The human mind is the original camera. Although the mind does not exactly “take pictures” as we go about our day, exposure to any event changes what is on the film.
What happens to the film when we welcome technology into our lives – into our classrooms – without question?
Anyone carrying a smartphone is now an amateur photographer.
We take pictures with the hope of preserving the memory. A memory: a moment in the present that we wish to capture and experience again in the future. As experts have noted, relying on a device to capture the event distorts our own memory of the event.
Our minds do not contain memories, but are made of memories.
If technology is distorting the very fabric of our individual being – our minds – how does this effect ripple into our quality of life?
I believe that the answer to this question is troubling. Our mind is largely responsible for our quality of life. Whether the news that we receive is good or bad can depend on our mood and feelings*.
Tell me, what mood or feeling did we actually capture with the hundreds of smartphone photos that we took on a vacation? Will we replay these pictures, one by one, and recapture the feeling of each as see them? According to research, the feeling has already been altered as the camera has distracted us from living the experience.
With great irony, we diminish our own happiness by trying to permanently capture it.
* I am not belittling the importance of biochemical stressors and environmental influences on well-being. Indeed, mood is a product of mind and body: a large enough body of evidence exists to demonstrate that these two are separate. I believe that, in many ways, our personalities are an effect rather than a cause. Your litmus test for this try to observe your own feelings before, during, and after a satisfying meal.
Our minds, in many ways, are like the film at the back of the camera. We choose what to point the lens at but not when to snap the picture.
Every exposure, even very small ones, changes what is on the film. Ask any photographer.
Whether we like it or not, or are even aware of it, our cameras are biased as well: we do not see everything, nor can we focus on more than one thing at a time. What we look for guides what we see.
We have chosen to look for only the good in technology. But this has not been solely our idea. Advertising guides us to look at only the benefits: our gadgets will make us more clever, give us more free time, or provide some benefit. The advertising never tells us that it will reduce our happiness. A smartphone ad dare not tell you that it “now has a bigger screen to steal more time from your spouse.”
Exposure to technology has another effect too. The more we are exposed to it, the more familiar it becomes. As it becomes more familiar, it is also more safe: we are willing to invite more invasive tech into our lives.
And so, surveillance capitalism, something that would be unfathomable as a “new fad” 40 years ago, is welcomed with open arms because we see a sheep, not a wolf.
The newest trends are bringing connected tech into the classroom. From young ages, children are exposed to these devices. They become familiar, safe, and tools for corporations to create customers for life.
Technology has a mixed story in the classroom. Most studies show a short-term uptick in learning. Corporations love these studies and use them to convince us that we need more tech everywhere. What these studies fail to capture is the human side: new tech has a novelty that wears off.
As the novelty of this disposable tech dies, so does the learning.
Give an at-risk student a laptop, and their reading and math skills plummet. Even in “average” students, introducing technology leads to a decline in learning. Private schools that use alternative methodologies typically shun technology altogether.
Connected technology is at the root of this learning dysfunction. The neuroscience behind it is straightforward: by making information easy to retrieve, it becomes unimportant to remember. We simply need to remember how to find it.
Just as we offload memories to a smartphone, classrooms with tech are offloading learning.
As noted above, our brains are made of memories. Memorizing how to retrieve information, rather than the information itself, diminishes creativity and critical thinking. Our immediate thoughts are based on what is stored in our head, not in the cloud.
Instead of funding teachers, schools use the money to dispense technology without asking questions about the long-term effects. When the objective of a disposable edtech company is profiteering, learning outcomes are nothing more than a shiny veneer.
Now that the side-effects of tech-for-the-sake-of-tech are becoming personal and visible, we are looking for something to blame. After all, we were promised a tech utopia.
Many organizations are blaming screens and screen-time for our problems, proposing outright bans for every screen. In my view, blaming screen time categorically is like blaming a 35mm film camera for the problems caused by smartphones. It is the connectivity – explicitly missing from Jade – that causes the problems.
I have never seen a young child experiencing withdrawal symptoms because they are away from their IBM 5150 PC. The connectivity is the problem, but this is not in focus. As a result, we get more connectivity. More Internet in rural areas. More Internet in the classrooms.
Easily accessible information does not mean more capable students. Nobody will become a great musician by having millions of pieces of music easily accessible via the Internet: copying and pasting sections from great works will never create a symphony.
In the pursuit of convenience, we have been unable to recognize what has been lost. The loss has been gradual. Up to this point, it was not even widely known what we should be looking for. The most difficult question to answer is the one that nobody even thinks to ask.
Convenience through connected technology does not lead to happiness.
Gradual exposure to technology over the years numbs us to its cumulative burden.
Professional photographers invest a lot of time and effort into setting up a scene, preparing their camera, and taking the shots. What would happen if we did the same in our lives?
Shift Sight is taking the time to prepare Jade for learning. A professor of education has quipped that technology in the classroom is only appropriate if it is purpose-built for a specific task that cannot be accomplished otherwise. Jade is just that.
By putting learning and sustainability first, Jade will give us something new to focus on. Society will see technology differently; we will put the focus on what matters, while blurring the irrelevant veneer.
See you next week!
Ty is a Founder of Shift Sight, LLC.