When I Was Your Age, We Had The Internet….

The easiest part of grad school: the fact that even when I’m distracting myself, I can still sort of, in a roundabout way, say that I’m ‘studying’ the intersection of communication, culture and technology.

Luckily, I’ve been through the formative education years and finally get to focus on what really excites me on both a personal and academic level. Unfortunately for high school students, they still find themselves in a limbo of experimentation and expertise when it comes to navigating scholarly work and personal interest.

The most recent incident happened when perusing the intersection of education and technology. The most popular (most e-mailed) article on the New York Times website was a story entitled, “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction,” published this week.

The story focuses on children at one high school outside of Silicon Valley and their balancing act of technology and homework. They face constant distraction from schoolwork to post status updates on Facebook, send text messages with friends or get lost in the world of video games. The students continuously cite the immediate gratification of their online worlds as the incentive to checking out of reality and zoning out for twenty minute intervals while completing other tasks.

To one child that would rather spend more time editing film he’s shot than complete summer reading assignments (one book: Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle), the parent responded, “If we put roadblocks in his way, he’s just going to get depressed.” Over the course of the semester his grades improved, but only because he took fewer advanced placement courses and repeated algebra II online.

These students are lucky enough to attend a school with accommodating administrators who actively strive to utilize technology for the benefit of the students. The school uses an audio class to attract some of their most “at-risk” kids to “engage them with technology and capture their imaginations, and once they see the connections to traditional disciplines, they start to catch on.”

I agree to the tactic of using the application of technology in order to captivate the attention of young minds. I was, admittedly, a student who had a rough time staying focused on academic work. The technological distraction existed on a lesser level as a high school student. We still had instant messenger, the Internet to get lost on, video games to play, music to download, Myspace, Friendster, etc. We had cell phones, too, but text messaging plans were never cost effective at this point. If anyone was sending 27,000 text per month, you’d be sure that you weren’t going to be seeing them with a social life for a few weekends.

The sentiment of the article screams that there is an epidemic among children and technology abuse, and in my opinion, seem to be stating that it’s the problem. The video that accompanies the article does a much better job of balancing what the benefits of technology are and how educators can embrace these tools in order to enhance student behavior. I don’t necessarily believe that technology is a distraction, except as an excuse among students and especially among their parents.

In an accompanied multimedia presentation, teachers were asked to present their own uses of technology in the classroom. Many received grants to incorporate iPod Touches and other media into their regular classroom routines. I think that featuring technology as an impediment to learning, instead of an analytical tool and resource, only perpetuates a discounted sentiment of the role of technology. Of course there should be a balance, moderation is important in most aspects of life, but even adults deal with these distractions.

[electronic chime] I just got another instant message via Facebook, more to follow later.

Lauren Barnett

Lauren graduated from the University of North Carolina at Asheville in 2008 with a BA in Mass Communication. Upon graduation, and at the suggestion of a friend, she moved to Philadelphia to explore the 'real world' outside of academia. Ousting herself out of her comfort zone and plopping herself in the middle of a diverse city with thriving culture, she found work in a pizza restaurant, which was quickly followed by a return to the academic world, with a position on a peer-reviewed science journal. Simultaneously, Lauren worked closely with a youth literacy, after-school program, participating in the local art scene, hoping to one-day return to an academic setting separate from images of dissected nude mice. As a first year student in the CCT program, Lauren's interest currently include from net neutrality, education and technology, and the new role of journalism in the era of the Internet.