Digital Natives

Lately I’m starting to feel that I’m languishing on the wrong side of the digital divide. I’m starting to wonder if I’m really cut out for technology. I realise that this is a rather strange reflection for a teacher of Information Technology with a PhD in Computer Science. Perhaps it’s time to start calling me Dr Strange. It wouldn’t be the first time.

A few weeks ago I tried very hard to leave facebook. I was increasingly unhappy with the way facebook kept arbitrarily changing its sharing protocols so that information I had locked down under tight privacy settings kept getting made public in various surreptitious ways, which I only found out about when friends started posting warnings. (Fortunately these types of warnings tend to go viral fairly fast.)

I was also getting frustrated that facebook kept dictating what information I wanted to see, and who I wanted to interact with. Despite me repeatedly changing my settings to say “I want to see everything from everyone with equal priority”, it kept resetting the interface so that it could choose what I saw, the order in which I saw it, and who I was really friends with.

The internet is increasingly filtered, shaped and redirected by companies like facebook and google. They show you what they think you want to see, but also what they think they can make money out of you seeing. Google search results, on which we rely so heavily these days, are heavily biased in favour of paying customers and strange ranking rules. We see what Google wants us to see – after all, how often do you page through to the 3rd page of results, let alone the 10th? The information on the first page is likely to be all that ever makes it into your brain.

Sadly my attempt to ditch facebook hasn’t worked. I have too many friends on facebook who I am, I have to confess, better connected with because of facebook. I love the interaction, and seeing who responds when I share something I found particularly funny, poignant, or outrageous. I love the political conversations and the funny ones. I love that I can poke fun at English or Maths teachers and start small riots among my friends.

It’s a vital, interactive community. I am more connected with friends who live overseas. I have reconnected with old friends, and I find commonalities with them via facebook that I never would have guessed. It’s also a way to share news – although it’s highly suspect for that, because of its aforesaid tendency to hide or reveal posts according to its own bizarre agenda.

When the outside temperature rises
And the meaning is oh so clear
One thousand and one yellow daffodils
Begin to dance in front of you – oh dear
Are they trying to tell you something
You’re missing that one final screw
You’re simply not in the pink my dear
To be honest you haven’t got a clue

I never closed my account, and I will probably start posting there again soon, because I miss it. I hoped that friends would travel over to google+, but it hasn’t taken off among my circles yet. Posting on google+ at the moment feels a little like flinging bread pellets into an echoing abyss.

Most of my students are active on social media all day every day. I have to work hard to keep them engaged and off chat during class. They carry phones everywhere they go, and are highly responsive to them. And I admit that, under stress, I love to be able to text or chat with close friends and get sympathetic or encouraging responses. It helps me feel connected and supported.

At the same time, though, all this connectivity seems to take a toll. I wind up feeling frayed around the edges. It’s only when I step away from it, and stand outside sniffing the breeze and listening to the birds, that the frayed edges of my soul start to knit together. It’s stillness, meditation and peace that allow me to calm down. All my electronic gadgets conspire to deny me these things. They wind me up. It’s too tempting to sit hunched over my laptop browsing facebook, rather than going outside to breathe and reravel myself. The internet seems determined to keep me unravelled and buzzing.

I’m knitting with only one needle
Unravelling fast it’s true
I’m driving only three wheels these days
But my dear how about you

I’m going slightly mad
I’m going slightly mad
It finally happened

I am sure that my year 11s, reading this, would label me old fashioned, perhaps even curmudgeonly. I know that my kids rail against our restrictions on “screen time”, and are constantly seeking ways around those limits. They want nothing more than to be permanently logged in. Yet rather than relaxing their limits, I think I need to beef up my own. I need to prioritise the ravelling of my soul over the answering of my email. Just let me check who’s on facebook…

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