Today I was reading an article in an education trade magazine about the role of technology in teaching. In fact, the headline was “Is technology taking over teaching?” It was a pretty neutral in tone, relating the pros and cons. But they asked the inevitable question of every technology-driven think piece: “Are students and teachers becoming too reliant on technology?”
Ah, yes, the quintessential fear-mongering question of reliance, conjuring images of an Asimov-esque world where we rely so heavily on our computer overlords that the robots decide to take matters into their own hands.
But when you stop to think about it, what the hell does that question even mean? What does it mean to be too reliant? Does it stand in opposition to being just reliant enough? When exactly does one become too reliant? Where does the perfect balance stand? Because if all you read about technology is think pieces from middle-aged writers, you would probably never know.
It’s like teachers in the late 1400s asking, “Are we becoming too reliant on printed books?” After all, printing presses can malfunction, just like computers do. And people had tried-and-true methods of copying books by hand before the printing press came along, so was it really necessary? Don’t you think materials made on a printing press are just distracting kids today? How can hand-written manuscripts and folios keep their attention with all these pamphlets that are shorter and more interesting!
I have no idea if this was the actual reaction to the invention of the printing press, but if studying history has taught me anything, it’s that more things change, the more they stay the same. The middle-aged technophobes who get confused by their new iPhone operating system love to complain how kids these days are ruining everything by not doing things the way they used to do them. The printing press revolutionized how people get information, and now computers have done the same. Life goes on, but someone will always be around to moralize about it.
Things change, and they are not always good or bad. Sometimes they just are. Stop worrying if technology is taking over, because it is, obviously. That’s what new technologies do: they replace slower, less efficient ways of doing things with a more productive method. Just as the printing press took out the hand-written book market, computers will eventually completely replace pens and papers and books.
But you know what? That’s ok! People mistake evolution has having a great goal as the end point, an objective that will someday be reached. It’s ok if that’s what you thought Charles Darwin’s theory was about. (Hitler also made the same mistake.) But evolution is actually arbitrary. It’s about survival. And now we use computers to survive. So get used to it, and chill your quills with all the supercilious think pieces.