Having spent the last three days in a state of mind akin to an excited teenage trance over the purchase of my new toy, I have to finally sit down and reflect on how it is going to change (and not change) my life at this point. Many technology-minded teachers are now going down the path of the smart phone and I think the implications of this for students in the classroom are significant. At the same time, it’s important to have a healthy scepticism about where we’re going as a technology-driven society and recognise the limitations of these devices.
For me, the impact of the iPhone on my life is astounding. Having clung to my Nokia E61 ‘nerd’ phone (great for easy SMS texting with the QWERTY keyboard but bad for just about anything else) for the last two years and missing out on both the first and second generation iPhones, I was keen to jump on the third generation bandwagon with my Nokia phone contract nearly up. Like an excited teenager, I raced to the shops last Friday to speedily purchase the 32GB 3GS model. Within an hour, I had synced my contacts, set up four email accounts, had live feeds for Twitter, Facebook and Myspace and was just about as connected as I’ve ever been while sitting on a park bench shooting the breeze (or twiddling my thumbs… literally).
While waiting well over an hour at a medical centre yesterday morning, and after leafing through a few uninteresting magazines, I decided to catch up on some social-networking. Now, despite the fact that I consider myself highly tech-savvy and a frequent user of the internet, social-networking has to rank very low on my list of priorities. Teachers these days are among the world’s most time poor, and navigating the highly complex and often problematic relationships in the classroom (I work in a girls’ school – so believe me, this is no mean feat) is hard work enough. I come home exhausted and the last thing I care to do is jump on Facebook!
Ah, but there’s the rub. Often when waiting for things to happen – such as for a doctor to see you – we end up with highly unproductive time on our hands that might well be better used doing things like the pocket-sized social-networking that iPhones enable. How much better to say to ourselves, “Well… I had to wait ages, but at least I managed to tell my 193 friends all about it and post a really cool picture of the waiting room too!” But I digress.
Being so heavily connected in such a new way, I find myself starting to see the worth of the ‘technology-free day‘ that many psychologists and technologists alike are advocating. Trouble is – once I get started with this toy, will I be able to stop? Several million teenagers would cry a unanimous ‘no way!’
Meanwhile, back in the classroom, some schools are issuing new iPod Touch devices as part of our government roll-out of computer funding to all Australian schools. Apart from an exercise in Apple branding (which Apple have done so well in schools over the past thirty years) I have to wonder whether the money wouldn’t be better spent on netbooks or low-cost laptops. After all, even though the iPhone/iTouch devices are sophisticate pocket-sized computers, they’re still pocket-sized – and writing a 500-word blog post, while slightly fiddly on the reduced-size keyboard of my ASUS eeePC would be painfully annoying on the iPhone or iPod Touch.
In a web-driven world of instant messaging and flashy videos of dancing pandas – where the iPhone is king – we need to remember that it is part of a complete technology breakfast. We also need to be emphasising the value of taking time to write, create and reflect properly. Sure, micro-blogging has its place, but if that were all I ever did, I think I’d start to see my life as disparate tiny fragments. Which reminds me – I better go and check whether Dave is still mowing the lawn or Jane is still drinking a cup of coffee. Which button do I press for that again?