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.
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 communities. They 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.”