Sunday, July 6, 2014

Turkle versus Wesch: What do we do with all this technology?

Sherry Turkle and Michael Wesch approach technology's role in communication from two different vantage points:  Turkle suggests that technology inhibits human interactions and conversation, a dying art in this day and age, and Wesch seems to be in favor of fully embracing technology as a platform for dialogue and interaction.   Neither professor condemns technology, but they do appear to take opposing standpoints as to what it does to face-to-face interactions.  They also vary greatly on the way in which they approach solutions to the problem.  

Turkle notes that people are intrinsically linked to their devices and seem to have lost the art of having conversations as well as being alone.  She points out how when we are alone for more than a few minutes, we instinctively reach for our devices.  She says that we tend to look at little "sips" of online conversations through social media and texting as combined gulps, when in reality, people are scripting a artificial personas online; we edit our posts, we are limited by characters, we choose how to portray ourselves through the photos we exhibit, and we essentially make it easier NOT to communicate authentically with people.

 She uses the example of a man who claims that people in his office don't want to be bothered, but after a minute of self-reflection writes, “I’m not telling the truth. I’m the one who doesn’t want to be interrupted. I think I should. But I’d rather just do things on my BlackBerry.”  I can't tell you how often I have been that man, not interested in engaging in conversation because it is easier and "safer" to text.   She points out that young people, as in the case of the sixteen-year-old boy she mentions, would like to "learn how to have a conversation."  As a remedy to this problem, Turkle argues that we must have technology-free zones in our homes or cars, and take a stance for a no-technology day (or even hour) in our classrooms or offices, from time to time.  I wholeheartedly agree with Turkle's advice.   It is nice to put aside the Words With Friends once in a while for the sake of genuine conversation.  I worry for my two boys who are ten and eleven years old; I want them to be able to share stories and forge friendships and relationships in conjunction with their online personas.   I want their memories to consist of real life experiences versus the virtual reality they already have through their iPod touches, XBox, digital cameras, video cameras, and laptops.  I don't want to shield them from technology, but I want them to be able to function apart from it.  So far, they seem to be okay doing just that.

Wesch agrees with Turkle that connecting with people, especially our students, has become more arduous in this day and age when the primary questions being asked in the classroom are non-substantive ones such as "Is this going to be on the test?"  He shows how the traditional teacher-at-podium class lecture model no longer works with our students who simply tune out and shop online, text while looking directly at us, or catch up on Twitter and Facebook  as we teach.  

He says that we need to change the physical layout of our classrooms and rid ourselves of the old mold; we need to recreate a community where we are all on our devices simultaneously together.  In this way, he directly contradicts Turkle's notion that we are "alone together."   He says that educators need to think of ways to inspire our students to ask thoughtful questions, so why not use a medium with which they are comfortable?    Just as we would never articulate, "some students are just not cut out for learning," we should approach teaching from a new perspective; his self-coined "anti-teaching."   In other words, we need to create interactive digital space in the classroom to get the dialogue started.

I believe that both authors share valid and equally important points.  There is a time and place for technology, and, as Turkle states, there is a time and place without it.  These professors show two sides of the coin, and I actually feel that they would agree with each other if they were to engage in a dialogue about their points.  They are both right: why not make our technology a means of creating dialogues when we use it, and why set aside times for authentic, "old-school" conversation?   Both authors offer smart approaches for utilizing technology appropriately.  Both are interested in preserving the dying art of asking and answering thoughtful questions, regardless of whether in person or on-line.   Although I personally am more of Turkle's school philosophically, I absolutely agree with Wesch that it is imperative to make my own classroom relevant to my students' lives.

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