What I find interesting about this longish, “the-Web-causes-all-sorts-of-problems” article in the New York TimesÂ titled “Texts Without Context” is a) that a lot of it resonates, but b) that there aren’t any solutions offered. Basically, if you pick through the many references and quotes in the article, you can make a long list of what’s wrong with the whole social media/Interent thing, bullet points like:
- Copyright and intellectual property are no longer respected
- Plagiarism is rampant
- Originality and imagination are being lost
- We are losing our ability to think deeply and creatively
- We now just want immediate gratification
- Information overload
- Further polarization of political views
- A loss of the ability to read extended texts
- An impatience with nuance
- A loss of focus in a world of distraction
- The sense of immature entitlement on the part of social media users
- Decrease in overall quality of work
- “Cyberbalkanization” or a growing comfort in the echo chamber
- Loss of serendipity
- Loss of an objective reality (i.e. the debate over climate change)
- The end of authorship
As I said, I really can get to much of this, though I’m not sure these shifts are necessarily worse as much as they represent simply a different way of doing things. But it seems that while we lament all of these “problems” we offer few if any solutions. Are we to pull the plug on the Web? Should we just treat it like some dangerous drug and “Just Say No”? What do we do?
I’m thinking none of this stuff is going away any time soon, and that if we are really concerned about these perceived negative shifts, we’d better start teaching kids to deal with them, right? All the hand-wringing in the world isn’t going to make them better or make them go away. Maybe we can use these as starting points for developing skills and literacies and habits in kids that they’ll need to maintain a healthy relationship with the Web, the same types of skills and habits we need to develop in ourselves. If we do that, we have to start early, with our youngest kids, and we have to make it a part of every curriculum, not just a unit in English class.
Wondering what on that list resonates with you, feels most challenging to you, and what you think we should do (if anything) about it.
Howie DiBlasi says
Ok Will…..Now you have my creativity juices flowing…all 17 of the items listed provide opportunities for all of us who are “Idea Peddlers” ( Will’s term) to change education. If we really want to change education and the pedagogy we need to start concentrating on the “SKILLS” You can NOT buy change..unfortunately many district think putting Smartboards in every classroom is the solution.. If we can get our hands around the concept that we just need to use the Web 2 tools as the wedge to integrate into the curriculum and concentrate on the “SKILLS” we will see reform. Many districts are cutting travel and PD funds in their districts..PD is the lifeline to reform and change… My 4 cents worth.
Many of the bullets have reflect a growing lack of attention span and a reliance on constant stimulation. Bam! Pow! What’s new? Multi-tasking! Next! I don’t think the web started this societal trend — TV and videogames supplied much of that well before the web appeared.
The only solution is education. Easy to say, harder to do.
Alan Levine says
For 20 years, a steady of stream of traffic crosses the railroad tracks- not news. One day,a tragic accident occurs when a car stalls there and is hit by a freight train. Now it’s news.
There is a heavier focus on the negative because it grabs our attention. For every bullet point listed, I bet you can re-write them as the unseen, unreported positives that happens minute by minute on the web– but because there is no sound of metal hitting metal, it is not news.
It’s not that all the bullets can be ignored, but it is not the entire picture.
Sean Nash says
Colette Cassinelli says
Similar concerns have always followed technological advances. We strive to understand how to assimilate new forms of communication into our current thinking. That is the beauty – it makes us take a step backward to evaluate and rethink our choices. Conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
You know, while the issues raised in this context are a little different, I can’t help but be reminded of all the “evils” that would come about because of television. (Think phrases like: destroying the family unit, inciting violence among children, contributing to the decline of social behavior, and the like.) Any time there is a significant cultural shift there are those who can see only the worst and complain loudly about it at the same time. You’re on the right track, Will, when you say, “if we are really concerned about these perceived negative shifts, weâ€™d better start teaching kids to deal with them . . .”
You might want to check out Jane McGonigal’s Ted Talk – “Gaming can make a better world” (http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world.html). Maybe we need the urgent optimism and epic meaning Dr. McGonigal speaks of in order to shift our focus to what is positive. Like Mr. Levine stated in his comment: the bullets can’t be ignored, but they truly aren’t the whole picture.
Alan Kwan says
But… none of these are new.
“Copyright and intellectual property are no longer respected” since the Xerox machine was invented. The music industry said the same thing since the tape recorder was invented.
“Plagiarism is rampant”. Ever look at college papers from the past? We are just more aware of them because plagiarism is easier to identify.
