Will pulled out his notebook on the morning drive to school. “I have to study just a little bit more for my test today,” he informed me.
I reached over to turn off the CD, his music blaring just over my personal decibel comfort zone.
“What are you doing?” he asked, somewhat indignantly. (Morning does not reveal the sweetest side of his personality).
“I’m turning it off, so you can concentrate,” said I. “Don’t you need to focus?”
“I’m fine with it,” he said, “it doesn’t bother me.”
I wonder if it’s a generational or cultural gap. I like utter peace and quiet when I’m reading or studying. I am distracted enough by the thoughts in my own head; I don’t need extra noise. Will, on the other hand, as well as Katie and Molly, often study with headphones, listening to their favorite music. My brain doesn’t work this way.
Today’s generation has an innate ability to multi-task in many ways. I once wrote about their ability to juggle a conversation by text on their phones while, at the same time, communicating via E-mail on their computers, while, at the same time, ostensibly reading their books for the test. As one might anticipate, an accident waiting to happen. I would wonder if they might get their wires crossed and send the wrong message to the wrong person — say, for example, a complaint about the teacher meant for a friend — sent to that teacher by mistake.
It would certainly serve them right, but to my knowledge, this has never happened, and I am sure nobody is going to fess up if it does.
As he sits at the dining room table engrossed in study, Will himself is a study in today’s technology. He has his laptop open for his notes; his iPad displays the diagrams from his textbook; he is on Face Time on his iPhone with his study buddy. Who needs to go to the library to study together when you can “be in the same room”? The methodology seems to be working. Will is doing well in chemistry thanks to Paul’s help; Paul is hitting it out of the park with Will’s aid in U.S. history.
This week Will was synthesizing a group report for that history class. It was a marvel to observe the E-mails flying in with each person’s share of the work. Will took the lead in putting it together and proofreading. Aside from some time during school, these kids never had to step foot together.
In a way I find that a shame. I have fond memories of working collectively with my friends outside of school on similar kinds of projects. You get to know people in a way you don’t within the social lines and hierarchy of high school. You may become friends with someone you otherwise would never say two words to outside the parameters of class and classmate.
While technology presents amazing open doors, at the same time, there are skills and other opportunities that are lost. I am nerdy enough to have enjoyed looking up vocabulary words in a dictionary, the alphabetical search, and the joy of the find. I’m sure there are children today who have never cracked open a Webster’s dictionary. What’s that, they may puzzle.
I loved the neatly bound volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica; I loved the heft and the smell of the shiny pages loaded with information about the universe. I liked the neat, orderly presentation of ideas and topics I never would have imagined. Leafing through the encyclopedia opened up my mind to possibilities and worlds beyond my own.
Do kids today even know what an encyclopedia is? Why look up something in a dusty book when all you have to do is Google it? The problem there is that you have to know what you’re looking for; you have to plug in a search word or phrase. Just as the best ideas can be born of daydreams idly watching the clouds go by, sometimes the best discoveries are made by browsing without a destination in mind.
The ability to read maps, plot out trips, and knowing north, south, east, and west, are also skills that are becoming extinct. Who hasn’t heard those stories about the person driving off the mountain because GPS said so, or the girl who actually walked off the pier into the lake because she had her nose in her smartphone?
Most of us have had the experience of being led astray by our navigation systems, so why wouldn’t you make sure you know where you are going and how you’re going to get there, and only use your navigation system as a backup, just in case?
I love maps and atlases, seeing how the lines of highways crisscross and run parallel, dreaming about traveling on legendary roads like Route 66, and observing the blue of lakes and rivers, ponds and oceans, and imagining how civilization sprang up around them. That’s something Siri is never going to be able to tell you.
With technology comes efficiency and convenience; that is undeniable. But with most advances there is some degree of loss, depending on how you look at it. I see changes with some degree of melancholy and nostalgia, and I suppose that is what the wisdom of age is all about.