I have always felt somewhat torn by discussions of the role of technology in society. I think in large part this is due to my upbringing. I lived in Mali, West Africa from the age of 3 to 16. A country that was, and still is, one of the poorest in the world. Many of the villages we lived in had no phone lines at all. We would write letters, drive 2 hours on dirt donkey trails into the nearest town with a post office. The letters would take about 2-3 months to reach Canada at which point the response would take 2-3 months to get back to us. This disconnect meant that we were in many ways cut off from the world due to lack of infrastructure.
When we returned to Canada in 2001, I had a lot of catching up to do. I had missed roughly 10 years of my generations’ pop music (maybe that was a good thing), I didn’t get any of the pop culture references, and people that quoted Ace Ventura to me would be met with blank stares. In the world of technology I was awkward at best. I was able to type to some degree but as my peers explored MySpace and MSN Messenger it never quite took hold for me. I often felt I was an alien visiting earth for the first time and I wasn’t sure where to start. I slowly started making inroads into my lack of knowledge in these areas. I watched the movies such as Star Wars that had been touted as classics by my friends and began exploring the online world.
When Facebook came on to the scene in 2004, I was drawn to it through nostalgia more than anything. I discovered that I could reconnect with friends from half-way across the world. I could view pictures from back in Mali and even carry on conversations with old friends. From this point on, I truly began to feel much more engaged in Canadian culture because I was able to at once be in step with popular cultural acceptance of Social Media but at the same time keep connection to a part of me that I thought had been left on the other side of the ocean. I would say this was definitely the beginning of my entrance into the realm of being a digital visitor. Although Prensky’s notion of Immigrants vs Natives perhaps holds more initial connection to my situation from a geographical standpoint, I find it difficult to reconcile the notion that generational gaps alone account for feelings of technological competency. For example, there are children between the ages of 5 and 15 growing up in third world countries right now who have limited or no access to the internet or social media. Nor does it follow necessarily that 1st world teens born after a certain year will automatically possess an understanding of digital spaces as part of nativity. As David White suggests,
‘the cultural effects of the social hyperconnectivity brought about by social media and mobile devices are often masked by shallow assessments of technological functionality and the apparent capability of specific groups in consuming ‘new’ technology.’- Citation
When I first began using Facebook, I felt as though I was and perhaps still am a visitor; using online tools when necessary and then turning those tools off when they are no longer needed. Even when it came to cell phones I held back for a relatively long time compared to others in my peer groups. My first smart phone was the iphone 4 which was released in 2010. Once again, it became a tool to use when I needed it. A few years later, I began to research the world of #edtech and realized quickly that this would be the way education might evolve. I started trying to incorporate technology into my teaching and learned as I made mistakes. However, I was still a visitor. My personal relationship with technology with regards to the technological engagement continuum remains ambiguous.
I use the tech tools that I find useful in my work and in my personal life and if I look at my phone or laptop and notice apps that I have not used in the last month, they are often deleted. I am a fan of functionality and I love using technology when it engages students, enhances learning in some way or allows students to deepen their understanding. However, it disheartens me to see technology enhance preexisting human conditions such as disunity, discord, jealousy, hatred, and disparity. I wholeheartedly agree that technology, when it is used properly, has enormous potential to create social change, improve life for people on earth, and foster connection. On the other hand it also has the potential to be used to devastating effect to inflict pain, divide instead of unite, and give voice to hatred. Technology cannot be saviour nor can it be our doom, it must therefore be approached in a more realistic fashion. Technology must not be analyzed in a vacuum. It is born of man, born out of human social constructs. Since I could not identify myself as a proponent of techno-utopian ideas nor techno-dystopian ideas, I began exploring middle ground.
In reading Stephen Bernard’s Blog Post on Techno-Realism, I have found myself drawn to the idea that we must not simply blindly adopt Techno-Utopian or Techno-Dystopian theories without truly engaging in critical examination of the ways in which technology and social fabrics are intertwined. Conversely we must realize that although technology has been the driving force behind human advancement, it does not leave us without options and does not exist separate from human interaction. There must be a balance, in effect, between positive and negative in the techno-theory debate. It allows for the ability of technology to affect positive change in the world while accepting that there are certain aspects of technology that have and will continue to affect humankind in a negative way.
“What can technorealism do for sociological inquiry? Besides offering a healthy dose of reality, it can guide us beyond mere polemics and onto a plane of thought grounded in both logic and evidence”-Stephen Bernard
Here are some of the key principals of technorealism as espoused by technorealism.org
PRINCIPLES OF TECHNOREALISM
- 1. Technologies are not neutral.
- 2. The Internet is revolutionary, but not Utopian.
- 3. Government has an important role to play on the electronic frontier.
- 4. Information is not knowledge.
- 5. Wiring the schools will not save them.
- 6. Information wants to be protected.
- 7. The public owns the airwaves; the public should benefit from their use.
- 8. Understanding technology should be an essential component of global citizenship.
This idea seeks to be a neutral territory between positive and negative views of the role of technology although it lacks a certain element: HOPE! What is human society without hope. It is what drives to create, share, uplift and uphold one another. It is hope that led to the great technological advancements of the 20th century and it is hope that inspires people all over the world to wake up and create change for the better. For these reasons I find myself slowly moving from digital visitor to digital resident and from techno-realism to techno-progressivism. Yes we must be critical of the ways in which technology is being used, however, if we are constantly looking over our shoulders for possible problems we will potentially miss out on greater opportunities for the good of mankind. In a recent Globe and Mail Article, Jennifer Anikst explored the idea that millennials are pragmatic idealists. Supposedly two very opposing theories are taken up simultaneously to allow this generation to solve social problems through the use of technology for social justice. To me that spells hope for the future.