Flexibility in a fast changing world

The importance of the humanities, addressed by Dan Edelstein in this publication, reminded me of a couple of articles I had come across before on “Why Top Tech CEOs Want Employees with Liberal Arts Degrees” and “How Studying Philosophy Led Me to the Executive Suite“. A couple of quotes that stood out for me from the first one of these two was: “It’s a horrible irony that at the very moment the world has become more complex, we’re encouraging our young people to be highly specialized in one task. We are doing a disservice to young people by telling them that life is a straight path. The liberal arts are still relevant because they prepare students to be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances.” and “…the liberal arts train students to thrive in subjectivity and ambiguity, a necessary skill in the tech world where few things are black and white.”

It can also be expanded to the irony that the main fields that are changing at a faster pace than any other, those related to science and technology, are following the same outdated educational system where students are being forced to comply to a predetermined set of rules and provide a predetermined set of answers. This instills the notion that they should be looking for the “right” answer instead of considering a broad range of options, and their implications, which seems to be closer to what they will be faced with out in “the real world”. People with a background in humanities are considered to be better suited to adapt to fast and drastic changes without being thrown off or paralyzed by them. Proof of this should be shared with teachers at all levels of the academy, especially those in STEM fields which seem to be some of the biggest opponents to humanities as part of their curricula. In their quest for all things technical (since everything else is perceived as a waste of time), STEM educational programs can be generating less critical-thinkers/problem-solvers and more oompa loompas.

On the piece by Parker Palmer on the “New Professional“, the author refers to educators avoiding recognizing their students as human beings with their own set of emotions. I kept thinking about how this behavior would translate for underrepresented minorities in any field and their relationships with their mentors and educators. If educators don’t want to engage with their students on a deeper or even personal level, it can make them less equipped to understand and effectively communicate with students from different backgrounds to their own. When colleges and universities start pushing for an increase in admissions for underrepresented minorities without proper training to the faculty and administrators who will be key players in their education, it can be a disservice to these students where the people and resources at their disposal do not meet their particular needs. It seems that programs receive both pressure and incentives to increasing diversity without proper training on how to best manage this new landscape in higher education.

Should there be an age requirement for the use of technology? A time limit?

I think we have discussed and agreed about all the benefits technology can provide in terms of access to large amounts of information in little to no time. It can also connect us to friends and relatives who are far away. But as with everything else, it needs to be used responsibly. Going through the reading assignments I kept thinking about this issue in terms of how different generations use technology. In Carr’s piece he presents the notion of our brains being rewired by the way we use and relate to technology, mainly the internet. Even though I do see the point of habituation to receiving information as headlines and snippets of writing as a problem long-term if it translates to us not being able to focus on a particular subject long enough to truly immerse in it and create new ideas of our own, I agree with one of the comments on the piece that as adults with more knowledge on the importance of certain activities (e.g. reading literary works) and their consequences, either positive or negative, we have more control over making the right choices. We can choose a healthy balance of reading information online and immersing ourselves in books the old-fashioned way. My concern is directed at young children and how they interact with technology.

I was able to go home over spring break and spend time with my family. I was a little shocked to see how much my niece and nephew have grown but even more shocked when I saw the change in their behavior when given a cell phone or tablet. My niece is six years old and my nephew is two years old; they are both usually very active, always running around while playing, but once they were handed one of these devices the change was almost 180 degrees. It was as if they came with a dose of sedatives as well; they were glued to the screens, almost unresponsive.

I get the benefit or “break” the parents might get from having their otherwise energetic kids be slowed or calmed down by these devices. But what are the lingering consequences of too much indulgence in these types of entertainment? Especially at such a young age when the brain and motor functions are being developed constantly by every interaction with the world around them. I believe Steve Jobs was quoted saying that he would restrict the use of technology by his own children. Even someone who dedicated most of his life to the development and continuous improvement of technology, saw the importance of limiting the use of these devices, of using them responsibly. I don’t know if his concern was more targeted to a specific age range or to the total amount of time any individual is engaged with their electronic devices in a day. Maybe we should consider both. Since technology is moving at a much faster rate than we can properly process or assess its effects, we definitely have an increased responsibility on how we allow kids to interact with this digital media.