Have you walked into a Starbucks, picked up your coffee, then turned around to see a room full of people who are totally silent and plugged into their digital devices? All of them in a virtual world? Turkle describes, “… new intimacies in solitude and new solitude in intimacies.” We are poised at “the robotic moment”…all of us. I agree, because I have felt it coming, as my school library disintegrates under my feet. I’ve been torn between learning new technology tools (digital content) and promoting literature appreciation (traditional librarianship). Rather than fear this moment, I continue my quest for a positive view for the future. Having witnessed revolutionary changes within the span of my career, I could easily cry, “the sky is falling!” But I’m not gonna.
Turkle’s warning should be heeded. But for my fellow “Pollyannas”– let’s keep smiling and believing in the good part of humanity.
Oh, but wait! I have kept my use of technology in a professional arena. I am active in a number of virtual worlds, but always as myself. I am still me- Valibrarian. My focus in virtual worlds is educational and, although I am aware of the psychological issues that arise, I do not take the time to address them. We can’t all be experts at everything! Turkle’s latest book gave me an idea. It seems there are three distinct ways to use technology as a personal identity: 1. As myself 2. As someone else and 3. As a non-human (a robot). Actually, there might be a fourth identity: a cyborg. Sherry Turkle has spent her career studying this topic. I haven’t even met a robot! I never had a pet Furby. So, I can agree with Turkle’s discussion of social media, the Internet, and virtual worlds. But, as for the role of robots in the future- well, I am out of my element (Donnie).
Etiquette, some say, has become less of a priority in our fast-paced society. Table manners are rarely taught, since most families eat on the run. We have microwaves, instant downloads of movies (no more driving to Blockbuster to pick one out), instant music choices (itunes and Pandora), and even instant ebook downloads. Educators are struggling to keep up with the technological world in which students now live. The slower pace of yesteryear (or was that just a decade ago) provided the luxury of thinking before we spoke, of eating together and actually conversing, of revising hand-written notes and letters, and learning how to build relationships through graciousness.
Currently, I am reading Sherry Turkle’s new book entitled Alone Together. Turkle writes, “Technology ties us up as it promises to free us up” (p. 32). Turkle cautions us about the future by describing a generation raised on “virtual pet toys” which often values the virtual as much, or more, than the physical. A virtual pet may require attention but real emotion is absent. Are we teaching young people the importance of thinking about others, not just themselves? Could it be that emphasis on technology applications is overtaking emphasis on human interaction?
In my National Writing Project training, a mentor compared grammar to good manners. The point of using grammar is not correctness– but clarity for the reader. Grammar shows good manners, so the reader does not have to struggle for meaning. Grammar is gracious. Is technology also changing grammar? English teachers tell me that, yes indeed, it is! Students prefer texting to email or talking. Explaining the registers of language and the importance of using good grammar and vocabulary is a huge challenge for teachers. Sometimes, it doesn’t even seem relevent. Will students need to have good penmanship in ten years and will they have the attention span to read the lengthy descriptive passages of a 19th century novel? Patience and perseverence require graciousness.
Times are changing and I am not one to stand in the way of change and hold on to antiquated modes. Language is a living, changing thing. It is inevitable that our words and our grammar change with the times. But consider this question… If we accept the changes in linguistics, the changes in information and communication modes, must we also give up good manners? Whatever technology innovations become widely adopted, can we humans remember that it is people behind them? Can we remember to care more about people than the inanimate tools we create? Can we find a way to be digitally gracious?
Today I am reading an article in the New Yorker, where Adam Gopnik says, “As a technology, a book focuses our attention, isolates us from the myriad distractions that fill our everyday lives. A networked computer does precisely the opposite. It is designed to scatter our attention. . . . Knowing that the depth of our thought is tied directly to the intensity of our attentiveness, it’s hard not to conclude that as we adapt to the intellectual environment of the Net our thinking becomes shallower.”
“…at any given moment, our most complicated machine will be taken as a model of human intelligence, and whatever media kids favor will be identified as the cause of our stupidity.”
The references to the traditional physical library- the stacks- reminds me that my role as a librarian has been revolutionized within the years of my personal career. If “the Internet is just a loud and unlimited library in which we now live (Gopnik)”- my role can be viewed as undefined and exciting (revolutionary) or irrelevent (dead). Being an optimist, a person of faith, an “ever-was” type thinker, I have no fear of irrelevence and remain hopeful. There is truth in all of Gopnik’s stated perspectives. The more things change, the more they stay the same. There is nothing new under the sun…yet the Internet has changed everything. We live in a world of opposites.
I used to wander through the library as a child and I remember the feeling of awe and wonder. “What is inside those big thick books?” “What is in this section called Philosophy?”
Of course, I had my favorites- the 800’s literature and poetry and the YA fiction section.
I stumbled onto Edgar Allen Poe and Keats and always walked through the stacks… wondering.
Now…with digital content and online search engines,there are no stacks. I get back wepages that directly correspond to my search terms and keywords. Sure- there are sites like stumbleupon, but I still retrieve hits that relate to my personal search terms. Have we lost serendipity?
Are we evolving into what I termed earlier as “similarization” and narrow mindedness?