Goldilocks and the “Just Right” Technotopia
Techno-optimist, realist, or neo-Luddite? As an Xennial, I often struggle to find my place on the spectrum of tech adoption or resistance. I’m old enough to remember the joy of receiving a Nintendo at Christmas, travelling (and dying) on the Oregon Trail in school, and my life before it was purchased by social media. Yet somehow, I’m young enough to be the one my family and Gen Z students turn to when tech goes awry…all too often.
The class discussion and assorted readings/videos left me wondering (yet again) where I fall on the techno-spectrum. Do I believe technology can connect us… save us? Will AI advance our thinking and creativity tenfold? Will the Metaverse virtually connect us? Or should I run for the hills and live off the land, my tinfoil hat firmly in place? (I’d be lying if I said the thought has never tempted me after reading one too many social media comment sections). Is there a middle ground that doesn’t involve me throwing my phone in the river, or fully submitting to Zuckerberg and Musk’s digital (white-male saviour) vision?
It seemed best to examine my options before deciding…
Techno-Optimism: A Futuristic Utopia?
WIFI, Chromecast, 1:1 Chromebooks, 3D printers, SaskCode, Mathletics, Blooket, Pear Deck, Google Workspace, and AI… just to name a few. What’s the common thread? They’re the classroom technologies that make my job more interactive and enjoyable. Just as my past teachers once depended on wheeling in Bill Nye on “off” days, I often feel reliant on technology to help me do my job.
Exploring the Teaching with AI website, I probably overstayed my welcome on OpenAI. The site states that teachers can use ChatGPT to role play, build content and assessment, aid EAL students, and promote critical thinking. While I would never accept the generated content verbatim, using the prompts to develop a myriad of potential classroom lessons (ones I can conceptualize but often don’t know how to actualize), proved the perfect sounding board for human creativity.
“We believe our research will eventually lead to artificial general intelligence, a system that can solve human-level problems.” – OpenAI
Based on the series, Meta envisions the technological future as:
- Immersive and life-like
- Collaborative and productive
- Connected, regardless of physical space
- Educational in all fields
- Environmentally friendly
- Entertaining and personalized
- An innovation hub
And it almost seems like a utopia. Almost. But, of course, my mind started ruminating on all the conveniently forgotten concerns: Digital privacy, addiction, escapism, legalities, ethics, commercialization, and accessibility inequalities…to name a few. With my growing list of concerns, I knew I couldn’t stay in this techno-utopian world.
Neo-Luddism: A Techno-Dystopia
On Friday night, I – shamelessly – fell down a Luddite rabbit hole learning about Ned Ludd and the 19th-century textile workers who resisted the technological encroachment of the Industrial Revolution.
- Advancements carry a price
- The digital divide assigns winners and losers (an unfortunate truth I learned teaching online for two and half years)
- Further creating prejudice and bias
- Affecting everything and everyone
- And establishes its own omnipotent mythos. (Based on the results of my recent student Google form survey, I can sadly attest that an overwhelming majority of my students spend after school online, and, unfortunately, seem disconnected from a separate potential reality).
As observed by several classmates, week one’s readings seemed to validate Postman’s often dire techno-dystopian views. From online “roasting” to an increase in online sextortion of young males, technology can take a heavy toll, particularly on our youth. In my 14 years as an educator, I have watched this burden increase for my students. When a minor’s already fragile self-image is being shredded by #roastme on YouTube, or the developing sexuality of our youth is being targeted by predators, it’s difficult not to firmly encamp myself on team techno-pessimist.
But do I believe technological resistance is the answer? No. Not entirely anyway. We can’t improve what we refuse to face. What’s an anxious Xennial to do?
Techno-Realism: Between the “Topias”
After waffling between technological utopias and dystopias, optimism and pessimism, too much and too little, listening to American sociologist, Sherry Turkle, proved “just right.” In her Ted Talk, “Connected, but Alone,” her message of digital progress coupled with insightful caution struck a perfect cord. Turkle notes the dangers of overreliance on technology, including loneliness despite the promise of digital connection, being “alone together” (physically together, but mentally elsewhere), a fear of real and uncurated conversation (a growing concern I have for my students), faltering empathetic skills, the “Goldilocks Effect,” distraction (from being present in those unstructured moments), and digital sharing as a form of existence.
“Across the generations, I can see that people can’t get enough of each other, if and only if they can keep each other at a distance, in amounts they can control. I call it the Goldilocks effect: Not too close, not too far, just right.” – Turkle (2012)
Despite the dystopian undertones of her digital concerns, Turkle tempers her message with a call to action; a “time to talk.” Like Turkle, I believe we still have agency to define our relationship with technology; how and when we engage with and disengage from it. To be aware of technology, ourselves, and others seems like the brightest path forward.
Final Thoughts: A Digital Goldilocks
As Alec’s slides on Tuesday night proved, historically there have always been technological advocates and doomsayers. I hope to carve my path somewhere between the two, a digital Goldilocks on the spectrum of “just right” amounts of personal connection and innovative tech use in the classroom (and my life).
Last week, I co-created “discussion norms” with my students to foster personal connection. The same day, I taught them to use Tinkercad. The skills are not mutually exclusive. While I don’t believe in “topias” – utopian or dystopian – I do believe in educating ourselves and our students so we can co-create a blend of digital and personal wisdom in this world. It will never be a perfect endeavor, but it will always be worth it.
POINTS TO PONDER
I would love for you to share your thoughts on the following…or any other ideas/reflections that came up for you while reading:
- How do you believe your age and education have played a role in your adoption (or resistance) of technology?
- Where do you believe you fall on the techno-spectrum? Optimist, pessimist, or realist?
- How do you balance technology and personal connection in the classroom? In your own life?
Thank you for reading and for sharing your perspective!