phonograph man and the geeky gurus

A man rides his carriage up to the playground and stops the horses.  He pulls out a hand-cranked, ultra-portable, larger-than-the-cosmos phonograph.  It's not a pretty piece by any means.  Far from Mozart, it is a repetitive drum beat and a song with some choice words that the average primary grade student doesn't use (Indeed, it was a bit of a shock to the kindergarten class whose idea of "dirty language" is poopy face and stupid head).

I suppose his main goal involved impressing five and six year olds, not by creating his own innovative music, but by blasting a record loud enough for everyone to hear. On some level, his plan worked.  The little tikes found the phonograph to be an almost mystical experience.  Then again, they are also intrigued by the notion of Santa Claus and four square and playing jacks.

A student points out to me, "Knowing how to use technology doesn't mean you know how to use it," and he says it just like that, italics and all.

I ask the students to set down their pencils and pose the question, "What does it mean to know how to use a medium?"  From here, we discuss the loss of silence in our world, the humming sounds of industry and the choking clouds of soot from the factories.

"So, I can do more, but I'm so rushed that I don't have time to do anything," a girl explains.

"Everything is compressed," a kid says.  "We pack more into it, but we lose the quality."

"Can you elaborate on that?"

"I can take a picture and it's portable, right?  But it's not as good as a painting.  I can listen to music on a phonograph, but it's all scratchy.  We have some motion pictures, but they're choppy.  People are now eating canned meat and it's processed and has the texture of jelly."

I want my students to be geeks and gurus. The geek is knowledgeable about technology.  This person loves it, embraces it and knows how to use it in creative ways.  One the best days, the geek thinks of the future and how technology can be used to solve social, economic and perhaps even personal problems. On the worst days, the geek becomes intoxicated by the novelty and applies futuristic solutions that lack foresight.  Or, the geek is simply a guy on a wagon with a really loud phonograph, imposing his narcissistic desires on the world.

On the other hand, the guru is wise about technology.  This person sees it as a force that is sometimes negative in its dehumanizing aspects.  On the best days, a guru will remind us that the physical is as important as the mechanical and that some things in life should not be chopped into pieces and processed, compressed and then industrialized. A guru knows that, even when we try and predict it, technology takes on a life of its own. However, on the worst days, a guru will grow cynical and angry and shake an elitist fist at every innovation while missing out on the ways technology improves society.

I want my students to be a bit of both. Call it a paradox or a mystery.  I don't want them to abandon technology in a doom-and-gloom fear.  However, I also don't want them to get into the mentality that a robotic world will fix everything.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post, and this blog. I just had a pencil-snapping, lead smearing day. A day in which I questioned the integration of pencils at all. I needed this perspective so as not to throw it all away.