Friday, July 4, 2014

Turkle and Wesch, Symptoms of the Digital Age

As I read Turkle's "The Flight from Conversation" I couldn't help but compare it to a situation I came across in my basement a few years ago.  My children's computers are placed side by side on a long desk, and they were each sitting quietly at their computers with their eyes glued to the screen.  When I came up behind them and asked what they were doing, they said they were playing together.  Upon further questioning, they told be that their characters were playing together in some seemingly virtual world.  I was blown away as in the old days we used to "play together" by going outside and kicking a ball around and today kids "play together" in virtual worlds where they interact through electronic devices, never touching, actually talking or making eye contact.  I think this is a concrete example of Turkle's "alone together" where my children were expecting "more from technology and less from each other."  This is the new reality of how people are interacting more and more through their devices and less and less in person.  

Once again I think the main message Turkle and Wesch have for us is that our students have changed due to the avilability of information in the digital age.  They way they communicate and interact has changed.  Because of that their priorities have changed.  Who is to say whether these changes good or bad?  At this point these changes are here to stay.  The bottom line is that we have to adapt as teachers to the new technologies and the changes they have wrought in our students.  

Before the digital age there was nothing to distract students.  The only way to get any information was through books or their professors at school.  For many students professors and teachers were a whole lot more exciting to watch and listen to than reading a book.  Along comes computers and smartphones and suddenly students can get whatever information they want exactly when they want it.  Suddenly listening to a professor passing along the information the professor wants to pass along, when they want to pass it along, isn't so interesting or convienient by comparison. 

Now students have the unprecedented opportunity of actually taking the information and doing something with it.  Being able to do something with the information and pass it on to other people, possibly lots of other people, makes it very significant to the students.    This is now the hook, getting them to do something with the information, and actually process it.  It is this, that gives us as educators the opportunity of setting up a situation for much deeper longer lasting meaningful learning.  Wesch definitely sees the necessity of adopting new teaching strategies to take advantage of this fact.


  1. Hi Alison,

    The story about your kids playing on the computers certainly does sum it up. The were "alone together".

    I think that Turkle was stating that the overuse of technology was and is having a negative impact on the way that we as a society are able to connect to each other. I tend to agree with her, but I also agree with you. The technology is here and we have to roll with that.

    Back to the kids sitting at the computer (I worry in advance for my own kids), what are the short term/long term effects of spending extended periods of time sitting (at a computer or otherwise) on our health? That can't be good. This seems to be a sticking point for me that has not been discussed. How do you feel?


    1. Gabe,
      I love the computers and iPads for kids for several reasons - interactiveness, keeping the kids busy, homework practice, connectedness to the world, the fact my daughter writes 12 page papers and my son is learning to code.

      At the same time I hate them because they keep my kids indoors on sunny days, it isolates them, it is hard for my kids to put them down, not all the content out there is good, physical inactivity and many other reasons.

      Both of my kids are athletes - Alexander is a nationally ranked snowboarder and Athena's soccer team won the state championship last year - so I don't worry about inactivity for them but I definitely see it in other kids there age. We have tried to put limits on screen time for both of them. It has become a huge struggle. With Alexander (10) it has worked ok but Athena (12) has really rebelled against it and given us a very hard time.

      I wish I had more guidance as to how much time is too much.