The fears of citizens in a digital culture

The more technological we become, the more important teachers become

The most interesting chronicler of citizenship in today’s digital culture is Jason B. Ohler. He dedicates a chapter in his recent book Digital Community, Digital Citizen to the fears that technology inspires in us on a daily basis.

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We are all a bit afraid of technology but we have no choice but to live with it and bear up under conflicting feelings.

According to Ohler, our technology inspires fear because of its “ubiquity, invasiveness, vulnerability, amplification, reduction, misreality, ephemeralness, permanence, indisconnectability, overwhelment, vulnerability, sovereignty, dehumanization, and obsolescence — complex-sounding words that represent some fairly rudimentary feelings.”

We can’t disconnect from our technological ecosystem, and we are vulnerable because our information is collected and added to databases we don’t control in the service of who-knows-what purposes.

Once out there in cyberspace, it won’t disappear, nor can we get it back, “Like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube.” We have no choice but trust the companies in custody of our data. However, we really don’t know how trustworthy they are, or even if they have an ethos, like Google, of “do no evil.”

Technology at once amplifies and reduces our actions. With a click or push of a button, catastrophic consequences are unleashed. At the same time, our importance is diminished in a highly complex system we don’t control.

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We suspect that we have turned over our sovereignty to technology and that soon the day will come when machines take over completely.

Every day on social networks we see overwhelming amounts of information of doubtful veracity, which often we simply don’t have time to check. And if we want to become informed about current issues there is too much information to sort through.

Google “global warming” to see how many millions of hits come up. We can find information to support every viewpoint and to contradict everything our parents taught us. We live in a constant state of apprehension, wanting to trust our surroundings but constantly wondering if we should.

Information and digital technologies that we see one day are gone the next, giving way to a new generation of apparata and data for sale.

For teachers, the greatest fear technology inspires is obsolescence. With the advance of technology they can foresee the day when their students and younger colleagues will leave them behind. Ohler counsels three deep breaths.

“The reality is that the more technological we become, the more important teachers become. Machines don’t teach citizenship — humans do. Teachers mistakenly think they need to be advanced technicians to be effective in today’s classrooms. They don’t.

What is important is that teachers become advanced managers of their students’ talents, time, inquiry and productivity. Teachers need to be able to articulate standards of quality and provide feedback that students can use to meet those standards. They need to be the guide on the side rather than the technician magician.

“Now more than ever, students living in the overwhelming and often distracting world of technical possibility need the clear voice of a teacher who can help them develop the perspectives that will be important to them for a lifetime of citizenship — locally, globally and digitally.

“Now more than ever, students need teachers who can help them sort through choices, apply technology wisely, and tell their stories clearly and with humanity. My advice to teachers concerned with the possibility of obsolescence? Focus on citizenship first and technology second — and everything will fall into place.”

How can we teach local, global and digital citizenship? Ohler thinks we swim in our technology like fish in water. “The fish don’t see the water.”

We have to learn to see our technological ecosystem clearly and know how to use it consciously and appropriately for our purposes and for the common good.

Excerpts From: Jason B. Ohler. “Digital Community, Digital Citizen.” Corwin, 2010-8-31. iBooks.

The writer is an educator with many years of experience in the administration of schools in North and South America. He lives in Pachuca, Hidalgo.

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