Are We Digital Dummies?

(Image from Flickr)
(Image from Flickr)

Last night, I watch a documentary on CBC’s Doc Zone called “Are We Digital Dummies?“.  The program discusses the  dependence many people have developed on technology, especially Blackberries (but also applies to any other phone or mobile device).  Many people seem to be under the assumption that all these new technologies are increasing their productivity and ultimately improving life.  The documentary investigates this assumption through various interviews and a number of results from research studies.

If you’re interested, you can watch the documentary online for free on’s Video Player here.

As I progressed further and further into the documentary, I began to realize how most of what was being discussed applies directly to myself, and most of my peers.  Just yesterday, my phone stopped receiving text messages (for some unknown reason) one, once I realized what was happening, I almost instantly begin to panic.  What if someone needed to see me?  What if there was an emergency?  What if someone had to ask me a question?  Less than an hour later, I realized how ridiculous I was.  It was only my text messages that weren’t working.  I could still make a phone call if I needed too, which, now that I think about it, I rarely do unless I’m calling home.

How many people actually use their phones to make phone calls?  I’m lucky enough to have a smart phone capable of (too) many things.  I use mine to text, Tweet, play games, check my email and Facebook.  It has become a way to get through a boring lecture, kill time between classes and, I’ve come to realize, a distraction when I need to get something done .

Technology taking over (from Flickr)
Technology taking over (from Flickr)

There have been countless occasions where I have sat at my desk, turned my phone off in an attempt to accomplish homework that needs to be done, usually due the next day.  But if it’s not my phone, it’s Facebook.  If it’s not Facebook, it’s Twitter.  There is always something else I find that distracts me. I have realized that I have essentially lost my ability to concentrate and complete one task by itself. Heck, I’ve checked Facebook at least 4 times, sent probably a dozen text messages, and watched a YouTube video since the time I started writing this blog post only twenty minutes ago.  This non-stop connectedness is stressful and I often feel as if I cannot get away from it.  I want to get my homework done, but my attention span has become so pathetic, it’s near impossible at times, or takes ten times longer than it should.

I remember listening to CBC’s Spark podcast (Episode 120) about a month ago when they dicussed the idea of a “Digital Sabbath”.  The idea behind the digital sabbath is to have one day a week where you do not use technology at all.  When I originally listened to the podcast I thought that it was such a good idea that I was going to try out the next week.  A month has passed, and the closest to doing this was when my cellphone stopped receiving text messages.  I can find any excuse to justify my use of technology: I need it for homework, I need it to find something out from someone… the list goes on and on as I’m sure it does for many people.

I look around in my university classes and the number of students using their cellphones secretly under the desk or using their laptops to “take notes” (using Facebook) and I begin to wonder what I will do in my classroom when that day comes.  Over the past year, I have come to see the great potential of technology in education.  I’ve always been somewhat aware of the potential misuse also, but I have never really thought deeply about it until now.  I had always thought I would allow my students access to their mobile devices during classes, but now i’m not so sure.  I want to teach my students how to use these technologies responsibly and effectively, but I need to learn how to do so myself first. I have some work cut out for me.

I think Jack Grushcow sums it up our use of technology best at the end of the documentary.

It’s a tool. Is a hammer good? It’s good if you build a house with it, it’s bad if you hit somebody over the head with it. It’s a cop out to call it good or evil. It’s each individual making a decision for themselves: Our choice is to use them wisely or to use them poorly.

It’s time we all begin to think about when, where and how often we are connected and using our technology.

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