Sunday, September 27, 2015

Me... Programmed?? Are we Substituting Digital Connections for Real Connections?

Are you filled with sheer panic if you can't find your Smartphone?  Filled with anxiety if you can't connect? Constantly checking updates for Social Media? Maybe it's time to unplug and do some introspection. Here is a short quiz if you might be addicted to your Smartphone. If you feel like you really do not have time for this, as you have several blogs to read and comment on - I promise you, it is short quiz, and is worth a look. If you score "well" on the quiz, then perhaps take a look at nomophobia as described by Mashable (yep, it's a real thing) which is the intense fear of losing your phone. I thought I would kick off my blog post with this quiz  as this week's readings revolved around the questions:

What is Media Literacy? 
How is digitally connecting and media changing the way we interact?

In Justine Stephanson's post, What Does Media Literacy Mean to Me?, she describes a situation where she was with some friends and one friend commented about feeling lost since their cell phone was left at home. I had to smile at this comment, as immediately I thought of how many times I have turned around to go back home when enroute to work, because I realized that I didn't have my phone. Stephanson also pointed out that although she always has her phone on her, she didn't check her device until the end of her work day, as she liked being to be to keep [her]mind on work and not get distracted. That is a really interesting point. Often we feel this urge to keep our device with us so we have it to check emails or if parents or colleagues need to reach us. Yet it can be a distraction if we are always checking it. As a grade 7/8 teacher for many years, I was quite mindful of role-modeling appropriate use of technology. Over time it is evident that all adults need to be mindful of this, especially considering the fact that our students are engaging with personal devices at a younger and younger age. If our children and our students see us and our mindful use, plus we have discussions regarding digital etiquette, this in turn could lead to kids being more aware of the affordances and responsibilities with having a device. 

Sherry Turkle's TED Talk Connecting, but Alone resonated quite strongly with me, although there were times she got a little alarmist and preachy. It's hard to believe that a majority of people are so absorbed in the screen, and the life beyond that rectangular window to our cyber connections, that they are sacrificing meaningful face to face interactions. However I appreciated her comments and questions regarding whether or not we are really in control of our devices and our own self-awareness of these habits. Overall the points from her talk that really got me thinking, included the following:

  • Are we just connecting with our phones because we don't want to feel alone? 
  • "I share, therefore I am" - Are we defined by our connectivity?
  • How does constantly connecting through social media, cause us to isolate ourselves? 
  • We need solitude to find ourselves and reach out to real people and form real attachments.
  • We need to be alone so we won't be lonely, as solitude allows for introspection and self reflection. 
  • We need to have conversations about where technology is taking us. 
  • We need to reconsider how we use our devices, and how we are connecting with each other to better understand ourselves.
Photosource: Catholic Religion Teacher
Her point, regarding a need for solitude really captured my attention. It is that whole developing mindfulness or an understanding of ourselves. Just an Howard Gardner proposed with the Multiple Intelligences, we need to provide time to develop our Intra-personal Intelligence. Gardner's Intra-personal Intelligence, as cited from, entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one’s feelings, fears and motivations. In  Gardner’s view it involves having an effective working model of ourselves, and to be able to use such information to regulate our lives. 

Looking at that those last few words, use such information to regulate our lives, makes me wonder, Are we truly regulating our lives, particularly when it comes to Social Media and managing our connectivity to the web? Are we looking for that balance? Most importantly, stepping away from the introspection of our own habits, and instead explore the habits of our own students? As educators, what is our role in helping students to develop that regulation of their digital habits or obsessions? After examining the newly released Ministry of Education's Digital Citizenship Continuum from Kindergarten to Grade 12, one can see in the area of Respect addresses these exact issues. Right on page 1 of the continuum, the essential question that is first addressed is "Are students aware of others when they use technology?" and "Do students realize how their use of technology affects others?" In the Kindergarten - Grade 2 aspect of the continuum students are to understand the place for communicating with people both in person and online. This idea is explored all the way up to grade 10-12, where students are to understand, there are different expectations about how and when technology is used between friends, at home, as school or at work. It is actually fantastic to see that a huge part of the continuum connects to that self-awareness piece regarding the how and when of digital connections. Although not all educators are not yet at a point of understanding how to integrate these teachings into pedagogy, it's a start. At least now there is an understanding that Digital Citizenship teaching is more than teaching kids one lesson at the beginning of the year in how to be safe online. 

