Having taught high school for more than a decade, I often get asked about the impact of cell phones and other technology on teenagers. People in business, engineering, and medical fields want to know why student interns and young hires cannot write, retain, or analyze at the rate of previous generations and if texting, social media, or other technology has any correlation to the decreasing display of workplace skills, both critical and analytical.
To be completely honest, the first time I was asked I found myself as an educator responding to these questions defensively, knowing how much effort it takes to plan and motivate today’s teenagers. I rejoined with a lecture on the intricacies of incorporating technology, the various methods used to differentiate learning for all students, the rigorous instruction on developing writing skills, the numerous application projects and research papers, and the personal research on best teaching practices that many of my colleagues and I conduct in order to provide quality public education. Yet, none of this rhetoric answers the question asked.
So, I return to my classroom and observe. I engage in the daily struggle of motivating students who move up to the secondary level year after year, less and less prepared for the rigors of critical thinking and analysis. Initiatives with curriculum like common core national standards found at http://www.corestandards.org/ exist to promote a more rigorous curriculum to better prepare today’s youth for the critical and analytical thinking skills necessary to the workplace. However, these initiatives disregard a significant side effect of technology.
Without a doubt, technology has impacted our youth. While only in-depth psychological studies could empirically validate the extent of the effects, my observations as a classroom teacher qualitatively offer the following top three concerns:
- 1) The massive amounts of information ricocheting on email and social media avenues such as Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat provide “information overload” or “information glut,” terms coined in a case study regarding the impact of email interruptions in the workplace (Shenk 1997). Almost twenty years later and with several more case studies in existence, information continues to encumber the individual. In the classroom students struggle to determine which information to keep and which data to let go. Students and teachers both experience frustration with how little information the students retain on a daily basis. With a majority of free time spent scrolling through massive amounts of data in social media, I am concerned that students have inherently learned to retain inconsequential portions of information.
- 2) While I use technology personally and in the classroom and appreciate its value, social media offers little to no platform for analytical or critical conversation. Perhaps some students or adults may suggest they use the platforms for debate; however, having been privy to many of these sessions of empty rhetoric, I find the arguments usually resort to extensive use of logical fallacies and imitate the media’s magniloquent and dramatized style of avoiding the real issues.
- 3) Technology has also changed the meaning of the word “like.” In contrast to traditional definitions of the word, “like” has become synonymous to verified. To the teens, the more “likes” a person acquires equates to the validity of the status or argument. Even worse, teenagers expect teachers to “like” their verbal and written responses rather than offer keen commentary and higher order thinking questions that improve analytical skills.
Neither technology’s friend or foe, I value its usefulness in today’s modern world. However, as an educator, I recognize the dependence, the interdependence, and the negative side effects on today’s youth. The social platforms created to enhance society now stultify the ability of our youth to critically process, assess, analyze, recognize real world problems and solve them.