July 12, 2017
HALLOWED PLASTIC BOX BY EVAN HUNTER
Humanity and technology have gone hand in hand for a long time. For the most part technology has been good to us. More jobs, higher standard of living, clean water, electricity, etc… Yet, humanity has been mistrustful of technology at times. During the industrial revolution in England people took to destroying the machinery that they feared would take their jobs. The Luddites, as our anti-machine forefathers were called, became prevalent enough that the destruction of machinery became punishable by death. The luddites were wrong in the largest sense, automation created many more jobs than it destroyed. However, they were also supremely right on one count, work that was once the domain of skilled artisans, became a factory line process. A small, but important tragedy. Automation has expanded much since those days, and the Luddites seem to grow more and more right everyday.
I would go as far as to say that the Luddites were more than a century ahead of the curve. We are facing a potential technological apocalypse. A sizeable proportion of economists have staged an intellectual revolt against the once unassailed idea that technology would lead to greater employment opportunity. Artificial Intelligence’s currently unregulated development frightens experts in the field. Software is now a more effective manager than people, and this is only the beginning.
Want another example? Check your pocket. The iPhone has changed a lot of things. Texting while driving didn’t exist 20 years ago. Go ahead, open it up. Do you see Facebook? Studies show Facebook makes users less happy. Attention spans are getting shorter every day, and it's in large part because of that little plastic prism. Twitter has taken political discourse to a new low by giving everyone a soapbox.
In fact, I’m struggling to see what it is “smart” phones have done for us. Do you need to send mediocre written communication back and forth with your friends at every hour of every day? No, you don’t. Is it really a tragedy when your teacher takes phones at the beginning of the period? No it isn’t.
Speaking of which, what have smartphones done for education anyways? They keep students’ focus away from the work of learning. The access to information they provide isn’t pivotal, especially with the presence of chromebooks. There is no other positively contributing function a phone possesses. In response, teachers have been forced to seriously adjust their teaching style.
First and foremost, teachers have been made into entertainers. Smartphones have sparked an undue competition for student attention. Teachers are not stand up comedians for good reason. It is their job to present information and modes of thought in an efficient, not an interesting, way.
Second, teachers are no longer the grand arbiters of information. This democratization of classroom knowledge has forced teachers to adapt. Now, they don’t have to teach students the information, so much as how to wield it. That’s impeded by the distracting presence of cellphones, but also the growing narcissism among students. It seems to me that being able to look up the facts has fooled students into thinking they are above teaching, yet they are in need of it now more than ever. There is some larger grounding for this as well. The Dunning-Kruger effect suggests that often people who attain a very low level of competency at a task, significantly overestimate their ability. It seems to me, that this effect has taken hold of some students.
Third, education is becoming more important than ever before. Not only has globalization fast eradicated the idea of an “american job”, but automation is moving us closer and closer to a future where there may be very few human jobs. Confronting these problems will require a modernized education system, that is highly efficient. Unfortunately teachers can only do so much, students have to play their part. Right now, they seem dangerously unwilling to hold up their end of the bargain. Skipping classes, not paying attention, and not doing homework all leave kids poorly positioned for academic and future economic success.
Few implements have made humanity so obsessive as the smartphone, and it feels more and more like we are being used by our technology, not the other way around. Every article you’ve googled was fed to you by an algorithm. That algorithm has more control over the population then we would like to admit. In much the same way phones have started to run our lives, and technology just keeps advancing. We should be careful that we don’t mistake technological progress for human progress. We should be careful that we don’t give up the most important parts of our humanity to our increasingly intelligent creations. We should be careful that the tools we’ve yet to create don’t damage the societies we’ve built.