I had the pleasure of keeping a class of seniors last week while my colleague attended an in-house workshop on using Apple iBooks. These students were mine three years ago as freshmen. The guys now have shoulders and are shaving. The girls are pretty young women, ready to head off to college. One young man, who barely spoke a word in ninth grade, reads Ibsen’s A Doll’s House with a vigorous, feigned foreign accent. His twin sister, shy and reserved as a freshmen, reads her lines like a trained actress.
They told me that another teacher had told them about the workshop several of us were attending that day. “She said she feels sorry for us because we have so much technology,” they told me; then asked me what I thought. I had to think a minute about whether I agreed or not.
I have two grown children away in other states attending college. I love being able to send and receive messages at the touch of a button, to follow Facebook or Instagram just to see pictures of them, even if they do think it’s creepy that I stalk them. I can send the silly videos of the family dog from my phone on the spur of the moment. I’m thankful for ocassional emails and text messages between the scheduled Sunday phone call with dad and me. If they need something, with a credit card and a few mouse clicks, I can have it on the way to their college mailbox. For a middle-aged, empty-nester mom, I’d say I am embracing technology and don’t want to part with any of mine when it comes to keeping up with them.
But I do agree with my colleague who said she felt sorry for them because they have so much technology. So many things that might have been unconscious for them a few years ago now have to be choices. They will have to become more deliberate and thoughtful people than we ever were.
We were forced to sit in the doctor’s waiting room and either stare at or converse with the strangers around us or pretend interest in a tired magazine; they have a phone. We wandered outside in the sunshine because we were bored; they have an iPad. We threw a ball to the dog, they have computer. We had to wonder about things beyond us, to search for knowledge on certain topics, to seek answers and wait until adults deemed us old enough to know; they have Google. What they don’t have is forced solitude or forced community. They can stare at their screens to avoid the present company or they can stare at the screen to keep from feeling alone. Neither of these is a good practice.
Unless they make a choice to ‘unplug’, they will never have to deal with idleness, with quiet, with listening to the sound of the voice within. What happens to our creativity when people leave no time for thinking and imagining? for going outside and connecting to nature? for simply observing things to see with new eyes?
And what happens to community when we aren’t forced to talk to each other, to find common topics, to listen and try to build connections with strangers. How do we make friends? One doesn’t overcome awkward silence by staring at a phone. One overcomes it by learning to endure it or enjoy it with another human being.
Yes, I feel sorry for them as a generation in terms of technology. In order to nurture their minds, souls and bodies, they will have to reflect, self-examine and become conscious of their habits. They will have to make choices to allow for imagination and creativity to flourish. But this particular group, these thoughtful, conversing AP Literature students in Mrs. Dennis’ sixth period class, demonstrated by asking me the question and engaging in the conversation, that they are up to the challenge that might well define their generation.