Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
November 8, 201112:10 PM

A Life Without Technology

There's no doubt that technology brings with it some scary things.

The scariest of them all is of the uncertainty. Human beings are creatures of habit and any introduction of anything new typically raises an eyebrow (at least) or pitchforks (more often). It's a somewhat common theme that is tiresome to me, but one that rages with debate throughout the times. If you study history, many of the same arguments that are made as to why the Internet is ruining our society and culture can be found when we first saw the introduction of public speaking, the printed word, telecommunications and on and on.

The common plight of smartphones and mobile devices is that they are shackles that handcuff an employee to their work

Twenty-fours hours a day and seven days a week. While your boss may have an expectation that because you have a BlackBerry you should be responding to their emails at 6 am on a Saturday (emergency or not), this is less about your boss' disposition and more about a common lack of education as to how to use technology to get the best results. Many people are often shocked to hear that my iPhone never makes a peep. I get one silent vibrate for text messages (and I'm quick to block those that I do not know) and two vibrations for a phone call. My iPhone will not beep, vibrate or blink when emails, tweets, or Facebook updates arrive. Why? It's my job to best manage my technology (and not the other way around). The people I work with know that email is the best form of communication with me and that if it's an emergency, to please call. On the other side of this communication, I check my emails (and other digital notifications) when I want (not in the moment that they happen). The phone does ring, but it's only on a rare occasion (for those emergencies).

There's a macro lesson here.

If you think your kid is spending too much time on their iPad and not enough time outside getting some exercise, don't blame the iPad. Before the iPad, they were playing video games, and before video games they were watching TV, and before TV they were reading comic books. Throughout history, you will uncover generations of youth who would rather sit around and play than go outside and play.

It's not technologies' fault that a kid is lazy... it comes down to parenting, values and the child's disposition.

The Waldorf School of the Peninsula is one of over 150 Waldorf schools in the United States that doesn't allow technology or gadgets for students up until the eighth grade. These are not the wired classrooms we keep hearing about. In fact, they're traditional classrooms - the ones you might see in a Norman Rockwell painting (yellow pencils, wood desks and all). The reason why this particular school is getting so much attention is because it is located in the heart of Silicon Valley and hosts children whose parents work at companies like Google, Yahoo and Apple. It seems so counter-intuitive that the story (which I originally saw in The New York Times in late October titled, A Silicon Valley School That Doesn't Compute), has become a hotly discussed topic... Where else, but online.

Do kids need Google?

Can kids learn math better from a teacher than an iPad? What good is an education if a child can't learn how to use a physical dictionary? You can see how the discourse evolves. The answer to the question is (obviously) no. Kids do not need Google, a great math teacher is much better than an iPad app, and it's important that kids know what a book is. But, there's something else we need to remember: our values were created in a different time and in a different place. Let's rephrase the question: am I doing my child a service or disservice by not allowing a component of their education to include computers, technology and connectivity? This is not a zero sum game. Think about it this way: the current jobs that the majority of my friends are working at didn't even exist as occupations when I was in High School. Should a child be lugging around five textbooks in a backpack that's causing them spinal disc herniation or does an iPad not only enable them to have a lighter load, but the ability to also create, collaborate and engage more with their peers (when used correctly)?

Look into the future.

What do you see? Do you see a world of cubicles, desks and paperclips, or do you see a very different world? So, while some may think it's important to keep technology away from our kids for as long as possible, I'm open to argue that it's not an all-or-nothing proposition. I can't imagine my kids ever using a HB pencil when they finally enter the workforce... In fact, I'm willing to bet that they probably won't even be using a keyboard and a mouse on a computer like we do today.

So yes, history is important, but not more important than preparing them for the future.

The above post is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Nate Davis
    Mitch Joel

    Thanks for a really thoughtful post Mitch, complete with balanced perspective on technology, and proper grammar and punctuation--two things one can't necessarily count on in this business. I was charmed to hear about your silent iPhone policy (another great rarity), and couldn't agree more that we, the humans, must intentionally manage technology, rather than the converse situation, which is what occurs when we simply adopt a new device without assessing each aspect of its import.

    On a related note, I'm wading through McLuhan's Understanding Media for the first time, and among the many points that remain strikingly apropos almost 50 years on, is the most famous one: "the medium is the message." That's the one phrase any of us associates with the Great Canadian Polymath, but it seems that many of us have never bothered to understand that the message of the medium of the internet is that instantaneity is a good thing--an assumption that we would do well to question at times. Or that with the rise of tablet computing, the message is that touching a screen is a better way to learn than reading or discussion or lecture or activity (Hello, that inane and inflammatory "a magazine is an iPad that's broken" video).

    My wife and I have a kid scheduled to arrive in a few months, and your thoughts will be with me as we attempt to raise her or him well.

    Reply
  • Posted by Phil O'Brien
    Mitch Joel

    Hi Mitch. Excellent article - sure you will get many responses.

    I was horrified to hear about the Waldorf School. It sounds like an engineering course during the Industrial Revolution being based around mucking out horses! Not against variety in teaching - and a bit of history ... but surely!!

    It's a wider concern of mine that we have excellent teachers working in a system based on wearing uniforms (military) and bells ringing to timetable (industrial). The flexibility of technology and access for a wide audience of children to the "greatest" teachers anytime/anywhere (being pioneered by Khan Academy and others) is a model I support. Using HB pencils will become as intriguing for youngsters as lighting fires with sticks around the scouts campfire.

    Reply
  • Posted by Mark W Schaefer
    Mitch Joel

    Oh gosh this is such a rich topic. So many vast and life-changing implications, especially as a parent.

    Did you read the WSJ article last week about the Silicon Valley private school that outlaws technology until the upper levels of high school? They literally use PENCILS and no computers.

    The deep irony is that it is the favored school for many of the Silicon Valley high-tech elite.

    As much as i hate to even think this, I do believe we need to immerse kids in digital skills as part of their preparation for the real world. Sad but unavoidable.

    Superb post.

    Reply
  • Posted by Adam Singer
    Mitch Joel

    Maybe I'm weird -- I actually think uncertainty is exciting. I think we'd all be bored if the future was predictable and followed a certain path. Maybe I'm not normal though :)

    Reply
  • Posted by Danielle S
    Mitch Joel

    Love this post, Mitch! So accurate and evaluative of our time. I think the biggest challenge facing 20-somethings, teenagers, and children of today is time management. Learning how to assess the importance and necessity of certain tasks... and then actually following through. Technology can be an assistant and a welcome tool, but its value should be constantly analyzed. When faced with work or personal tasks, is spending hours checking my e-mail effective? No. Playing games on Facebook or my iPhone? No again. How about watching online tv or going for a run? Not at all. I can do all those things but it wastes my time and if I want to be successful and accomplish things, I need to be proactive. I can carve out leisure time for such activities but I can't let myself be distracted by them just because they are available 24/7. Plus, if something is important I will be alerted in the physical realm (via phone call or face-to-face interaction).
    Keep the insights coming!

    Reply
  • Posted by Wombi
    Mitch Joel

    I am a strong believer that technology not only makes the learning process much more fun, but it also creates allows a more hands-on experience for kids! If you are interested in other educational products for kids, I would check out our educational apps! :)

    Reply
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