Why technology scares (some of) us -- and what to do about it
This post was written by Bill Williams, who has taught in public and private schools for more than 40 years. He leads workshops and writes a blog on creativity in schools and in the workplace. He is a founder of Andy’s Summer Playhouse, a children’s theater in New Hampshire.
By Bill Williams
I just went to a workshop where the discussion turned to the ever-increasing presence of technology in how we learn. Conversation moved quickly from Facebook to Twitter to SCVNGR to foursquare, then extrapolated into the future. Finally feeling overwhelmed, one of the participants said, “It’s scary.” Curious, I asked why she was afraid (not that she shouldn’t be). Her response had to do with how much there was to learn. There was a sense of apprehension that she might not be able to do it.
We live in a rapidly changing world, which requires us to learn and adapt on an ongoing basis. Having been nudged, dragged, prompted and coached on my own path from Luddite to a tech competent and tech curious Baby Boomer, I’ve spent some time thinking about what it is that scares us and inhibits us about mastering the various new technologies we encounter.
I have a hunch that we drag old school wounds and scars along with us in ways that unnecessarily complicate our current learning, or worse, block us from even trying to learn. Our attitude toward learning is as outdated as the classrooms we were taught in and the information we learned.
Kirsten Olson discusses this problem in her book, Wounded by School – Recapturing the Joy In learning and Standing Up to Old School Culture.
Even in something as mundane as learning how to program a DVD, we get anxious, out of sorts, and frustrated. Then ask our kids to show us how to do it. We adults assume we’ve got to learn it right away, worry about looking bad while we do it, and agonize as if we were going to fail some imaginary test on DVD recording.
We act as if we’re going to get graded, sorted, judged and valued by how we learn, as if a failure in DVD manipulation might be recorded on our permanent transcript.
My 21-year-old son and I recently got new cell phones together. They are exactly the same model. I went immediately to the instruction manual to figure out how to operate my phone. My son flipped his phone open and started playing around with it. That’s been his way of learning about such things ever since he was a little boy messing around with computers and playing computer games. Essentially it’s a push-all-the-buttons and see-what-happens style of learning.
It's playing with the device, "play" being a key word.
My son and I continue to compare notes on how to operate our new phones. There remains something to be said for consulting the directions. There is plenty to be said for exploring confidently, not being afraid to make mistakes, adopting a “game mentality” of incremental mastery that is dependent on no one’s timetable but one’s own. And there's plenty to be said for collaborating, so that we can learn from each other.
My son and I will never have a cell phone final exam. We’ll never sit in a room with a proctor looming to make sure our work is our own. But too often, I think, we older learners handle the future by going backwards. We consign ourselves to the anxiety of some exam room from the past whenever we’re confronted with something new to learn, or at least something we feel we have to learn. It's like getting an “assignment,” to dredge up another old school term. We create a present fiction based on past wounds in order to cope with the future.
For older learners our fear of failure is sometimes so acute, we don’t allow ourselves to fail during any step of the process. At least when it comes to technology, younger learners seem to have an ease about failing early and often on their path to mastery. It would probably serve us older folks well to remember the following:
We don’t have to learn it all at once.
We can learn it at our own pace. It’s not a race.
We can learn something together with other people.
We can make as many mistakes as we need to until we master what we want to know.
Maybe we older folks could even relax enough not to force some of our old school values on today’s children. Do we really need to use school to test and to grade and to sort and to rank quite so much? Is learning a race? How will our children ever win a race to the top if they learn to fear getting started?
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| November 7, 2010; 3:23 PM ET
Categories: Guest Bloggers, Technology | Tags: baby boomers, facebook, foursquare, technology, twitter
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