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I love and hate technology, and I am not alone: Reflections from the NWP Annual Meeting.

April 19, 2011

I finally retired my flip phone and bought an HTC Freestyle; it’s semi-smart phone. AT&T doesn’t call it that, but they should. It’s a perfect niche product for those like me who live somewhere between the technophobe and technophile. It’s not a smart phone, so I don’t have to get the full-fledged data plan, but it’s smart enough that it has a “friend’s stream” through which I receive Facebook and Twitter updates throughout the day. I pay $10/mth for what AT&T calls “unlimited data on a non-smart phone.” I’m thinking this is a loophole that will one day be closed, which satisfies my craving to stay one step ahead of the man.

True confession here: there is a part of me very much like the guy in the Best Buy commercial, who jumps into the store wide-eyed like a little kid in a candy store, giddy and running down the aisle. Like most guys, I’m tantalized by the latest gadget – the iPad or smart phone or 60 inch high definition television. At the same time, I am a guy who turns the television off as soon as the house is empty. I relish the quiet, and regularly carve out times where I am completely disconnected from anything electronic. And as a matter of principle, I rarely allow my cell phone to interrupt a personal conversation.

So I am part technophile and part technophobe. I want to have my cake and eat it too. And I’m finding there are a lot of people out there just like me. When I attended the National Writing Project’s Annual Meeting last year, I discovered both excitement about technology’s uses in the classroom and concern about the negative impact of media technology upon students. Most of the excitement seemed to come from the leadership and presenters, while much of the concern was being whispered by the rank and file teachers in attendance. At one table discussion, a female teacher in her early 30’s blurted out “when it comes to teaching writing, technology is our enemy!” Much to my surprise, everybody at the table seemed pretty comfortable with the statement – at least they didn’t seem offended.

I’m not claiming that her view was indicative of most teachers in the NWP. On the contrary, it seems to me to be very much a mixed bag – kind of like me. You have hard core advocates who are pumping up everything technological; you have luddites who are still writing in cursive and making copies of handouts they’ve used for thirty years; and you have the rest of us somewhere in between: intrigued, concerned, learning, determined to not throw out the baby with the bath water.

The strange thing to me is that this tension is not talked about very much. As a newcomer to the conference, I joined my twenty-something NWP colleague/ conference roommate at an introductory meeting. Much of the meeting was spent talking about technology: tweets, feeds, zips, blings, ding, dang, dong. That’s what it started sounding like anyway. At some point, my roomie leaned over and whispered to me “this is a discourse community that we’re not a part of.” Indeed, it was frustrating. I’m often surprised how unaware people are that they are leaving their audience out of the loop with their underlying assumptions and insider language.

It can happen in any context – this experience of “the haves and the have-nots.” As it relates to technology, the division is not purely generational, as my above examples indicate. Of course it is largely about life experience, but it is also about personality. Some people are just settlers while others are pioneers. We need both to form an ideal society. So I’ll continue to work toward a more perfect union between the technophobe and the technophile that dwell in me. It’ll take compromise, and mutual respect and understanding. And I’ll continue to try to facilitate a conversation between those who are eager to forge ahead and those who are digging in their heels. They need each other. If we intend to follow Neil Postman’s advice and use our technology without allowing it to use us, then we need to embrace the contrary values held by the technophiles and the technophobes, allowing each to inform the other as we make our way into the unknown.

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