On a recent episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Maher hosted a youth advocate named Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, a 16-year-old fighting climate change. After a few minutes of friendly banter, Maher got onto one of his favorite subjects: “What’s wrong with kids these days?”
After congratulating Martinez on speaking before the United Nations for the third time, Maher follows up: “Let’s not pretend you’re typical,” Maher said. “How many of your generation would give up their iPhone?”
Martinez is left crestfallen.
The scene reminded me of the numerous barbs and jabs that Maher and a lot of media outlets take at our youth.
I can link myself in on these attacks, being a “millennial.” But as I rapidly approach the dreaded 3-0, and have a child of my own, it seems to me that my students are facing far more criticism than we “older” young folk did.
Perhaps I am just now becoming privy to these conversations.
Maher’s words rang in my head for the next few days. It was devastating to watch the look on Martinez’s face when faced with the most vocalized critique of his generation: technology overuse.
But is it really just the kids’ problem?
Despite what many people now suspect, children are not born with a cell phone attached to their umbilical cords. Someone gives technology to kids, and teaches them how to use it.
Our kids are addicted to technology because we are addicted to it.
Or as a follow-up to Maher’s question: How many of any of us adults would give up our iPhone?
Almost none of us are innocent in this. According to the Pew Research Center, over two-thirds of American adults have a smartphone. This report from the United Nations shows that there are more smartphones in the world than toilets. The average number of cellphone peeks is 46 a day, and do not tell me it is always your work email. I often wonder how my students would react if they saw me in some particularly boring staff meeting playing a game less than an hour after scolding them to pay more attention to my lecture.
What else are kids supposed to think when this is the world we live in?
What truly astounds me is the belief that the ways children and young adults primarily use technology is any different than things we had before. Teenagers talking all night to boy/girlfriends? The “Brady Bunch” did it. Celebrity gossip? Remember Beatlemania?
Not to mention over-playing video games.
The only primary difference between the digital activity of today and of yesteryear is the permanence of the internet. Once something is uploaded, it is there forever.
We are getting more and more feedback of long-term consequences from our digital lives. Students can lose scholarships over social media posts. Or get questioned by the Secret Service and lose their jobs. Some are even losing their lives.
This reality needs to be presented to our students, despite some current attitudes that cellphones have no place in academia. We have previously stated that this is an educational priority, but are we really following through?
School should be a place to show the vast capabilities that technology has to offer, besides checking out friends’ pictures.
This mindset will be difficult to accomplish given the rapid rise of technology and the continued cost to taxpayers. It calls upon us as teachers to not only stay up to date on the most current educational philosophy, pedagogical practices and classroom management techniques, but also to stay up to date with the latest tech trends to keep pace with our students. We also need access to these technologies, which is never cheap.
We can discourage the prevelence of hatred on the internet by teaching students online ethics beginning from a young age. A great working model is South Korea.
Finally, we need to retrain our dialogues about educational tech. We currently look at what we can buy to augment our students’ learning. A better model is what can our students create?
How many of us look at our cellphones and wonder how we can improve the technology inside instead of relying on what is handed to us?
Our classrooms can be the guiding vehicle in our quest to save ourselves, and our children, from technology. But ultimately, we all need to approach this problem with more empathy. We have to come to grips with our own technology usage and model more appropriate behavior.