At the cutting edge
Is this part of your day: do you switch on your PC some time in the morning, log in and check your email? Do you perhaps access a news site to catch up with the latest developments? Do you Google something you want to find? Do you send some emails, and work on a document in Microsoft Word or a similar program?
Is that you? You do know, I hope, that you are a complete and utter dinosaur. Much worse, you are so last year. The kids on the street make jokes about the likes of you.
Seriously, the online word is changing at an extraordinary pace, and those of us whose task it is to teach the young are often seriously out of step. The intercultural boundaries between the young and the slightly-older are constantly being redefined, and create barriers with serious implications.
Last week I attended a workshop in the United States in which we were told that young people, including students, no longer much bother with ‘the internet’. For them going online means going on Facebook via their iPhones. If they need anything else, it will be on one of Twitter, Wikipedia or youtube. Some are toying with Foursquare. But the very idea of messing around in the undefined prairies of various dot.coms and whatever it is you do on Outlook or Thunderbird strikes them as totally bizarre, and nerdy in a pipe-and-cardigan-and-slippers sort of way. Owning a PC, to many of them, is like owning a steam threshing machine, and laptops are rapidly going that way also. It’s all on the iPad or other tablet, or their smartphone; or it’s nowhere.
The impact of technology change and convergence is something we now seriously under-estimate. Many institutions are busily trying to upgrade from the day-before-yesterday’s technology to yesterday’s, and the gap may be widening. It’s not just the cost of constant changes, but getting into the mindset of how all this develops.
We can still insist on the use of certain technologies for students. In fact, two US academics at the workshop argued that professors need to lay down the ground rules, and that students ned to deliver their work accordingly. But if our ground rules seem wholly out-of-date as far as the students are concerned, it has implications. For better or for worse, we ned to keep pace with the world in which our students move, and we need to engage with it even when we think it’s going backwards.
It is indeed not always easy to see how intellectual inquiry can thrive in the Facebook world. But in the end, Facebook is just a medium, not a message, and we need to adapt to its idiom. In fact, we must stop always just catching up; we need to be ahead of the curve.