“Originality and imagination are being lost”. Let’s say 1 in 1,000,000 has original ideas or is imaginative. When your reach is now 1,000,000,000, shouldn’t you expect to find 1,000 people having similar ideas? This complaint is the manifestation of the “I’m first” mentality. Here, take this medal and get over it.
“We are losing our ability to think deeply and creatively” This is an unsubstantiated attack in thin air. Fact of the matter is, more people are sharing more new ideas everyday AND we all get to hear it. See TED website. This is an insult to everyone who is working hard day-to-day to solve our worldly problems.
“We now just want immediate gratification”. Is speed wrong? Why use a card catalog when a search engine will yield the same? Why should time/effort spent be equated to value?
“Information overload” has been the complaint from everyone who is too lazy to distill or too incapable of distilling information for his/her own consumption.
“Further polarization of political views” is not a bad thing. This country is build upon the co-existence of different opinions. It is just that our ability to live up to the *co-existence* part haven’t caught up yet. We are the ones that need to mature.
“A loss of the ability to read extended texts”, again, unsubstantiated.
“An impatience with nuance”. Again, laziness and incapable people complaining.
“A loss of focus in a world of distraction” Again, laziness and incapable people complaining about falling behind those who can assimulate more than one subject matter. Over specialization leads to extinction, not greatness.
“The sense of immature entitlement on the part of social media users”. This is funny commentary. The entire construct of social media is about individuals being simutaneously the provider and consumer of information. The complaint about immature entitlement completely missed the purpose of social media.
“Decrease in overall quality of work”. I would argue the opposite is true. Our current ability to solicit peer review is unmatched. It is now to a point where we can’t escape peer review even if we don’t want it. The overall quality of work has gone up, not down. It only seem that way because the so-called information authority is no longer as they were when they have no choice but to be seen with their peers.
“â€œCyberbalkanizationâ€ or a growing comfort in the echo chamber” and “Groupthink” are not new. Just look at our government. And our government is running on paper.
“The end of authorship” is merely the holier-than-thou wanting excusivity (and the associated royalty and recognition). People are still recognized but no longer for any little things that are not of value. And a lot of what was authored in the past are not of value, they just got published. Publishing is no longer the measure of value, that is all.
Basically, the entire commentary is based on a single premise: we no longer value what we once did. I think that is a good thing. We should always strive to re-evaluate why we continue to value this or that. The process of making that re-evaluating is what helps grow as a civilization.
Okay, need to calm down now….
Will Richardson says
Great deconstuction, Alan. Thanks for taking the time to crank that out. Wondering to what extent you think we need to address these ideas in schools.
Jason Stein says
we no longer value what we once did. I think that is a good thing.. A fine example of the attitude that the author of the article is complaining about. The tone of your comment only serves to further the divide on the issue. When a person expounds their opinion and your rebuttal is to call them laze constructive dialogue will not be achieved. Devaluing old ways of doing things does not make the new necessarily good. Is humanity better off not knowing how the Pyramids were created? Are we better off because Stone Henge is mysterious and impossible? Will we be better off when society forgets how to grow food (most urban students have very little idea about where food comes from)? The losses of old ways of thinking are changing the nature of how we learn, but there is much of value being lost in the change. Calling people who feel this way lazy is a position of intellectual ignorance.
Keith Nemlich says
Thank you, Alan, you nailed many of my own thoughts…..you plagerist. I just want to add that the concept of ownership and attribution are, in an historical perspective, relatively modern concepts. We need to cut ourselves some slack if we haven’t ironed it all out in these last ten years or so.
As for the impact upon education, it is a whole new ballgame and we are still dubbing around in the winter league. We must emphasize processes and skills over content at nearly every grade level. As a child, I collected information. As an adult in 2010, I must analyze information….and so must our students.
As for the larger picture, the internet gives us the potential to democratize our world. This is really the challenge that we face.
Alex Reid says
Will, I think this post answers the question you asked in your last post about the problems institutions seek to preserve. We might as well ask how social media will help us appease the gods. Concepts such as thought, creativity, ideology, labor, communication, community, etc. are obviously not natural; they are products of the cultural-technological-material assemblages in which we participate. Before the 18th century, most of the concepts that you list didn’t exist in any form close to how we commonly think of them. Most of the institutions that distribute these critical messages–public schools, newspapers, publishers–are products of that period as well.
So while, undoubtedly, people will go on complaining and/or trying to solve these problems. I would suggest that ultimately, like appeasing the gods, we won’t think of them as problems anymore. Instead we will have new problems and new institutions.
