These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PEP Student] The Narcissistic Use of Technology In Life, and In the Classroom

Posted on March 19, 2012 by Daniel Weinreb

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Cell phones seem narcissistic to me. When I’m on public transportation and another traveler subjects me to the inanities of cell-phone conversation, my blood pressure raises a few millimeters in a Sphygmomanometer. I think I’m more sensitive than most people but I don’t think I’m off the charts. The larger issue is that technologies seem to isolate people: each person on his own digital island, with his own iPod tracks, at his own laptop with his gChats, receiving customized information from her favorite blogs. This is not just annoying; it cuts at the core of Jewish learning in my opinion. Jewish learning is inherently a social exercise. I almost feel (but not quite) that as long as I am learning in chavrutah, my learning is Jewish learning. (Even People magazine in chavrutah? Well sure – but who likes to read People with someone else?) What should we do to connect people back together?

Why, use technology of course. The impression of the death of community from technological poison is greatly exaggerated. Or at least exaggerated. The impression may come from an earlier use of computers for computation. Back then (the 1970s?) technology was a tool for data storage, organization and analysis. Today, it is a tool for communication. The rise of Silicon Valley celebrities a la Steve Jobs z’l is evidence of this as much as anything else. (Although he was a narcissist.) Or, as a seminal book Growing up Digital – Today the computer is a communication tool, not something that automates processess. (I wish there was a way to automatically turn off cell phones.)

The benefits on the classroom can be revolutionary. If my students are working on a blog, or a wiki, or a gDoc, the classroom becomes a collaboration. Because of the medium, the message to the students is that they are learning with the teacher. In a wiki, they have the opportunity to edit information. In a blog in which all can post, the teacher becomes one among many voices, no longer standing at the front of the room. The physical situation has changed dramatically – which may explain why many teachers abstain from using it. (Abstinence has a nice ring of prudishness to it.) It also challenges their authority. It’s the end of professors who manage their classrooms like petty tyrants. Hopefully their decline is not exaggerated.

So, as a 21st century educator, I’m inclined to direct my students to a blog or a wiki. I’ll have to work harder, but they will learn more and develop a stronger sense of themselves as contributors to the classroom. And I’m still going to take the quiet car on the train.