Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The great tech addiction

So, overnight, my world nearly stopped. Last night, I was chatting with a friend on my iPhone 6. We wrapped up our chat and I put the phone down. About half an hour later I picked it up again, and it was black. Black screen, completely unresponsive... Of course, I panicked. Because, apart from anything else, it's less than a year old and replaced a very long lived iPhone 4 which, when it died, did exactly the same thing. 
Cartoon by Sean D'Souza
So, it's just a phone, right? Argh... How many of us would truly admit that any more? When the iPhone 4 died, I had to face getting a new one - several models on from that, and didn't have the foggiest idea about setting it up - because although I might swank around with a smart phone, and have a recent model laptop, I under utilise their capabilities, and am pretty clueless about what to do if they have any problems crop up. When I bought this iPhone 6, my cousin set it up for me - synching the old one to my laptop (because it turned out we could still do that) and then loading all the information across to the new phone so that it was, effectively, the same phone. Which, for me, made it the easiest adjustment to a new phone - EVER.

An early trip to our local mall and phone provider shop - because it's insured and at the very worst, I knew they'd replace it - and a techie sales assistant who knew a few iPhone tricks, and it seems my phone is alive and well, and was just having a major freeze for no good reason at all. Life crisis averted. 

However, the experience DID push our dependency on technology right up my nose and it was a confronting experience. Uncomfortably so. 

Interestingly - synchronicity being what it is - Dragon Dad and I were having a conversation about another tech phenomenon late yesterday afternoon. He'd been doing taxi duty for an interstate friend who did a fly in fly out for a job interview. Said friend is an internet guru who comes from a marketing background, and is going for a job at a major uni that has campuses all over the country and has no online presence for the students. So there's a ginormous push on to assemble a team and get a functional student portal up ASAP. 

These student portals are a new thing since I was last studying - it was only ten years ago that I completed an MA... At that time, the University of Adelaide gave us a university email account, so we could communicate easily with whoever we needed to, but really, that was about all, in terms of university based technology. The library would email us about overdue books - which I discovered the hard way when it occurred to me that perhaps I should check said email and found the huge list of emails demanding the return of some books I'd forgotten, and the steadily accumulating length of time I'd not be able to borrow books as a consequence...

These days, those portals offer up student timetables, allow for electronic submissions of assignments, text lists, assignment and exam results and goodness knows what else. It occurred to me, and I said this to Dragon Dad, that when you think about time travel stories where contemporary people are dropped back into previous eras, and have to learn to manage with much more basic technologies and ways of doing things, that if you picked up a current uni student and dropped them back 10-15 years into the uni environment then, they'd not have a clue. 

We had to drop hard copies of assignments in. The results were posted on public boards in the buildings that housed particular subjects. Timetables were given out at the beginning of each semester and we were expected to copy them into our university issued diaries and manage our time ourselves. Messages, pre email, were delivered to our pigeon holes in the building where our course was based. Results came penciled on returned assignments and end of semester results were posted on notice boards in the foyer of the building where that subject was based. Basically, managing our own course and attendant tasks was firmly placed on our shoulders. 

I said all of that to Dragon Dad, feeling that the students today have an awful lot just handed to them and managed for them, and perhaps that's one of the contributing factors for the oversized sense of entitlement many of the current generation are attributed with having. He bit my head off, saying that it was awful to have to look for results on a public board, and what would it be like to see a less than wonderful result up against other people's good marks? Well, I had the answer to that - it sucks. Big time. I failed my Psych One Statistics exam absolutely spectacularly. And there was the shameful mark, up there for the world to see. But, until we had that conversation, it was something I'd long forgotten about... It certainly didn't scar me for life. It's just what happened with marks back then and we took it as it came, and dealt with it. We ran around - physically - delivering assignments with moments to spare before the cut off time. We picked up our basic reading lists at lectures, knowing we were expected to build on that by trawling the library shelves in our own time. 

Dragon Dad is very quick to declare that people are soft. He is entirely capable of delivering a huge rant about the current crop of young cyclists he sees when he's out on his bike, with their trendy coordinated gear and expensive bikes, who think they have to race everyone, but then can't pass him when there's a headwind.... They're soft, he says. They don't train properly, he says, because they're not prepared to deal with the pain. And so on. 

I have to say, throughout our whole conversation about the student portals, I was listening to his arguments thinking that if it were cyclists he was talking about, he'd be declaring them soft, the same as he does the young cyclists who are dependent on their computerised gadgets that monitor all their riding stats for them. 

I have no argument about the undoubted convenience of online student portals, and all the things they do. But it concerns me that it's another technological tool that takes a lot of the personal responsibility out of the equation for everyday nuts and bolts at university. There was another article somewhere I saw recently asking readers their opinion on whether there should be mandatory individual tablets for early primary aged children. All this technology, from the outset, bothers me. There are too many basic skills that are being lost because of an insistence that we take the techie option. It reminds me of this cartoon:
Phones conk out, systems go down, electronic files can be corrupted or lost altogether, emails disappear into cyber space - and then we, who are now SO dependent, can't function. How is that a good thing?

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