One of the topics explored in Sherry Turkle’s (2011) Alone, Together, is the impact that technology has on identity during adolescence. Typically, during this phase, young people “need time to discover themselves, time to think”(Turkle, 2011, p. 172). However, the overuse and over-dependence on technology, as well as “always-on communication and telegraphic speed and brevity, has changed the rules of engagement with all of this” (Turkle, 2011, p.172). Children and adolescents are “tethered” to their parents, which means that they are always available and reachable. Turkle (2011) worries that with this constant connection, young people are missing out on key adolescent experiences that shape independence and perseverance because instead of working to figure out a solution on their own, many are calling their parents for those solutions. However, there is a paradox at work here because while young people might be available to others, they are unavailable to themselves. This practice of connectivity and availability is something that adults engage in as well. However, if we are always connected, when are we able to hear our own thinking? When do we reflect on personal experiences? I personally believe that in order to understand ourselves, we need to learn how to listen to our thoughts and think deeply about actions, reactions and relationships. I believe that as a culture, we have to continue asking questions about what our habits allow us to gain and what we are losing.
Until two years ago, classrooms and hallways in our high school were no device zones. We had strict policies in place that allowed teachers to confiscate phones that were visible in the classroom. With revision of this device policy, came an enormous shift in our school culture. Now, students walk down the hallways with their phones in hand and when they come into the classroom, they place them on their desks because inevitably, they will use them during class, perhaps to quickly look up a definition or even share an assignment with their teacher. Some students even walk into the room with chargers in hand, locate outlets and plug their phones in to be charged. With the liberty and availability of their phones, comes the consequence of being distracted. What are main distractors? For our students, it is mostly consulting social media sites and texting during class. In a perfect world, my students would have two devices–one to engage in socially and an entirely different one to use for educational purposes. What I have noticed is that when they use the same device for social and educational purposes they become distracted and ultimately choose social media. I do still ask students to put their phones away during class, but inevitably, they seep out of their pockets or backpacks. When students are in my class, I want them to experience “flow,” which is “the complete and utter absorption” (Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll on Children. It is where they experience “creativity” and “artistry.” However, if they are constantly interrupted by outside factors, then they will not have the same quality of learning experiences as they would if completely engaged.
Another facet of the impact of technology on our learning environment is what Turkle discusses in a NY Times piece entitled, “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk.” In it, she claims that phones are “not accessories, but psychologically potent devices that change not just what we do but who we are” thus changing the ways in which we engage in conversations. Instead of speaking to one another from our authentic selves, we are limiting our connections by discussing what is on our phones. When I shared this article with my ninth grade students, they overwhelmingly agreed that it accurately conveys their habits with devices. One particular student said that he has noticed that no one ever talks about anything interesting while in the cafeteria. According to him, if his peers are not listening to music, playing games or on social media, they are showing each other their phones and talking about what is one them.
Jane Brody’s Screen Addiction Is Taking A Toll On Children best represents my perspective on the impact of technology on teens. I have seen that, “Schoolwork can suffer when media time infringes on reading and studying, a claim made in this piece. I personally believe that technology tools can allow us to do amazing things in almost every area of our learning experiences, including extending our realities in ways that we would not be able to do without them. However, when the social aspects of our lives begin to infringe on, and consume other aspects, including educational and reflective, then we have to revisit our actions and do all we can to achieve balance.
In It’s Complicated, author Dana Boyd examines the concept of addiction with regard to teens and their uses of technology. He claims that “media narratives often propagate the notion that engagement with social media is destructive, even as educational environments increasingly assume that teens are networked.” Boyd further discusses the push-and-pull relationship with regard to the perception and requirements of digital uses. The conflict here is clear; teens are deemed to be too connected, while at the same time, we are changing school policies and practices to capitalize on the fact that they are connected. Are we not then, perpetuating their connectivity and the consequences thereof? When our students have to go online to complete assignments, does that mean that we are putting them in the positions where they have to be connected?
I believe that Boyd’s point about balance is crucial. As parents and educators, we have to be attentive to what we are conveying to young people as being necessities of their human experiences and then what we are asking them to do as a part of those human experiences. Do the actions that we require of them support the lives we believe they should be living? For my own children, I have chosen to delay the introduction of technology as a social tool for as long as I can. That way, they can focus on using those tools for educational purposes. I know that this will change, but as I model balance in my own life, along with effective uses of technology, I hope to teach them those values that will allow them to seek their authentic selves and enjoy their personal experiences.
Note: Since my audience for this blog spans a wide range-from educators to parents and even my adolescent students-I chose to convey my thoughts in a blog form. I feel that this medium allowed me to explore the topic deeply and convey my personal observations and reflections as an individual, parent and educator.