbors. Perhaps that day has already arrived.
Posted by Matt Emerson.
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