EDTC 300

The Rotary Telephone is Not Technology

“NUM.2018.016.001 Dr Lyon Telephone” by navalunderseamuseum is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born”

~Alan Kay

When I first heard this quote at the beginning of my EDTC 300 class the other evening, I honestly thought it was ridiculously illogical. In my mind, technology was technology. I did not see how it made sense to imply that a tablet or smartphone would not be considered technology by the next generation of kids. As the lecture went on though, we began to talk about how technology has changed and emerged over the last 50 or so years, and I came to a realization. I have never once considered or referred to a rotary telephone as technology. In fact, I do not think I have ever referred to any kind of chorded or landline phone as technology. Back in the 1940’s, however, the rotary telephone was viewed as a remarkable new and emerging technology, as you can see in the video below.

Does this mean that children born today will not consider an iPhone to be technology? While this may seem crazy, it is possible. We can only imagine what smartphones could be capable of doing in the future or which tech companies will be popular 15 to 20 years from now. Technology is constantly changing, and it is up to us as educators to keep up with it all.

One of the most notable changes technology has brought within my lifetime is the ability for participatory culture. YouTube, social media, and online blogs are just a few examples of technologies that have transformed the way we receive information and form opinions on various topics. These platforms have allowed for anyone with access to the internet to share, upload, and view anything from educational videos to memes like Nyan Cat.

In this video, Michael Wesch provides an excellent example of the power participatory culture holds. He explains how YouTube had provided more content in the last six months than ABC had created over the last sixty years. Keep in mind that this video is from 2008, so you can only imagine what the statistics would be like today. The fact that YouTube’s content is entirely user-generated demonstrates how much control mass media has now lost over the information people are viewing, as well as what they are thinking about that information.

So, what does this all mean for me as a future educator? Well, my future students will have grown up in a completely participatory and digital world. They will likely not even be able to imagine what it would have been like to live during a time when people were not able to share information, thoughts, or opinions online. I believe that this will require classrooms to shift away from traditional methods of teaching and learning. The idea that a teacher is all-knowing and the structure where teachers provide students with their knowledge on a subject clash with this new culture of participation students will be accustomed to. Students will want to participate within the classroom, much like they do online. Education will have to become more about teaching students how to analyze the information they acquire and form their own opinions on it, rather than providing students with the information from a textbook.

Educators will also have to adapt and learn to use new technologies as they emerge. Much like how I would not want to learn about networking using a rotary telephone, my future students most likely will not be interested in learning from technologies that were commonly used by my teachers when I was in school. It is vital that I stay informed on the new technologies my future students will be using, so I can connect with them and engage my students in learning that is relevant and beneficial to them in this everchanging world.


  • Morgan Bray

    Hey Sarah!
    Great post here! You bring up many insightful points in this post! I was in the exact same boat as you when we talked about generational technology! I too never once thought of a landline phone as technology but it would have been revolutionary at the time when it replaced the old cup and mic thing people used to have! I also agree with your point that education absolutely needs to keep up and that education is going to change even more from traditional practices, whether some people like it or not. It’s just the way the world is going now.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Morgan Bray

  • Kendyll

    Great ideas shared here! I know I certainly feel like I’ve simply “grown up” alongside technology. I feel like it’s a part of me and my world. I simply haven’t known anything else other than ever evolving digital sites, apps, and tools! Kind of a part of my identity is what’s surrounding me.

    • Sarah Stroeder

      I definitely agree Kendyll. I barely even remember using VHS tapes, as I was so young when those were popular. I think the online world can be a positive space to express your identity, as long as you understand how to do so in a mature and safe manner.

  • Tracey Beaven

    Good afternoon Sarah,
    Thank you for sharing you thoughts about participatory culture and technology. It is strange to think about how our little ones are growing up surrounded by “technology” and not even think that it is really anything special. You are totally right when you said students will want/need to participate in the classroom, they are growing up with a participatory culture they have the ability to help shape and create content, it is not going to be any different in the classroom. It really makes one think about what their classrooms will look like.

  • Grandpa Bill

    A very thoughtful post, Sarah. The telephone is an interesting example of technology we use everyday, and its evolution is remarkable. During the early days of telephones people dialing would have connected with a switchboard, usually staffed by young women who would use corded plugs to physically connect a caller with the person being called. So, human beings at that time were needed as go-betweens to make the technology work end-to-end.

    There is an interesting example of telephone technology in the history of the large Bell Farm at Indian Head, where a telephone system was installed in 1884, just a few years after the telephone was patented. Barbed wire fences served as telephone lines, which sometimes meant that if a cow thought the grass was greener on the other side of the fence, the technology might go down for a while, until someone fixed the fence.

    • Sarah Stroeder

      It is so crazy to think how much has changed since then! It’s even crazier to imagine what a telephone/cellphone will look like and what it will be capable of doing in 100 years from now…

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