I have encountered a challenge. For many, it is a minor challenge, easily met. For me, it is somewhat more imposing. I am being asked to do part of my teaching on Google docs. As I am not very computer savvy, I do not know Google docs. I have watched it being operated, and it is quite sophisticated. Apparently, both kids and their parents can understand something written on a screen better than the same information written on a paper; the format of the screen is familiar to them. Apparently, kids will read something that is on a screen, but not as often something that is written on a paper. Schools are teaching almost exclusively via computer, on blackboards and other applications. Never mind that digital teaching is minus the personal touch of direct interaction. The screen is preferred. I am informed that we must keep with the times and do things the modern way because that is the way the world is going. The explanation is considerate and tactful. I will probably learn Google docs.
I have heard similar viewpoints elsewhere, but less kindly. I have heard
that what one knows or thinks is no longer relevant, or even valid, unless it can be done in Cyberspace. (And yes, perhaps it is ironic that I am communicating here digitally, in Cyberspace.) Whatever is not facilitated by technology is outmoded, old-fashioned, practically useless. Whoever is not on the bandwagon, using the latest mode of communication, will be left behind, perhaps alone, unheard. The implication is “Keep up or bow out”; it doesn’t seem to matter where the “keep up” is going. I can learn a new computer program. What bothers me is the assumption that what I have learned, what I have done, and what I can currently do and contribute is of less value, if not valueless, if not presented digitally. It does not fit the issues of the present. That is simply not true. That is not true of me, and it is not true of others who use digital technology minimally or under protest. In fact, those of us who have mastered what came before are one step ahead of those whose mastery is only of what is now.
Why do we need all those skills of the past? We have computers, devices, programs, applications and machines to do all these things. Why shouldn’t we simply go for that? Technologies are the way of the future; they are to be valued and skill at them extolled.
Those who have not lived without computers, devices, applications, and mechanical conveniences, either in time or in environments in which those things are not included, are dependent on what they have experienced in the present. This causes panic when there is not a phone, tablet, computer, or device instantaneously available. One becomes accustomed to learning from video, rather than from reading, conversation or personal interaction. It is easy to be lost when asked to do something without those technological conveniences. An electric grid failure could be disastrous. For those who are familiar with skills that came before Cyberspace, it would be easier to navigate without electricity, albeit more inconvenient.
Global warming, a.k.a. climate change, is a modern issue. It is addressed not by conquering nature via technology or brute strength. It is dealt with by skills of observing, understanding and cooperating with nature. Nonprofit organizations routinely promote, especially for kids, time spent in nature, away from devices. One cannot relate to or care much about nature if one has not known it.
In addition, if most of one’s communication is Internet-facilitated, the art of personal conversation, with no device available, can be lost. How often do we slow down long enough to communicate with each other without technology; for example, to sit down to a dinner and converse while enjoying a home-cooked meal? How often do we even slow down to a more human pace, inconsistent with the ever-more-rapidly moving technology?
There is a wealth of skills, much of which has been lost, from indigenous cultures and from our agricultural forbears. A few of them I know, and I wish to learn the others which have not disappeared – how to grow healthy, organic food, how to use herbs and foods for medicine, how to navigate naturally, and the like. When we lose a skill forever, we are the poorer for it. It is another kind of extinction.
We need these skills-from-before-technology because without them we are poorer, not richer. We richly use technology when we can do without it, to live, work, create, and enjoy without dependency on nonhuman help to do that. When we value that which is new, modern, and which provides less effort on our part, and at the same time discount the heritage which came before and is less convenient, we impoverish ourselves. We become, in fact, less resilient and competent than we were before the new inventions. We need in our present to carry the past into the future, to honor the continuity.
Let us then, take the time to learn and incorporate skills familiar to our parents, grandparents and ancestors. Let us honor them while simultaneously exploring new ways. Let us advance our knowledge consciously, recognizing the value in the beaten paths, noting where new paths might lead, and assessing the directions in which we choose to go. The latest shining development might light our way into further completing our potential, or it might be a distraction that lures us into regressing, becoming less. We will not know unless we keep the root of the knowledge that came before.