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…’