Sunday, January 12, 2014

Everywhere and Nowhere

"To be everywhere is to be nowhere." 

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

We all know it is  possible to have too much of a good thing. The World Wide Web, which has transformed the world of communication and learning, can dominate our lives. Most of it carry it in our pockets, purses or palms. We are always connected. I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I love what I have learned. I love that blogging has given me a platform to publish my writing. I love staying in touch with people. I appreciate that the use of apps and assistive technology has enabled access for individuals with learning differences. On the flip side, I hate looking at the top of people's heads while we are having lunch, I hate the spread of pornography and lies that "go viral" too easily, and I loathe the stress it causes because when I try to unplug for a day or a week I feel that I am getting left behind. Mostly what I resent about technology is what we aren't doing when we are plugged in: deep reading of great books, meaningful conversations with those older and younger than ourselves and watching the wind blow through the leaves on the trees. I notice that my already short attention span has become even shorter and that I find myself looking at my phone when my husband is trying to tell me something, even though I don't like that behavior in others.

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a copy of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. I bought it from Warren Farha, owner of Eighth Day Books. He told me, "Every teacher and every parent should read this book." I agree. This isn't a book review so I won't describe the book in great detail. It is however a recommendation. Read this book! It is the information we need to move forward in this century and to make good decisions about our children. We could go back to the chalk and slate days but we won't. We can however, make sure that we make wise and thoughtful decisions about the use of technology and that we leave more "white space" in our days. I firmly believe we should still read and teach from print materials, along with digital text. Maybe we should allocate as much money to planting a garden as we do to upgrading our computers.

One of the biggest changes I have made after reading this book is limiting my time online. I realized that in my desire to be connected, current, and stimulated, I have allowed my ever malleable brain to be transformed.  I notice it takes more effort than it used to when I  read printed text and I have substituted 30 character statements for deep understanding of concepts. I have also added to my internal frenzy by clicking "one more link" rather than pulling away from my desk and taking a walk down the hall or having a real face time interaction. I realized sometimes I  have traded a cute family picture on Facebook for an authentic family moment. It will likely always be a balancing act for us as we seek to integrate technology for our benefit but not let it run our lives. It's a necessary endeavor to undertake however. We do need to stop and weigh the costs of giving our brains to digital devices for a majority of the day. This thoughtful, well-researched book is a good first step.

As a grandparent now one of the things I am most grateful for is that my grandchild's parents have decided to leave the TV off until their baby goes to bed every night. They also have a "no social media" rule for friends and family regarding their baby. Although I really think this kid is so cute that he ought to be all over Facebook, I have to say that it has meant we see our time with little Oliver as wonderful and precious and we aren't tempted to turn it into a photo opportunity. I'd love to be able to "share" his photos but I deeply respect and support the decision of his wise parents. For them it is the beginning of a long journey about what to expose him to and how to guide his choices about how he will spend his time in the world.

For now, I am logging off to take a walk! Thanks for reading.


Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains (New York: W.W. Norton &Company, 2011)