Sunday, October 14, 2012 | Categories: Michael's Essays
(shareski / photo pin)
To fess up: I have an iPad, an iPod, a laptop, a cell phone, a mini voice recorder and a Kindle. I do not have a TV, but I have a screen on which I play movies.
In my reverie, I am Electronics Man. I am connected. I am in touch. I am a citizen of the digital cosmos. I have arrived. In reality, I have but the merest idea of how to run any of these things and what they offer.
I am the Ned Ludd of CBC Radio. I admit it, I feel better for the admitting.
Which is not to suggest that I feel these devices should be banned. I appreciate the tremendous benefits that a prudent application of them offers.
My problem is I feel that while they may be making my life easier, they are making me dumber.
The stirring of this apprehension first appeared a few years ago when I read an article in an American magazine by the writer and journalist Nicholas Carr.
Mr. Carr revealed that browsing the web as much as he did had begun to impair what he called "deep reading."
Time was, he explained, when he could sit down with a book and read for three or four hours and retain to a large extent what he read.
After living with Google and its relatives for some years, he found his attention lost focus after 25 minutes of reading text.
Reading Nicholas Carr made what little hair I have left stand on end.
I began to develop symptoms similar to those of Mr. Carr. And I began to wonder if constant preoccupation with the digital age could have adverse effects beyond whether or not I could sit still for a couple of hours and read.
Especially concerning is the effect that all of the latest electronic gear is having on my children and on education in general.
A good friend teaches journalism in Toronto and has to deal, every day, with students electronically plugged in during the class. Each desk has a computer for school work but my friend says many times the students are on Facebook.
She has a rule that cell phones are to be turned off in class but points out it is often a losing battle.
The real question is this: Does the use of digital technology in higher education improve the learning skills of students or does it impede those skills.
There is no doubt in the mind of Professor Doug Mann. He is a professor of sociology and teaches in the faculty of information and media studies at Western University in London, Ont.
In a recent essay in The Toronto Star, Professor Mann writes:
"Study after study shows that digital technology has dumbed down higher education. They may make education more fun and engaging. But that's only saying they've turned education into a form of entertainment. Writing essays, reading difficult texts or figuring out complex mathematical problems have never been fun and never will be."
He goes even further. He argues that going digital in higher education promotes ignorance, not understanding and has "severely degraded basic reading, writing and thinking skills."
Professor Mann has a series of drastic steps he says universities should institute. Treat texting like cigarettes; if you want to do it, do it outside. Turn off Wi-Fi in the classroom, restricting it to student lounges; ban the use of social networking websites during class.
I have a hunch the good professor is pushing a large rock up a steep hill.
Universities are more and more going the other way - working to make higher education more "fun and engaging."
Maybe a re-boot is in order. Maybe it's time, as Professor Mann says, to hit the off button.