I love technology. I am typing on a tablet in the quiet of my home before I read on my Kindle and drift off to sleep. I’m thinking about the many opportunities our students have to write these days. They write with their thumbs by texting. They tell the world where they are, what they are doing, and who they are with on Facebook. They communicate using 140 characters or less on Twitter. Some of them are even writing in full paragraphs on blogs.
In forward-thinking schools, we encourage them to collaborate on Google Docs and Skydrive. We ask them to do a Please Do Now by sharing their thinking about a topic in a discussion forum, an online form, or even by tweeting.
However, are they developing social skills? If so, are they the same skills that we grown ups learned? Or are they a different set of skills, necessary in today's culture? Not only do they need to be good citizens in their schools and communities, they need to be good digital citizens.
I recently read a story about a Mom's list of rules for her child's use of his new smart phone. When I shared it with a group of educators, I was surprised by the response. Instead of taking a look at the rules, they commented on the fact that it is news that a parent is setting. I gave that some thought.
Are we thinking that the rules should simply be a natural transference from one generation to the next? Look around you at the big people in the world --us. We are breaking most of this Mom’s rules on a regular basis. It’s all such new territory – in the scheme of things. Moms and Dads are some of the worst offenders, sort of like my parents were with TV. It was shiny and new, and it was on all the time. Now, we, the next generation, see the need to limit televison watching. Our kids will probably grow up seeing our sometimes obsessive use of the devices and will limit their kids’ use of them.
So, let's get back to the social aspect of technology.
One of this mom’s rules was to, “Have a conversation with someone you would text.” It delights me to hear teenagers actually taking on the phone. Ah, the many hours I spent on the phone with friends -- talking about everything and nothing. Today, the idea of walking next door or down the street or to use the phone for a phonecall to ask a question is beyond kids. Why bother?
For the human contact.
Skype, Lync, and FaceTime do work very nicely to add the human component into the conversation. Adding a face to a conversation makes you think about what you are going to say and helps you to appreciate the other person's reactions. Knowing that you are being seen by the other person makes you think about your own body language and how you are dressed. However, it’s still not the same as being in person.
Another rule: “Do not do or say something you would not say in person.” There are actually kids who break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend via text. The impact of the breakup is never felt the same way. In some cases, they were only boyfriend and girlfriend via text only anyway! Cyberbullying goes on by kids who would never do it in the case where they would see the other person's wounded expression.
I like this rule (but rarely follow it): “Feel safe and secure in the decision to leave it home.” Go out without my phone? Are you nuts? What would I do while standing in line, eating dinner with my family, or taking a walk with a friend? Talk. Think. Wonder. Admire your surroundings. Use eye contact. Show genuine interest. When is the last time you saw someone simply walking a dog, talking to a toddler in the grocery store about the colors and shapes of the produce, or enjoying the act of attending a concert?
Talk to a stranger. WHAT? Yes, the little old lady whose family never calls, the new family who just joined the congregation, the gentleman at the library, the musician at the restaurant. They all would appreciate a sincere "Hello, how are you today?"
Someone who told me that he has posted 400 messages on a musicians' discussion forum over a few years. Is this social? When that same had an emergency prior to a job, he was able to reach out to this musician community and get someone to fill in for him. When he wanted to hear the latest electronic piano, he went out to dinner to watch one of the musicians perform on it. They met face-to-face. They chatted. He shared the experience on the forum.
I am currently glued to FaceBook as I watch the undiagnosed illness of a dear friend’s daughter unfold. The friend has reached out to her friends through Facebook and has built an interfaith prayer circle to support her through the long days. She doesn’t want to talk, but she does not feel alone as a result of her social network.
Can digital tools address the social and human realm of our students’ lives?