Tuesday, November 10, 2009

People-People Time vs. People-Computer Time — The Rise and Imminent Demise of the Intelligent Peripheral

"A laptop for every child!"

"We're going to refurbish 1000 classrooms, to bring the best modern technology has to offer to our children to become computer smart for the future." (Paraphrasing that strage creature, the current Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh; whose name should indeed sound familiar!)

This is the kind of verbiage coming form those who want to appear as if they cared about the education of our children. Because anybody who advocates or promotes the advancement of 'computer literacy' must care—about the future of the planet, our society, our children. And the Australian Prime Minister—and in this I find myself agreeing with someone I universally disagree with by default: Rupert Murdoch—is definitely obsessed with the future of the planet; to the point of OCD and with a grandiose naïveté that borders on, and maybe crosses over into the territory of, dangerousness. But he's not alone. Whenever anybody who's got anything to say about the subject, for reasons of self-advancement of self-opinionation, such catchphrases as "a laptop for every child" will be dragged out of the closet and intoned like the national anthem. And throw in "internet" and "research'" as well, because that makes it sound like it was really, really useful.

Trying to stop this hysterical mania is the social equivalent of trying to avert GLOBAL WARMING. And, like G... ahh, you know what... the best one can do is to try and learn to live with it, and salvage what can be salvaged—which in this case means as many children and Young Adults as possible.

For those who don't 'get' what I'm talking about, consider this.

To achieve 'computer literacy' for a person under the age of, say, 18—and especially given that said person is very likely to find a computer in their home environment as well!—takes almost no time at all. Making a big deal out of littering classrooms with computers and what's referred to as 'technology' is something that belongs into the last century, not today or tomorrow. It may make a difference in areas where children are unlikely to have access to computing equipment for socio-economic reasons; but that's about it. For the rest of the kids it may have use as a tool to "find information", as some people put it, but that, too, has a dark side. For, like just about anybody else using computers and the internet for extended periods on a daily basis, I find my research habits changing, to the point of being afraid that I may slip into a kind of ADD territory, though I am missing the hyperactivity component of the syndrome. And I'm a very disciplined internet user, who very rarely 'surfs', but almost always tries to find things using search engines, and then very occasionally follows links he may not have had on his radar. Those not exercising such restraint will almost invariably waste incredible amounts of time learning nothing at all—not in the long term anyway, because most of the things they find will go into short-term memory and disappear from there into neural never-never-land.

The consequences of the increasing ubiquity of computers at school as a major component of 'schooling' are grim. They relate closely to what I said in the previous blog. Human-human time gets muscled out by human-computer time, because, contrary to the promotional imagery, human-computer time is mostly one-on-one. It is not a social activity, except in the case of such things as tele-communications between, for example, groups of people separated by distance, but connected by some audio-visual link-up system. But that's not the way these things are used. Most of the time it's human peripherals staring at screens. And while at one time, these human peripherals merited the attribute 'intelligent', this may well be redefined once homo computerensis takes over the world.

For computers do not make children smart. They just change them and reconfigure their cognitive spaces. Whatever lies at the end of that, nobody knows. But I don't think it's good.

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