This morning I had a fascinating conversation with a colleague who has two teenage children. We spoke about the need to show presence in different situations, and how that often means that the digital device in her children’s hands need to be put down. It seems obvious to those of us from Generation X and earlier, as, although we are at home in a digital world, our lives started before mobile technology was commonplace. Therefore, it’s fair to say that the values instilled around family time and being present within a situation or conversation are very much who we are. But … our learners and children of today may be quite different; they are not simply at home in a digital world — they are digitally native. Many 10-year-olds have never known a world without mention of Facebook (launched 4th February 2004) or Skype. Video chatting, Snapchatting, Instagramming, Tweeting and Googling are all verbs they have grown up with.
So, is it not fair to generalise that young learners of the new millennium are unlikely to remember a world without touchscreen smartphones, video chatting, and social media? This is the distinguishing feature between being at home in a digital world and being digitally native. Therefore, I wonder just how can we expect our students and children to understand the concept of ’presence’ in conversation or activity, as one where a device is not an additional focus? Of course, most of us continue to model. I know many families (including my own) who ask that cell phones and devices are not brought to the dinner table. I know several who have ‘scheduled’ family time, time spent talking, engaging and sharing without the distraction of a laptop screen or television in the background. The initial frustration of adolescent children is to be expected. “Why are you taking my connections away?” “ Why can’t I have both a conversation with you and text my friends?” An adult response of ‘Because I said so…’ just isn’t going to cut it.
The counter argument could be to change our values and beliefs and allow them to evolve in the same way technology has. However I’m sure this would be met with greater resistance than we receive from learners at present. So, perhaps there’s a need for explicit expectations to be shared. It isn’t a case of who is right and who is wrong, more a case of two differing perspectives that both have valid reasoning and argument. The digitally native adolescent has every right to question the value being put to them, they know no different. Our value comes from a time where our life wasn’t as dominated by mobile technology. Isn’t it our job to explain so our learners and children can learn?
It becomes a question of the ‘How’ we share the explicit expectation. Using search terms like ‘Mobile Device etiquette’ brings dozens of blogs and pages designed to instruct people on how to behave in a ‘socially acceptable’ way, but the vast majority begin with ‘Don’t…’
Don’t Prioritise Your Smartphone Over Your Friends
“Just because you get a notification on your device saying that you have a new message or email doesn’t mean that you immediately have to answer it. If you’re expecting something important, sure, excuse yourself while you reply to the message or email, and do it quickly. If not, just leave the messages for later and focus on the here and now. You’re with people you care for, aren’t you?” (Retrieved from: http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/mobile-device-etiquette/)
This quotation raises an interesting point through its final question “You’re with people you care for, aren’t you?” It seems a fair statement to my own generation and I found myself nodding in agreement. But, what of the next generation? Do they not care just as much about the connection on a digital platform as the one with the person in front of them? It could be argued that because they have grown up in a world of digital connections, to the younger generation, they are very much on the same plane.
A behaviour that irritates one person may not be something that irritates the next. I see our role as educators as one of teaching both etiquette AND tolerance. The mobile device ‘dependent’ (used loosely) generation of today has been surrounded by technology that focuses entirely on connecting to others and the wider world. Our technology promotes the search for knowledge and interdependent thinking. It isn’t necessarily a question of has it gone too far, more an opportunity to see an alternative perspective that has evolved from the very technology we have implemented into our lives. If we think more like them, then perhaps they will begin to think more like us.
Khaliq, A. The 10 Sins of Mobile Device Addicts That Annoy Everyone, retrieved from: http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/mobile-device-etiquette/