Perhaps the better strategy is to name the new problems.
Paul Monheimer says
Discussion of these issues among teachers is always good. My opinion of what to “do” about it (the last part of Will’s initial post) is that many schools used to teach “study skills.” We taught kids how to research, organize their assignments, cite resources, proper form for so many different types of writing, etc. Our discussion should focus on “Study Skills” students need in the Web world. And yes, those skills should be taught, retaught, and taught yet again as students go through school. The fact that Citation Machine and Easybib are available doesn’t mean that students know instinctively how or why they need to use them. Educators need to do what we have always done….teach explicit skills in a scope and sequence.
mike mundy says
I couldn’t agree more. Students need skills and these skills are now dealing with interacting with the web. But skills are still skills, requiring a scope and a sequence for intelligent instruction. The web becomes a tool whereby we can teach in a richer fashion, a more interactive fashion. The web enhances our instruction yet in no way replaces it.
Mike Bammer says
We could all bury our heads in the sand or say that this is a fad that fade away. Fact of the matter is that the web and its technology will be here until the something else comes along. The negative notes could be applied to almost any new thing from TV to Rock & Roll. Anyone that has ever put together a PowerPoint presentation or a webpages knows that that takes time, creativity, logical thinking, etc. Yeah a kid can get into trouble on the web, but they can just as easily get into trouble without the web. Look to the positives, this is the world those kids will be living in.
Alex Pearson says
Authorship, authenticity and authority have to be signaled in new ways. Do you trust the social studies textbooks that are now being approved by the Texas schoolboard? Not everyone does. And yet, because they are in print, and bound between two stiff pieces of cardboard, and have all the proper imprimaturs, they are seen as authoritative. Will Richardson is a known factor. I’ve met him in person, heard him speak, and read his book, which has a real live ISBN and can be found on Amazon in print or in kindle version. That’s enough evidence for me to believe in the authenticity of this blog and the authority of its author.
The current issue of Knowledge Quest (the journal of the American Association of School Librarians) is dedicated to “The Future of Authority”. My contribution to this issue is entitled “Assessing Student Evaluation of Resources:Approximation of Expertise”. I share my experiences working with 4th graders doing web research and explain how authority in their inquiry project is very contextual. Evolving resource types and formats call for flexible ways of understanding and assessing authority. Many of my students found information about their sports figure on blogs. What to do when a teacher has never read a blog? Their idea of authorship collides with students emerging ideas.
The entire issue is full of good writing on the topic. Unfortunately the journal does not have a great web presence and the digital version is embargoed. If you would like a copy of my article please let me know ernest dot cox at gmail dot com. For the entire issue see your local school librarian.
Alan summed up my argument well.
From a postmodernist perspective, it really seems like the ruling class is worried their stranglehold on our youth is slipping. Quick access to information? Polarized political views? Heaven forbid our children are resourceful and opinionated….
free online kids games says
Awesome break down. Thanks for posting this. You mind sharing some ideas on what we could work with with the current resource we have at hand?
I do believe that the web has its own drawbacks, but does this mean that turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to all its other benefits?! Of course not! I can’t but agree with the fact that we need to make the best out of the web and at the same time empower our students or kids with the necessary “skills” to make them differentiate between the two edges of the web. Sadly, many schools in the developed and the developing countries are still struggling with introducing technology into the classroom and make it an integral part of the curriculum, so how about teaching kids these skills to “maintain a healthy relationship with the Web”? It’s worth the try any way.
Ethan Fahy says
Thanks so much for posting this article. I completely agree with you when you alluded to that fact that this article must have an agenda because it is far from any means of objectivity. I do agree with some of the issues they bring up and the internet, as with most new technologies, presents many dangers and unknowns. However, I think that educators do themselves and the students a disservice if we â€œpull the plugâ€ on the internet and its infinite possibilities. It is the educatorsâ€™ job to educate and inform their students of the many different ways to learn and use the internet as a resource for all subject matters. There always needs to be a degree of caution when engaging students in a project or assignment that uses technology such as the internet because many factors such as plagiarism and credible sources can become issues. However, by discussing these concepts and informing the students about them, educators can use these moments as an opportunity to teach and educate the students rather than keeping them in the dark. As the original poster stated, I also believe that the most troubling aspect of this article is that it does not offer any solutions or opinions from those who might disagree with this. It always reminds me of politicians who stand on their soap box and bash everyone elseâ€™s opinions on how they feel it is best to solve a problem, but then the politicians themselves never offer an alternate solution.