six lies we tell ourselves about technology

So, I'm at the PIE Conference and I place my slides on the projector. I'm nervous, shaking, literally sweating bullets. Okay, not literally, but figuratively. I assure you that there were no flying bullets in my room. I choose the number six, since it's perfect and I so badly want something about this presentation to be perfect:

Lie #1: We can connect to the world and still feel the grass beneath our feet. I tell the story of our neighborhood and the lack of community that exists as a result of newly emerging new transportation, urbanization and the fact that information is now global (thanks to the telegraph)

Lie #2: What is new is always innovative.  I mention that of novelty versus innovation and the fact that often "innovation" is merely hype (I piss a few people off by mocking the iTablet.  Note to self: some people love their yellow legal paper, even if it won't let you multitask and take papers out like a real notebook)

Lie #3: We can control the effects of technology.  I mention the changes in Europe after the printing press and how wildlife changed as a result of railroads and barbed wire.

Lie #4: Quality isn't lost in compression (and the lie that effeciency means effectiveness): Here, I play the mandolin and then a phonograph and asked them to write down which sounded better.

Lie #5: Better tools equal better learning. I share the idea that often simpler and fewer tools force students to be more creative).

Lie #6: It will save time.  Time will move on whether we "save" it with gadgets or not.

*      *      *

The workshop (which is a bit of a lie, given the fact that no one is building anything) is failing miserably. People are drawing pictures and ignoring me. So, I open it up and say, "What are you thinking?" It becomes a conversation.

"I don't think pen pal networks and telegraphs have changed anything," a teacher begins.

"Me too. If anything, time away forces me to appreciate the grass when I'm back."

"Can't we have it both ways?" a teacher asks.

"I don't think technology makes things better or worse, it just changes things.  So, we don't lose our connection to the land.  We just view it through a new filter."

"If we think critically about technology, we can predict its outcomes," someone adds. "That's a pretty fatalistic mentality."

But then another teacher mentions Prometheus and Pandora and quotes a few lines from a Socratic dialog. We talk about the Tower of Babel and the Sirens and the Roman notion of bread and circus. We talk about how often a pen pal letter will pull us away or how the edgy urban environment can make us feel claustraphobic. As we discuss the ideas, I find myself yearning for something low-tech - perhaps a chalkboard where I could be drawing diagrams or taking notes. I feel a bit like a heretic in a high-tech cathedral.

Finally, a teacher says, "I agree with all of these except number two." We discuss it for awhile, but I am struck by this notion that our frame of reference for wisdom is anything but innnovative. We're going back to Greek and Roman mythology. The teacher, for his part, finally says, "I guess there's nothing new under the sun," quoting a man who lived in an era where the printing press didn't even exist.


  1. This should have generated some comments. I agree with each of your six points. Like your seminar colleagues, a genuine conversation would be more productive than a passive presentation. The technology of your slides was eclipsed by the depth of the subsequent conversation.

    Technology is almost always a better mouse trap. The trapping mice is nothing new. Conversation, storytelling, teaching, commerce, romance: these are not new human endeavors. How we modify our engagement in these endeavors modifies us in far less significant ways than we credit. It is too early to draw conclusions about the transformation of human psychology and culture isn't it.

  2. Alan, you write the most eloquent and thought-provoking blog comments!