Thursday, August 24, 2006

Tech culture

So yesterday I got a new phone. This was a big event for me – it was a cell phone. I had one briefly, five-six years ago, but got rid of it fairly quickly. No need for that, said I. With the kind of life I lead – working at home or at a home office, I’m always reachable. And if I’m not, I don’t want to be!

But for the coming year, I’m going to be dividing my time between Home City and New University City – spending half of every week in each. In University City, I’m excited to be staying with friends, who have very generously offered to lend me their guest room for the year. Since I don’t want to trample on their generosity by tying up their phone, I took the plunge and purchased a cell phone . Just chose the cheapest one with the longest battery life, not caring about any of the bells and whistles it came with.

It arrived yesterday. It took me hours – I kid you not – to figure out how to use it. Hours. I felt as if I needed a degree in wireless communication just to set up the basics. It took me 15 minutes to compose a one-line text message with the freaking unfathomable text system.

And there are plenty of things I still don’t know how to do, even with the help of the manual. The pictures I took of the dog? I don’t know how to locate them in the phone. The photo I emailed to myself? Never got to me. The mp3 player, video camera? Uh, whatever.

I was struck by the great, gaping chasm between myself and most of the students I teach, who could slice and dice this phone in fifteen minutes. Because they are growing up with this technology. It’s a second skin in a way it could never be for me.

I think this matters. I think it’s a key to a lot of what we face in the classroom. I think it changes their brains.

This is not a new insight, I know. But sitting on the couch struggling with that phone yesterday, I really felt a quite profound distance from my students. This is something I need to think about, because it makes me realize the extent to which – for me, at least – teaching them is a kind of cross-cultural communication, in very many ways.

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