Friday, December 31, 2010

The True Cost of Technology

It's hard to turn on a computer these days without hearing about the way technology is saturating our lives. We have unlimited knowledge in the palm of our hands every moment of every day.  Nowadays, instead of merely immersing ourselves in television, we're submerged in news stories, storefronts and a non-stop stream of social interactions.  I have no fewer than six actual keyboard-laden computers in my daily life. I use them to work, to play, to inform...and if they were waterproof, I'd probably even use them to entertain myself on my long walks across campus (instead, I use my Droid or my iPod or one of my other pocket-sized micro computers.)  I have no doubt that I'm trading previous intellectual handicaps for new ones, but them's the breaks, baby.  I'm always on and I want my world to be, also.

Critics call this technological engorgement unnecessary, maybe even harmful.  Bill Murray may just be showboating in this 1982 clip, but the perspective that he's spouting is no less relevant today.  People continue to fear what they don't understand and the fear is even more potent when kids are involved. What is this newfangled high-tech world doing to our youth?  What is the cost of introducing our children to technology?

UNPOPULAR OPINION ALERT!  Some psychologists claim that technology may be linked to ADD (or a more pleasantly named, Attention Deficit Trait - ADT.)  That is to say, instead of being an issue that can be treated, the need for a rapid stream of information to process becomes an intrinsic part of a child's character.  I won't dispute this, but I don't necessarily think we should prevent it.  Here's the part where I expect some discord: I think we should embrace ADT as a sort of mental evolution.  If our brains have the ability to work in a different manner, who is anyone to say that it's not the *right* manner?  Yes, I know, I know.  Elementary school isn't formatted for classrooms full of excitable, rapidly-thinking children.  Parent's aren't prepared to keep up with quizzical exploration and non-stop mental and physical activity.  The world isn't tailored to brains that function in this evolved way.  But maybe it should be.  This "trait" is currently identified as a "disorder" because it's inconvenient.  It's debilitating in our current system, but it's conceivable that it could become an asset.  THAT world, however, is mega-millions of manhours away, so I'll table this discussion for now.

I'm going to wrap up this blog with a completely different thought.  Instead of asking what the cost is of introducing our young children to technology, I'd like to ask what the cost will be if we don't.  Sure, we could save a few hundred dollars by not having that extra laptop to buy, which will undoubtedly be destroyed within it's first year of life, but what are we giving up in exchange?  The world where our children become grown-ups will be a fast-paced technical one, full of innovation and change.  As computational thinking becomes integral to our lives, so will jobs encompassing technology.  We're looking at an increase in the T-word in every feasible area: Nano-technology, environmental technology, biotechnology.  One day, technology will be associated with the rapid progression of advancements everywhere.  It only makes sense to allow our children the freedom to explore these necessary skills while their brains are still easily absorbing new information.  One bit of caution -- as with any powerful technique, guidance and responsible use are important elements if you want to create a healthy and happy future computer scientist.

1 comment:

Cheryl said...

"Elementary school isn't formatted for classrooms full of excitable, rapidly-thinking children. Parent's aren't prepared to keep up with quizzical exploration and non-stop mental and physical activity."

That is almost exactly what I was told, about Seasame Street, back in the early 80s when my children were young.