The “I” Formation

Happy Thanksgiving! It’s a day for being grateful, for family, friends, food… And of course, football! Luke O’Neil from Slate reflects on why sports are no longer the communal events they used to be:

Why none of my friends wants to watch football with me.

Technology has changed that calculus. I no longer need to be in the same room with my friends to share a collective moment of euphoria. Now I can simply share my delight on Twitter or Facebook and collect dozens of electronic high-fives instantaneously. I spend more time now interacting with my friends digitally than in the flesh; it’s only logical that we’d take that approach to sports as well. Right now, for example, my friend is G-chatting me about how much he hates Tim Tebow, while another handful are complaining about their teams on our fantasy league board and a third group is texting me about the Patriots game. In a living room, you’d call that noise. Here at home, it’s a lot easier to manage. We’re essentially watching TV together—why do we need to be in the same room? […]

On the few recent occasions that I have dragged myself to a friend’s house, or vice versa, we spend most of the time staring at our smart phones and tablets. What exactly is the benefit of physical proximity in that scenario? “Check out this funny tweet I just sent” doesn’t really count as conversation, does it? And there’s always the one poor guy who didn’t bring his laptop and has to continually ask one of us to check his scores for him. He might as well be watching the game through a hole in a wooden fence like a cartoon character from the 1930s.

This together/alone approach isn’t unique to sports viewership. Consider how video-game producers have moved away from split-screen games and multicontroller hubs and toward online multiplayers where everyone logs in from their couch. A generation of children is being raised with the idea that “hanging out” means logging on and “playing” with your friends online… Is technology like this isolating, or does it allow us to connect with more people more often?

There are definite echoes of Bowling Alone (Robert D. Putnam, 2001) present in O’Neil’s musings. And while the fragmentation of American culture is certainly nothing new, the rise of new technologies has accelerated the process in ways we never could have predicted. Activities that used to be communal are now individual and the web is used to loosely connect us only to the degree we choose. Asking if this digital revolution has united us more or made it more convenient to isolate ourselves is a very important question for everyone.

Educators in particular need to be aware of this shift, because the behavioral patterns are changing the way that humans think. Mental skills and synapses that go unused can atrophy and devolve if they repeat in enough generations. Now while some would see this as reason to sound the alarm about the dangers of the Internet and why it has an adverse effect on our society, I take the opposite tack. I would argue that it is critical for educators to grab this moment and use it to our advantage. Let’s build a culture of learning that empowers our students to collaborate across all literacies – digital and interpersonal. A balanced offense is a winning strategy that would truly be something for which we could all be thankful!



Filed under Educational Technology

4 responses to “The “I” Formation

  1. John: You’ve done a wonderful job on your blog! I love the creativity. Thx!

  2. nickmcdaniels

    I hear someone say recently that the affluent in America will eventually cocoon themselves away in their technology and gated communities and the nuts and bolts of running this country will finally be left to the rest of us, “the swinish multitudes.” I haven’t read Bowling Alone, but I might have to now.

    • I use to think that we had to fear Orwell’s 1984, but the older I get the more I think that Huxley was closer to the mark. Saturate the attention of the market with distractions and you lull the public into a stupor. Putnam’s book does a great job outlining the rise of this phenomenon… a must read for the era where we play fantasy football instead of going outside and throwing around the genuine article!

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