Reasonable People Disagree about Connectivity Reasonable People Disagree about Connectivity

Reasonable People Disagree about Connectivity

by Jacob Gordon

June 21, 2010
Technology Is Pulling Us Apart
Technology Is a Tool, We Can Use it How We Want

by Natalie Jeremijenko

Natalie Jeremijenko is a tech-obsessed artist and engineer who invented the word “thingker” to describe herself. She directs the xDesign Environmental Health Clinic at New York University and runs Her recent work includes the Strap-On Flight Simulator (she’s Imaginary Air Force Squadron Leader), and rhinoceros beetle wrestling.

Is technology eroding families or bringing them closer together? It’s doing both at the same time. We can use technology to connect with one another or to disconnect. The question becomes: To what extent do we exercise that agency? And why don’t we feel more in control of it?

My position is that we have more agency than we often exercise.

In my household there’s clearly a polarization on the issue, though. I agree with Dalton that it’s important to “cut the electronic umbilical cord” on a regular basis in order to process and reflect. I don’t find it terribly hard to carve out and create the alone time I need, though. We’re the authors of our own lives—we’re not under the remote control of our technology. If people don’t seek out that quiet, contemplative time, then they probably don’t need it.

Raising children certainly does bring up some interesting challenges. Dalton got mad at Yo for using Facebook during school and tried to cut off his screen time for a month. But I say bring it on. First of all, Facebook is the kind of thing a kid could use to get a homework assignment that he missed, or do other practical school-related things.

But more deeply than that, much of what kids learn at school is how to function socially and draw on the sense-making that comes, not from a textbook, but from interacting with other kids who are responding to the same information. That’s what makes it a rich learning environment, and that's why kids go to school rather than learning at home. School is social, and a social technology like Facebook can be a worthy partner.

In fact I’ve been encouraging my kids’ school to give them more socially connected software tools. They started on Powerpoint (eek!) for class presentations. At least now they’re using Google Docs. Still, I advocate a more conceptually powerful program, Prezi, which lets people share ideas and visual strategies. Most contemporary education at that age is based around group work, so why wouldn’t he be using social technology?

Yes, there’s going to be mischief and misuse of technology. But kids aren’t evil. They’re just quick to experiment with technological tools. They’re going to explore all sorts of uses, good and bad. To explore people’s reactions they’ll experiment with jokes—maybe even racial slurs. This is part of their process of making sense of the world. They need a way to experiment.

Yo recently got ahold of my Twitter account and sent a message to my several hundred followers. He said: “This is Yo so fuk of.” (Yes, he’s still getting a handle on the art of spelling.)

To Dalton, this episode is proof that social media pulls families apart. But kids have always made bad decisions. I hijacked my parents’ car and drove on the freeway at age ten (and I would rather Yo hijack my Twitter account to explore social limits than hijack a deadly technology like a car). Like any child, Yo is experimenting. He is exploring his agency with technology in the social world. He watches how we make sense of his actions, how we respond, and figures out how to respond himself.

Incidentally, the Twitter hijacking left Yo with some remorse. Before being caught he followed up with a second tweet: “Sorry about that last message everyone. I posted it by accident. I meant to say: carrot guy screams, I want my veggies!”

Jacob Gordon is a Nashville-based freelance writer and the host of TreeHugger Radio. 

Recently on GOOD
Sign up to receive the best of GOOD delivered to your inbox each and every weekday
Reasonable People Disagree about Connectivity