Going back to conversations about media literacy, last Monday we had the opportunity to engage in a small group discussion regarding the past week's readings. After a little discussion it was apparent that a couple members of my group found that Turkle to be overly negative, and yet two of us found the points she raised to be those we had been considering ourselves. I don't want to be overly analytical, but why is this? What has caused two of us to be wary of the obsession with connecting? Are we starting to recognize in ourselves or those close to us, the need for distance? I say this only because my own kids have complained that I've been staring at my phone too much, after a marathon of responding to work emails, discussion with fellow Twitter users and the odd check review of my LinkedIn or Facebook connections. Perhaps it's my worry that I don't want to allow the digital connections to interfere with my valuable face to face time. Has having kids just made me consider the impact that being connected can have on my family and my own mindful use of technology?

In James Potter's chapters, Why Increase Media Literacy and The Media Literacy Approach. He questions, who has programmed this computer code that has governed these automatic routines? How are we being shaped? How are our devices and our digital connections shaping who we are? Within the reading, the quote that connected to my own reflections was the statement,  "The more you know about your personal locus and the more you make conscious decisions to shape it, the more you can control the process of media influence on you" (p. 19).  Potter urges that we do not always have to be engaged and aware of media influence, but instead work on continually examine the things you take for granted to allow you to gain more insight and use these insights to reprogram your mental code. Personal Locus, Knowledge Structures, and Skills are the three strategies Potter identifies that individuals need to develop within themselves as part of Media Literacy. Knowledge about media according to Potter or media literacy, means developing and understanding in the following areas: media effects, media content, media industry, real world, and the self. He further states that a strong foundation in these areas allows the individual to have a better grasp of how to seek, work with information and construct meaning in a way for the individual and their own goals. Potter's points regarding Knowledge Structures and learning connects once again to the Digital Citizenship Continuum, when one delves into Digital Literacy, under the area of Educate, or the capability to use technology and knowing when and how to use it. The essential question explored in the Continuum that exemplifies this is: How can students use digital technologies to best take advantage of the educational opportunities available to them? In answering this question students examine the various skills needed to organize information and the strategies to find information and determine the accuracy and reliability of the information. 

Potter's whole concept that we need to continually examine how media influences us connects to my own academic interests. Last year I started researching Mindful Use of Digital Tools and our obsession with oversharing via social media. My intention was to explore this concept with students as I felt that as an adult we tend to become overly obsessed with sharing our activities, and for people relatively close to my age we have been able to see the Internet emerge and evolve, so it is perhaps easier for us to keep a slightly greater detachment than those individuals who have always lived with the presence of the Internet. Oddly enough as I researched for this project, I tweeted my findings. Yes... I became fully aware of the irony. Why was I so obsessed with sharing what I found? What was the urgency to have someone else connect with my findings? I started to feel that with every re-tweet and favorite that someone else was getting it.  It was like I wanted that immediate gratification from like-minded people (which is hilarious, as I have no idea if they are like-minded, aside from a quick Twitter-bio, I don't know them at all) that I was on the right track and that other people felt the same as me. It really all came to a point when  Michelle Borba, educational psychologist, author of character education books re-tweeted one of my tweets on the issue of Mindfulness and Social Media connections.  Yes, I might have been oversharing my thoughts and findings, but being able to connect with Michelle Borba, or at least get affirmation from her was worth it as an educator. So in some instances, perhaps it's not too bad to be somewhat active in these platforms.

Photo Credit: penpalme via Compfight cc
I suppose in all what we can take from last week's readings and videos is the necessity for being aware of our connections and the impact that these connections can have not only on ourselves but those who are face-to-face and closest to us. Often I've had discussions with family, friends and students that if you are engaging with a device when you are with a group, and not interacting with those people who are in your vicinity, what message does your behavior transmit?

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