So I'm reading my morning newspaper (yes, I'm one of those whose idea of luxury is an unhurried cup of coffee with a real, tree-killing newspaper) and the lead item is a story about how the city of Los Angeles is having all kinds of problems with its distribution of iPads to its school students. Not only are iPads disappearing from the schools, but it seems that a fair number are being reprogrammed by students in a way that allows them to elude security monitoring while gaining access to "forbidden content" such as porn and Facebook -- which one could argue are one and the same.
When this program was first launched, it was heralded with all kinds of fanfare. "An iPad for every student" had the same euphemistic ring as "No Child Left Behind," which to me, clearly signalled its potential for massive failure from the start. For some reason, school systems -- not unlike the lemmings who line up at the Apple Store to enslave themselves to the latest version of its useless technology -- seem to think that equipment and technology provide the "education of the future." They kid themselves into wrongly correlating other nations' high academic achievements with faster WiFi connections and widespread technology.
Well, you heard it here first: All of that is complete crap. It's actually doing far more long term damage than you might think. And here's why:
The biggest mistake Americans make in their everyday lives is thinking they can buy their way out of their problems. It doesn't matter if you want to lose weight, remodel your home or find a job. Simply call the toll-free 800 number or click the link and someone, somewhere will charge you a tidy sum to make your problem go away. And if you call now, the shipping is free.
The same syndrome applies to our education system, where your tax dollars support programs that ship mountains of computers, smart boards and useless technology that someone, somewhere has sold as an educational panacea, based on two fallacious arguments:
1. You can't win a war without the right weapons, which translates to, "give teachers the tools they need to teach."
2. Anything with a price tag represents a tangible, accountable solution allowing administrators to concoct convoluted formulas that speciously demonstrate some kind of "return on investment." Bureaucrats love numbers.
In effect, what your educators are telling you is the same thing as those late night infomercials: "We can fix it for you in three easy payments." Unfortunately, it's having the exact opposite effect.
If anyone were really interested in educating kids, the first thing they'd do is confiscate every single piece of technology from every kid until high school. That's right, no phones, no pads, no laptops. Nothing. In fact, the less you give kids, the more they'd develop the real skills they need for the rest of their lives:
Critical thinking and personal interaction skills -- both of which are hugely lacking and contributing to an unprecedented atomization of our society.
See, if you teach kids critical thinking, they actually use their brains to solve problems instead of looking everything up on Google. If they can't solve their own problems, they learn how to approach others who can help them. And if they can solve them, they learn how to help those who can't. Pretty slick, eh? Well, none of that happens when you load their pockets with iPhones and iPads, expecting them to "work at their own individual pace" -- another huge, counter-productive myth. What the geniuses who run your school system don't understand is that "working at your own individual pace" not only undermines a kid's tolerance for others' differences, it also hampers his ability to spot opportunity: after all, the first rule of business is to find a need and fill it. If your ears are plugged with ear buds and your eyes are locked on a screen, you never develop observational skills that clue you into the world surrounding you.
It gets worse.
Believe me, I'm a realist who knows all too well that those who pine for the good old days usually choose to forget about how bad they were. But another disturbing aspect of Digital Retardation gets even more personal. Up until this generation, the dance of courtship followed a fairly predictable path, where two people met, got acquainted, enjoyed each other's company and -- if they struck a major chord -- ended up in an orgasmic explosion of shared intimacy, passion and fun. The anticipation and romance helped define the relationship to the point where one could feel the tension that led into the joy of mutual discovery.
Digital Retardation has pretty much destroyed all that. Because kids aren't trained to think and are steered into isolation, most of them under 30 (yes, they're still kids) have reversed the course of events, mindlessly hooking up first and then, if the sex was good, considering finding out more about the person with whom they slept. It's easy. You just text them. Order a drink. Have sex. Then text your pals where you'll meet them for dinner. Not that I meet armies of kids, but the ones I do meet all register their confusion about why their "relationships" (and I use that term incredibly loosely) just don't seem to work out.
I simply tell them: It's because you can't Google "How to have a meaningful conversation."
Still think you can pay your way out of your problems? That technology is the wonderful panacea Apple and Google and Microsoft keep telling you it is? Really?
Maybe it's time you did some critical thinking of your own.