Rant Alert: Problems with Internet Access Are Mental Too

I was in a meeting today about a youth program I’m helping develop. I needed to take some notes, so I pulled out my phone, brought up my favorite note-taking app, and starting typing away. Somebody leaned over and smirked, “That’s right, practice being a role model for the kids.” I went from calm to infuriated in about two seconds. I had to leave the meeting early, so as I walked past him, I leaned over and whispered, “We all take notes differently. Some prefer paper, others prefer to type.” And I stalked away.


“Lapse” by h.koppdelaney

Why on earth did I get so ticked off? I think my reaction is related to the shared work of Connected Courses, but I need to unpack it.

First there are the many layers of assumptions in his comment, about kids, phones, and adults: kids are addicted to texting;
real adults don’t text– especially in meetings (shades of Twittergate there); a phone is for making a phone call; writing happens on computers, or on a surface like paper. The kids-spend-too-much-time-glued-to-their-screens point of view often comes with some extras:  People don’t talk to each other any more; technology is ruining  ____________________ (fill in the blank with the woe du jour); the Internet is really dangerous; no wonder kids have no attention spans; blah blah blah.

Next, who put him in charge of my business? What a patronizing ass. (And, if I were a man, would he have commented?) Well, that’s annoying, but it’s not the real issue.

I am slowly becoming convinced that while so much attention is being paid to issues of physical access to the Internet (and to the hardware and software that connect to it), little to none is being paid to the social, cultural, and even emotional aspects of “access”.

Yes, physical access is critical. And yes, the more developed the technologies of connecting become, from desktop & mobile hardware and software to cloud computing, the more there is for an inexperienced person to learn, and the longer it will take. But it’s not just physical access that will bridge a gap in skills. It’s the mindset. (See Lankshear & Knobel for more on that.)

People who  do not live in a connected world have a different world view than people who are actively engaged with connected communitiesThey have a different workflow. They have different beliefs or expectations about relationships. And, they have different emotions, many of them related to a host of fears.

People are afraid they will break the computer, damage the Internet. Have their identity stolen. Ruin their reputation. One of my students wrote compellingly about her fear that being more “digital” (her term) would mean she would slowly surrender her beloved literary heritage (English literature).

I think of faculty members I know for whom a Google Doc has been an earthshaking revelation. Of how every time I have taught a course on literacies and technologies at my university, I am inevitably not scheduled into a computer lab and have to insist that if we are concerned about equity, we can’t assume every student is economically advantaged enough to own a laptop. And try explaining the experience of simultaneously co-writing an AERA proposal on a Google doc with a half dozen people you’ve known only via Twitter.

I think I got ticked off at that guy in my meeting because I am tired of having to explain, sometimes justify, the way I am in the world.

Yes, I learn by being on Twitter. Yes, I take notes on an app on my phone that syncs with an online notebook. Yes, I share online calendars. When we were coping with a serious family matter, rather than deal with constant phone calls, I started a blog for close friends and family so they could stay informed & feel connected.

I don’t do any of these things for any other reason than that it makes living better. Being connected makes it possible for me to be better. More useful. More productive. More creative. A less less lonely in the world.

I want my students– and colleagues–  to have access to a new mindset.

Or, as one of my students wrote, “To World 2.0.”

World 2.0

World 2.0



The Visible Earth Collection, NASA
Lapse by h.koppdelaney via Creative Commons BY-ND 2.0 cc






5 responses to “Rant Alert: Problems with Internet Access Are Mental Too”

  1. Laura Gibbs says:

    Karen, we are definitely in the same space today!!! Luckily, I got to write about it from an upbeat point of view: my students’ happy realization that despite all the Internet FUD at my school, it’s so great to share your work with others online: they learn from you, you learn from them, EVERYBODY is learning. As opposed to keeping everything locked up, private… with a vague sense of shame (oh no, we are not perfect! end of world! despair!) which goes hand-in-hand with that ultra-private business. I know that many of my colleagues are afraid to do things on the open Internet, they are afraid to let students make choices and do their own thing, they are afraid to decenter the classroom to remove themselves from the position of being in charge of it all… but I figure the best thing I can keep doing is to just say how well OPEN works in my classes, how well student CHOICE works in my classes, and on and on and on. I keep hoping that at some point REAL SUCCESS, as opposed to imagined fears, will win the day. 🙂
    Here is my post of students reveling in World2.0 (see their comments copied-and-pasted in):

    • admin says:

      Yes! There’s a magic word in the wonderfulness you wrote: choice . So many fears of what happens when people suddenly have choices– for your colleagues, I’m betting some of that fear is exactly related to surrendering their spot as Ultimate Authority/Controller. You must scare the pants off of them. Go, girl!

  2. Laura Gibbs says:

    Yep, the choice thing is HUGE. And it is really fear that is the problem. If you ask people to imagine what is the worst possible thing that could possibly happen in a choice-driven scenario, it’s really not all that bad. But instead of thinking it through, it seems like some faculty are paralyzed with a fear about student choice, about losing control, etc. I know I have had to consciously push through some fear when I do new things in my classes… but I can also honestly say that I have never regretted any of the changes I’ve made as I transitioned from being the teacher in front of the classroom (circa 1999) and the online coach/cheerleader that I am now online. 🙂

  3. Karen, Laura, we’ve got to stop meeting like this…but seriously we do seem to be on that same page, albeit under differing circumstances. At least neither of you dropped an F-bomb on anyone over it at a somewhat public meeting.

    In retrospect, I suspect my target was motivated by fear, however officiously expressed, of change she could not control or micromanage. This was also not in an education setting but in connection with a community service organization that I do online things for. Choice and not doing things the way they have always been done is even more upsetting in such settings.

    • admin says:

      Well, then, we have a little club– and I suspect with many more members than the three of us! Nope, no F-bomb here, at least, not in public. All this has gotten me thinking that if I can muster the self-control to address the fear directly, it might move things forward in situations where I’d really rather smack someone. Change may be hard, but it’s really hard to be someone trying to instigate even the tiniest change. I’m just glad I’m in good company!

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