Career Opportunities

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A weekly ComputorEdge Column and Podcast by Douglas E. Welch

Back to school...for everyone

July30, 2004

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Here we are in the traditional middle of summer, but I am sure you have already started to see the “Back to School” signs in the stores. It might seem early to be thinking of school, but the coming Fall is the time for considering all the things we have learned and all the things we have yet to learn, regardless of our age. Technology has become an important part of our learning, both in facilitating learning and learning how to use the technology itself. We would all do well to take a few moments to think about the technology around us, and how it helps or hinders us in our daily lives.

Kids today

Those of us over 30 would do well to consider how our children do so well integrating new technologies into their lives. Sure, we might think cell phones and instant messaging are annoying interruptions to our lives, but kids have developed entirely new methods of communication with one another. While we might find the content of these conversations rather thin (as did our own parents) it is the ability to make technology a seamless part of their lives that sets them apart. Just as we were raised with television as a constant presence in our childhood, our kids have never known a time without home computers, the Internet and the aforementioned ubiquitous cell phones. Just as we built our days around Saturday morning episodes of Scooby Doo, their daily (and sometimes hourly) conversations are even more important to them.

How can we, as “aging” techno-geeks, maintain our excitement about technology and all that it can do for us? Watch the kids around us. They grab onto each new innovation with both hands, discover everything it can do and then find a place for it in their lives. If a technology doesn’t measure up, they forget about it and move on. You won’t find kids wasting hours trying to “fix” MS Windows when they can tweak Linux (and its cousins) to their heart’s content. They are very un-accepting of technology that limits their ability to tweak, change, hack and otherwise integrate the technology into their lives. We need to do the same. We need to curb our technological cynicism and see each new technology with fresh eyes, just like our kids. This can lead us to develop new ways of using technology instead of trying to build “yet another Yahoo” “yet another Google”, “yet another Microsoft Word.”

Aged Wisdom

While the myth of “the wisdom of the old” has been fairly well debunked over the last several decades, there are important thoughts about technology that we can offer to our children. First, we need to constantly remind them that technology is part of their life, not all of it. They can have all their fancy gadgets, but communicating – simply talking to one another – is one of the greatest problem-solving tools of all. Sure, they can use their technology to communicate with one another, but they can’t lose sight of the message by becoming too focused on the messenger service. Today’s kids have the ability to communicate with people all over the globe, in real time, all the time. They should be reminded to think about this gift that they have been given. Living in a small town in Ohio, my exposure to different races, different cultures and different thoughts was limited. Kids today have an embarrassment of cultural riches they can exploit, if they can get beyond simply sending “CUL8R” or “LOL” to their friends in the next seat.

We may not have found a balance in our own technological lives, but we can share with our kids the need to constantly strive for a high-tech/high-touch balance in their lives. They can spend hours siphoning information off the Web, but then they need to get out in the sun, visit the mountains or swim in the ocean. Technology is a wonderful tool, but virtual communication can’t possibly substitute for real experiences. Sometimes I worry about children, sitting in cars on the freeway, watching DVDs or playing video games. Sure, I understand how boring a long trip can be, but I think they can still gain something from staring out the window at the passing scenery watching the world go by.

Technology can be a wonderful thing, as long as it is balanced with everything else that makes up our lives. Our kids can keep opening our eyes to new technologies and how they can be integrated into our lives. We can help them to balance the ever increasing flow of technology with the basics of life.


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