The Mindlessness of Technology

How technology fosters mindlessness, not mindfulness.

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The Habits of Wireless Children: Fewer Gadgets, More Success

What happens when a generation no longer anticipates but only demands?

Schools may well have a new function: Schools may be the last place where children learn that they can't have everything that they want the moment they want it. I'm here to reassure you that this is a good thing. Not that it will make the job of teaching easier or more fun -- but it will make it even more important.

Everything else in our culture seems to encourage kids to believe that, at the push of a button, the blink of an eye, or the snap of their little fingers, all they desire can and should be theirs.

(Okay, I should offer a caveat here: the rest of this post might make me sound as if I am older than Methuselah, or even Joan Rivers, and that my expectations in life have been formed by nothing later than the Code of Hammurabi. In other words, I'm very well aware that I'm speaking not only from an individual perspective, but also from a generational point of view. Having said all of this, however, I'm also quite certain I'm right.)

Lets face it: Children -- from almost every class except the very poorest -- have at their fingertips what they desire. They can, for example, watch T.V. and movies in the car. Sure, part of it is the fact that the technological advances are happening quickly and all that, but frankly I'm disturbed by the erasure of boundaries between activities once existed between activities that had discreet venues.

It's the thing that first freaked me out about cell phones. You talk to people at work or home but not in between. You watch T.V. in the living room after dinner or on Saturday morning. You watch movies in the movie theater. You buy a record and listened to all the tracks (remember tracks?) not just the ones you heard on the radio. And you don't do all these things at once.

These days, you can see an 8-year-old sitting in the back of a mini-van looking at a screen, talking on a cell phone pressed to one ear who is also texting, plus she's  being handed a bag of corn chips by his mother who's driving her to get some one-on-one time with the tennis coach. All the kid needs is a cigar and a pin stripe suit to complete the impression of her as a tiny tycoon. Or at least Suze Orman. So imagine this kids horror at being told to wait her turn in a classroom or during gym class.

They come from a generation of children who are unaware of the fact that patience has, historically, been considered a virtue.

These kids will stand in front of the microwave tapping their little Sketchers-clad feet, yelling at the microwave, "I don't have all minute!" while their Hot Pockets heat up.

Tim, a 30-something computer-guru colleague where I teach (a man not intimidated by technology) argues that, from infancy, kids are brought up watching T.V. They don't watch it just the way we used to watch it. They watch it all the time. They' re accustomed to the idea that life goes on -- at least on screen -- no matter what happens to the kid himself. The problem is the character on screen keeps doing whatever he or she is doing whether the child claps her hands in delight, wails like a Banshee, or crawls under the sofa searching for old gum. The kid is not encouraged to consider that his or her responses matter or are even recognized.

It shouldn't be surprising, then, that students often act as if their teachers are merely figures projected on a screen. Many kids act as if instructors can't possible see what they're doing even if they are two feet from the teacher's nose -- as if you cant see what they're doing from the front of the room.

In terms of the world they understand, nobody witnesses or responds to their actions unless they themselves want the attention.

They're startled when you say "Hey, stop poking Taylor and get back to work."

Kid get all surprised. "How did you know he was poking Taylor?" they ask. "You saw it? How? You're all the way up there!" they gasp.

The fact that you can choose not to comment on what a kid is doing -- even when you've still seen it -- is nearly impossible for them to process.

In part, this is because these kids have never had an unexpressed thought. Or unexpressed emotion for that matter.

These are kids for whom it is not unusual to make a quick leap from the first awakening of sexual awareness to the first consummation of sexual experience. They haven't had to wait for anything else; why wait for that?

But what happens when a generation no longer understands the delight of anticipation or the creativity of imagination, but instead only knows immediate gratification?

If you don't learn to wait your turn, you will become outraged anytime you have to look for a parking space. If you expect to be entertained by somebody else every minute, you will not develop alternative routes to your centers of joy or satisfaction. If you always get focused attention from the best teacher in school, you will never learn how to deal with (or survive, for that matter) a problematic boss.

And, after all, it could turn out that the song you like best is a cut that wasn't played on the radio.


The Mindlessness of Technology