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Blog #21: The New Digital Gap

I remember when I came out of college, mostly because it was only six years ago, and also because technology was really starting to blossom within the educational setting. Billionaires were making it their goals to get iPad’s or internet access in every school. Schools were sending their staff to conferences to bone up on the newest tech so they could bring it to the classroom. School districts were having their own personal TedX conferences centered around bringing students face-to-face with technology, in hopes that students will be more apt to learn because they are getting to use technology. It was the Wild West. WiFi passwords were being sold on the Black Market. Students were selling USBs out of their trench coats like 1920s street vendors. Don’t even get me started on the headphones. Needless to say, technology in the classroom is going to stay around for a while. But should it? Facebook wants it to. Apple and Google want it to. But why?

Last October I completed my Master’s Degree in Curriculum Design with an emphasis in technology. I don’t say that to brag; there’s nothing to brag about $100k in students loans (ouch!). But when I would tell people my major they would always ask, “What do you want to do with that?” I told them, “Maybe a technology coach for a school district, but my dream would be to work for a non-profit that wants to provide internet access for at-risk or in-need students.” Most of the time the response would be, “Well that’s cool”. It usually had the tone behind it of, “I have no clue what that means,” or it could’ve been, “there’s no way in the place where the Dark Lord dwells that I would do that. Glad somebody is.” It wasn’t something that a lot of people that I knew were doing at the time. They saw technology as another fad in education that they would have to endure until it passed so they could teach the way they wanted. But as time marched on these past 5-6 years, it seems that more and more schools that are lower income are gaining access to technology through some rich donor or through a government-funded grant. Now there are still 25% of homes in the country that don’t have internet access, but that hasn’t stopped schools from going one-to-one, or at least having some component of learning online.

I want to make it clear that I am not here to knock technology in the classroom. I am simply here to deliver some news. So, don’t shoot the messenger. I was reading a New York Times article the other day about how more and more, schools that are less affluent are trending towards technology and the more affluent schools are doing away with technology in place of textbooks and the traditional style of teaching. Do you know who is leading the way for this push to cleanse the technology from our schools? Retired Teachers? Nope. The Amish? Nope. Cotton-headed Ninny-muggins? Quite possibly, but not who I am referring to here. The real answer: Tech Executives.

Silicon Valley is the heart of the tech wave that has taken over our world. It’s where you will find Apple, Google, HP, Netflix, Facebook, the list goes on. Do you know where they send their kids to school? It certainly isn’t the public school down the street. Nope. Instead, they go to the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, which has a school board made up of mostly former tech executives, who have removed most screens from their classrooms. Hmm. That seems fishy to me. Sure, if I was a millionaire, I might send my kid to a school that costs $34,000 a year. But why are these schools getting away from tech? Because these tech executives have been well schooled in the ways of persuasive design, better known as, brainwashing.

When you’re reading this blog post I bet you clicked on Facebook or Twitter first. Did you know that both of those companies don’t give you your notifications right away? They have specific algorithms that determine when it would be the best time to deliver this information to you in order to make sure that you stay engaged as long as possible to the product. Instagram has a refresh button. Snapchat has streaks. Games have rewards. All of these are designed to keep us engaged in the technology, or more specifically, the program that we are using. How many times in college (or some of us last night) did we stay up watching Youtube videos until 3AM? Was it because we intended to spend four hours doing that and sleep through our Rock n Roll History class in the morning? NO! Of course not! We were talking about the 70s that day in class, and as we all know, that is the time when Classic Rock existed. Anybody else who thinks it might be another decade is WRONG!…Okay back to my point….You didn’t plan to spend that time watching videos of cats chasing laser pointer or BMX riders getting hit down yonder or watch Charlie the Unicorn. But why did you? Because you saw that Youtube had a “recommended video” cued up for you already. Why not watch it right? Next thing you know, you’re running in your pajama pants and flip-flops across the quad while your class finishes the last song from the “Rumors” Album. And then you never learned that you could go your own way….

….I’ll see myself out.

But the point is that we have been mildly, if not severely, brainwashed by technology, and tech executives have figured out that it’s so pervasive in their culture, that some of them ban screens in their house altogether. We didn’t grow up with technology at our fingertips. It’s true that there were those Macs with the circle mice in the computer lab, but my kid was playing games on my wife’s phone when he was two. Why? Because that is his native language. He is native to technology. And that’s a dangerous thing.

Psychologists have called for a ban on these persuasive tactics. But I doubt they will be listened to. Now is the time that Google and Apple are looking to create brand loyalty for life. Their main battleground is these schools who believe technology is the way to reach their students. But maybe technology is not what these kids need. A study by Common Sense Media determined that students in lower-income families average over 7 hours of screen time a day, whereas their high-income counterparts use it for two hours less. And which students are doing better in school and their careers? The higher income students. Is it because of less technology? Maybe. It would be worth a shot to find out.

One last thing. This isn’t an attack on low-income families or the use of technology. It’s simply the presentation of information. But one thing that gets to me is this. When I was 7, I was diagnosed with ADHD. We’re talking 1996. No cell phones or 1-to-1 classrooms. I was just a bored kid. But now we have bored kids with devices that lash out when they are taken away…act like it’s the end of the world when you take their technology. Why? Because they are addicted. These companies have kids wrapped so tight around their fingers that the kids don’t even realize that it is enabling them for life. It is disabling them from communicating their feelings properly or having a conversation. I am worried about my sons. I am worried that my son will be raised by technology. Heck. There is already an online preschool program in Utah that just received a federal grant to expand. It’s happening. Technology is raising our kids. And tech companies are pulling their kids back and having actual people teach their kids. They are making the Kool-Aid and serving their own kids chocolate milk.

I think this quote from Chris Anderson of Wired Magazine puts it perfectly into perspective, “The digital divide was about access to technology, and now that everyone has access, the new digital divide is limiting access to technology,”

Thanks for reading. Now put down your phone.

Best Wishes,

Seth Tripp

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