Reckless Technology Adoption?

As I left my morning session on brain-based learning strategies at the SREB High School That Work Conference, I had trouble exiting–hoards of educators flocked into room 353 at the New Orleans Convention Center, wanting to find out how one Oklahoma high school implemented a plan for school-wide iPads, one device for every student.  Clearly a hot topic.

I couldn’t help but think how reckless school districts, administrators, and individual teachers might be, with regards to unchecked technology adoption in schools.

Crowd gathering at the Apple store in Grand Central Terminal in New York for opening day.

Newsweek’s cover story by Tony Dokoupil, “Is the Web Making Us Mad,” synthesized many of my worries.  It made me anxious.  After all, I just upgraded my dysfunctional and worn out Blackberry Curve for an iPhone 4s and am amazed at how many useful things I can do with the phone.  I’ve already synched my Google calendar, tested out Siri, recorded voice memos, downloaded a few apps, and utilized the GPS while strolling the streets of the Big Easy.  But I’m also devising a plan for measured use–I don’t want to be tethered to the device.  Dokoupil writes:

The first good, peer-reviewed research is emerging, and the picture is much gloomier than the trumpet blasts of Web utopians have allowed. The current incarnation of the Internet—portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive—may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts, and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways.

My heart started beating a little faster than normal as the iPhone’s screen glowed on my night stand.  Should I check my text messages one last time?  See if anybody has checked out Mindful Stew?  Check the weather report for tomorrow?  I deleted the WordPress app, set the alarm clock, and eventually settled in to sleep after some tossing and turning.

Schools and administrators are increasingly prone to adopting gadgets, iPads, and other tools in the classroom.  I’m all for measured and thoughtful technology in schools.   Giving all students an iPad, iPod, or allowing unbridled use of personal devices might seem like a grand idea to catch schools up to speed with the outside world, but what if society is barreling in the wrong direction?  What if providing devices for all students only exacerbates our addiction to connectivity and short-term rewards?  Dokoupil continues:

We may appear to be choosing to use this technology, but in fact we are being dragged to it by the potential of short-term rewards. Every ping could be social, sexual, or professional opportunity, and we get a mini-reward, a squirt of dopamine, for answering the bell. “These rewards serve as jolts of energy that recharge the compulsion engine, much like the frisson a gambler receives as a new card hits the table,” MIT media scholar Judith Donath recently told Scientific American. “Cumulatively, the effect is potent and hard to resist.”

I know it’s hard to resist.  It’s pleasing when someone responds to your wall post on Facebook, your recent blog, or your Tweet.  It’s the portability factor that makes us so vulnerable, and my own vulnerability has increased manifold with my new phone, as it can do so much more, and so much more effectively, than my old device.  If you’ve been around teenagers at all, I don’t need to give you anecdotal evidence regarding their own habits regarding smart phone use.  Given that teenagers are already quite addicted to connectivity, why would schools provide a bigger dose?

If technology is rewiring our brains, and incessant or overuse is doing more harm than good, we must debate developmentally appropriate guidelines for when and how much kids should use.  Since much of this research is new, I’m not sure if these recommendations exist.  I can’t believe it when I read about three and four year olds using iPads.  I can’t believe any sane parent would provide their child with a smart phone before they are at least 13 years old.  

We are all guinea pigs in this massive, collective experiment with rapid technology adoption.  Especially the youth.  Time will reveal more truths about what connectivity and digital distraction is doing to our brains.  I’m thirty, and I sometimes catch myself feeling anxious with multiple windows up on my computer, toggling between paying bills online, writing e-mails, and checking sports news.  I sometimes notice that it’s harder for me to focus on reading longer texts. 

I can’t imagine being a kid, only knowing instant digital gratification, swipes and taps on iPads, and a phone vibrating nonstop.  Unfortunately for many students, schools are becoming increasingly naive and complicit in making them continued subjects of this grand and possibly damaging digital experiment. 


  1. Hey Issac,
    Thanks for dropping by. I’m reading and incredibly insightful book titled Net Smart: How to Thrive Online by Howard Rheingold, and it’s giving me faith that we all can learn to be more mindful of our activity online. I’m also convinced that this mindfulness/reflection needs to be taught, and it certainly isn’t a part of any curriculum that I’m aware of.

  2. “My heart started beating a little faster than normal as the iPhone’s screen glowed on my night stand. Should I check my text messages one last time?”

    I know that feeling only too well. Only by acknowledging the behaviour and making a conscious effort to break away from it can I reflect in hindsight how dangerously addictive it was.

  3. I’d like to do some anecdotal research with some students this year, if they are willing, to try and figure out if they really choose to be so attached to their phones, or if they perceive it as an addiction of sorts! Like I mentioned in my post, I’m trying to embrace what my new phone can do, without overdoing it. Catch ya later!

  4. Great post, Stew! It will be interesting to see the long term consequences of all this. I know anecdotally that my anxiety level has skyrocketed since I got a smart phone. That can’t be good for kids.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s