Last night, I got into my pjs early, snuggled into bed and watched Frontline’s Digital Nation. It’s a follow-up of sorts to their Growing Up Online, which I wrote about when it came out and got some response from at least one teacher featured in the show.
Growing Up Online came out 2 years ago. I was in a different place then. We all were. There are many aspects of the Internet I’m hugely enthusiastic about, but I’m starting to have reservations about things like multi-tasking and the amount of time we spend online. I could sympathize with Rachel Dretzin, who says at the beginning, that she felt uneasy when she realized that while her whole family was in the same room together, each person was on a screen, separately doing their own thing. That describes our house on most days, and some days, it feels like coziness and togetherness, and others it feels like we’re all living separate lives. In my former job (and sometimes in my current work), I felt the need to be overly enthusiastic, just to get past the naysayers, whom I still think are ignoring some of the great things about the online world. Now, I’m feeling more skeptical. I’m more careful and thoughtful about the amount of time I spend online and what I’m doing there, and I use that same critical eye when I’m working with people to use technology effectively.
I could not have taught my class without the Internet. And not just because the Internet is a tool teachers can use effectively in their teaching, but because I used it extensively to actually build the class. I was able to find similar classes online, tap into my Twitter network to ask for suggestions for things, search Google, Diigo, and Delicious for appropriate tools and material. If I’d been teaching it pre-Internet, I’d have a boring textbook and the class would be much less information packed and much less vibrant than it currently is. That would be a loss. But the Internet also enables my students to be on Facebook and email while I’m teaching, only loosely paying attention sometimes. I’m torn about “disallowing” that. It’s kind of impossible in a computer lab. Mostly I try to engage them, ask them questions.
There was some discussion of that in the show, of needing to reach students where they are, but also of students believing that they’re successful, not just in spite of their multi-tasking, but because of it. Some early research suggests that they’re completely wrong. Part of my exhaustion this week, has been because I’ve actually mostly been focused on one thing at a time, spending an hour or two doing one thing, then shifting to something else. I think I’m out of practice.
There was also a fair amount done with video games. And the show displayed both the good and bad things about video games. They showed a kid that was “addicted” to gaming, and also groups of friends who were getting together in real life, but who’d known each other for years via World of Warcraft (more on that in the WoW Wednesday post). I’m on the fence about this one. As I said in an earlier post about this topic, my son and I especially are online playing games quite a bit. I would say that he can play up to 3 or 4 hours a day. We’re not very consistent about our limits, though when grades drop, we get pretty strict. Part of me feels anxious about this. On the one hand, I know that the complexity of the game makes it hard just to spend an hour playing. On the other hand, I think Geeky Boy should expand his horizons. Unlike some of the kids in the show, though, he’s still an avid reader and plays sports, but doesn’t do that many other things. Sometimes, I think it’s easier for us to just sit in front of the computer rather than find something else to do. And that worries me.
Because of the Internet, though, I think I read more than I did before. I’m probably reading fewer books, but I’m reading more articles from a wider variety of sources than I did before. I used to work my way through the Chronicle, and over the years, have subscribed to a few mainstream news magazines, but I’ve never subscribed to a newspaper, mostly because I found most of it didn’t interest me. Now, I read the Inquirer, the New York Times, and many others, as articles of interest find their way to me through various means. I listen to podcasts from NPR, the Economist, and other sources while I work out, expanding what I listen to. I watch much less tv, focusing on what I want to watch, sometimes downloading those things from the Internet. That seems to me a good thing.
In the end, I think the show raised some really interesting points. And I’ve been thinking about those points for a while. Are we too disconnected from each other despite our constant connection? Are we losing interest in a variety of things because we would prefer to be online? Or can we create connection and create new interests through online worlds? How much time online is too much time? Does it depend on what you’re doing? I honestly don’t know the answers to any of these questions. I’m grateful for the Internet. I can honestly say it has mostly changed my life in positive ways. But I can also say that it has made me feel less than positive, about what I’m doing online, about the time I spend there, or because of interactions I’ve had there. Maybe, it’s just like real life, which isn’t always positive either.