Disconnect[ed]: Avoiding the Zombified-Attention-Span-Black-Hole

Disconnect[ed]: Avoiding the Zombified-Attention-Span-Black-Hole
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Our summer series Disconnect[ed] is a collection of blogs, articles, and videos examining what we’re not doing right with technology in school.  Less about what software or hardware a school should be using, Disconnect[ed] examines what constant exposure to media, apps, texting, etc, is doing to the way we think and interact with each other, and what schools can do about it.

“I’m returning to the United States.”  There I’ve said it.  Yes, the guy who created a blog around international education is returning to the USA…well kind of.  Does Hawaii count as the USA?  Probably, but it’s not the mainland, and it seems to reflect the unique mixture of Asian and American culture my family and I have grown accustomed to.  Despite spending the majority of my life in the USA, in many ways I feel like an outsider looking in on a culture that is familiar, yet different at the same time.  I’m sure if you’ve spent time away and then returned you’ve felt the same.

So when I ask ‘what does this have to do with schools?’ it means, what can we do as schools to help our students develop Tech-Control–self-control and the emotional intelligence to use technology for good, and avoid it’s harmful seductive side. 

As I mentioned in my last blog, while in the Philippines, I’ve managed to avoid the change smartphones have brought to modern culture.  This is mostly because I’m too cheap and the network was too unreliable.  Of course that doesn’t mean that others weren’t using this technology.  The truth is I shouldn’t refer to smartphones with such distain, as it’s likely I’ll have one in a few short weeks, and they do provide a lot of convenient perks.

However, I do have some frustrations and concerns as an educator and new repatriate that I need to get off my chest:

Ok, Therapy time.  When I see you on your smartphone in the middle of our conversation it hurts my feelings.  When your child can’t get any work done in class without taking two-minute study breaks it makes me feel concerned.  When a family goes out to dinner and the parents let their child play smartphones games through the whole meal, it makes me want to scream, and when the parents do it, it makes me want to cry.

Is this what I have to look forward to as I reenter American culture–although it’s really everywhere.  Here, watch this video to get a sense of my frustration:

“So what does this have to do with school?” You might be thinking.  Well I’m not fully sure yet.  But as I look around at the pervasiveness of media and technology in our everyday lives I’m reminded of the seductive song of the Sirens in Homer’s Odyssey, or like a moth to a flame.  Like the modern day Marshmallow Test, technology is delectable and hard to resist.  Yet studies show us that a person’s ability to develop self-control is often a factor in their future success.  So when I ask ‘what does this have to do with schools?’ it means, what can we do as schools to help our students develop Tech-Control–self-control and the emotional intelligence to use technology for good, and avoid it’s harmful seductive side.  In many ways it’s at the heart of the Well-Rounded Learner that so many of our mission and vision statements speak of.

Yet, at the risk of reaching outside of our mandate, I believe constant exposure to technology is a problem that involves more than just our students, because if Angry BIrds & Tomb Runner is the drug of choice, often parents are the drug dealers.  Many parents have allowed smartphones to become the electronic nanny with no path back to engagement in a world with less tech.  So what’s the point of teaching Tech-Control if the “dealer” is waiting to pick them up after school?  Is it a lost cause?  No, but it does make this challenge particularly difficult.  Strides have been made in this area in Low-Tech, and Waldorf Schools, but what can we do in the mainstream to turn down the “noise” our students experience so they can use their tools effectively (and for leisure too), while avoiding the zombified-attention-span-black-hole?

What do you think?  Can you relate with the Tech-Angst in the video?  Are we missing something, or are we way beyond our mandate in this area?  Parents, what are your thoughts?

Author: Andy Aldrich

Andy is a founder of Learn[ed]Leadership as well as a school administrator at Punahou School in Honolulu, HI. In addition to pontificating on ideas in education, Andy stays busy chasing after his daughter and impressing his wife with his big muscles.

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