Recently I was invited to speak at our local high school as part of their “Great American Teach-in,” a program held here in Florida whereby guests are asked to speak to the students on a variety of subjects. One of my business related articles caught the attention of a local teacher and I was subsequently asked by the Business/IT Department to come in to make some remarks regarding business and technology. My talk was entitled “Our Changing Times” which discussed how technology affects us as human-beings. It was my argument that technology has an adverse effect on our mental acuity and productivity in this country. I conducted two consecutive classes of approximately 50 high school juniors each. Both sessions were interesting.
I began with a very brief description of my company and our methodologies for system design, data base design, enterprise engineering, and project management. Basically, I wanted to establish myself as a credible businessman who had extensive experience in the business and IT world. I then reviewed the cultural and technical changes I witnessed over the last 40 years. I even brought in some old mainframe magnetic tapes, printer wheels, and plastic templates used for flowcharting.
I then discussed how technology affects us as human beings. It is my contention that technology has conditioned us to be intolerant of inefficiencies and limitations thereby causing us to think faster, virtually, and to multitask. Think about it; we don’t like to wait in traffic, we want information at our fingertips, we expect to be able to listen to any song or watch any movie whenever we’re in the mood, we want to get in and out of hospitals, we want instant food, instant pictures, instant credit, instant money, instant everything. We drive faster and talk faster because we have been conditioned to do so.
To illustrate the point, I quoted some references; first, Dr. Mack R. Hicks, author of “The Digital Pandemic,” who demonstrated how technology alters the minds of impressionable youth. So much so, they begin to exhibit the same robotic mannerisms of the technology they use which is not conducive for grooming socialization skills. Hicks basically argued that technology is a genuine threat to the human spirit.
I next referenced the work of Dr. Glenn Wilson, a psychiatrist at King’s College London University, who in 2005 was hired by Hewlett Packard to research the effect of technology in the workplace. During his study he found that workers distracted by phone calls, e-mails and text messages suffer a greater loss of IQ than if they’d smoked marijuana. The IQ of those juggling messages and work fell by an average of 10 points – equivalent to missing a whole night’s sleep and more than double the four-point fall seen after smoking pot. The drop in IQ was even more significant in men.
These studies surprised the students. To stress the point further, I asked the students how they received their news. Out of 100 students, only 4 read a newspaper, a couple got it from an app on their iPhone and virtually none watched the evening news. Interestingly, a handful said they got their news from Jon Stewart on “Comedy Central.” Needless to say, I found it rather disturbing that students were out of touch with the world’s ever-changing events and considered Jon Stewart a credible source for unbiased journalism. Whereas adults are generally upset with politicians, the economy, jobs, military conflicts, etc., our young people are rather apathetic. I don’t believe parents even talk to them around the dinner table, which I found rather disturbing. Fortunately, this particular group of students will not be old enough to vote in the 2012 election; but if they did, I’m confident they could be easily swayed.
As students in the late 1960’s we obviously didn’t have all of the elegant technology as is available today, but we all knew what was going on in the world. Everyone read the daily newspaper and weekly news magazines, watched nightly news, listened to radio, and discussed it over lunch or with their parents. We all knew about the War (Viet Nam), the protests, major accidents and catastrophes, elections, the various assassinations, etc. If you didn’t stay on top of recent events, you were considered a dullard. Not so today. In fact, I got the uneasy feeling that you are an oddity if you follow the news today.
Wanting to understand their dependence on technology, I asked the High Schoolers if they could live without their smart phones. All except one said they believed they could manage. The one exception wouldn’t budge, even when I pushed her to defend her position. In her mind, the phone was her lifeline to her friends and social life. Without it, she was lost.
In the summary section of my presentation I admonished the students to develop a sense of history, not just American history, but history pertaining to their chosen career path. I told them this was needed so they wouldn’t commit the same mistakes we made and understand why we made certain decisions over the years. I challenged them to resist the temptation to go on “automatic,” to avoid repetition; avoid stagnation; to question the status quo, and simply THINK (an old IBM expression).
I don’t know how successful I was at getting my points across. Some students looked as apathetic as a lot of adult programmers I have taught over the years. The teachers seemed to appreciate my presentation and told me so. I also had a few students thank me for the presentation afterward, shook my hand, and asked a few questions. I don’t think I batted 1.000 with the kids that day, but if I got them to at least start thinking about things, then I believe I made a hit.
Keep the Faith!