November 18, 2012

More on Digital Dualism

This post was last updated on December 20th, 2013 at 09:55 am

I continue to think about what is it that we struggle with as we consider mediated relationships, aka digital dualism. The following can be seen as a draft of challenges I hear and some attempt to respond to them and provide more fodder for discussion than simply a simplistic view of bad or good. This is not a zero-sum game. 

Complaint #1

Kids today expect immediate and constant feedback and connection. 

Think back to the days just before the telephone. The only way to maintain a relationship with someone not in your physical place was the mail. You wrote someone a letter and waited to hear back. You expected a response, you just didn't have a time frame expectation, or at least a very specific one. Perhaps you gave them a few weeks or months depending on your previous experience. But still, you expected feedback. If you didn't a response after a reasonable time, you likely did begin to get anxious and concerned. Today it's the same thing only the time gap has shrunk from months to seconds. So what is it the bothers people? Is it the impatience? We would argue the same thing about standing in line, waiting for computers to boot up, heating up a meal in the oven, traffic, etc. Impatients is an issue in society in general. Instant communication is not the cause, just another construct we need to attend be aware of. 

Complaint #2

They're always on their devices and when they are without their device, it's like they've lost an appendage

This is true. But what's the problem? What is it that bothers people? I might feel the same way if I was cut off from my family suddenly and not able to communicate with them. What are other appendages that we feel lost without? A wallet? 

Complaint #3

Their attention spans are short and they're unable to engage in deep learning or conversation.

I think Cathy Davidson addresses this somewhat in Now You See It.

Attention blindness is the fundamental structuring principle of the brain, and I believe that it presents us with a tremendous opportunity. My take is different from that of many neuroscientists: Where they perceive the shortcomings of the individual, I sense opportunity for collaboration

We have a detoriation in all kinds of attention related issues for ever. This is not a new issue. It's the result of any new technology. The phrase, "I'm bored" was likley more prevelant 30 years ago. Being bored of course led to everything from creative forts and games to vandalism. There used to be 7-8 minute songs on albums in the 60's and 70's. Those songs didn't work well on radio where keeping folks on a station meant more revenue, so songs targeted a 3 minute length. People read more now than ever but yet we complain they aren't reading the right stuff. 

Complaint #4

Because their primary communication is online, they lack the ability to have look people in the eye and have face to face conversations.

I have no idea if this is true or in the same category as, "Kids are so bad at math, they can't make proper change". Generalizations that may be true, I don't know. Again, even if it's true, I'm not sure it's the technology to blame. I remember lots of kids my age that had trouble looking people in the eye. It seems once again nostaglia is rearing its ugly head on this one. If I'm wrong, show me the research. 


Complaint #5

Even when they're in the same room they're texting, often to each other. 

Seen it, done it. Again, this still seems more a question of ettiquite. At times too, it's just different. Here's a photo of my daugther and three friends. 

They spent the day together and I watched them here for a few minutes. The girl in the middle was playing a game, the girl to her right leaned over to watch then asked to play against her. My daughter, on the left was showing them a youtube video. They stayed here for about 10 minutes then went off to bake some cookies. The devices didn't do anything to deter from the social experience. At times it helped. I'm not suggesting this is always the case but their connection to entertainment and other friends doesn't have to be associated with a bad trend in society. 

I think it comes down to this:

"Mindfulness may be one of the most important things you can ever learn in your life" William James

But actually I wrote this to try and engage in thoughtful conversation. As a heavy user of technology and major benefactor of being connected constantly, I'm sorry but while I acknowledge there are some downsides, I don't think there are many. As a human being, I'm more satisifed with all my relationships and from a learning context couldn't imagine being disconnected. I'd be way less happy and capable. I just wish I could do a better job helping others understand that. 

I'm sure I've missed a few things or don't quite have the responses right. That's where you come in. Please and thank you.