As I was going through old email files the other day, I uncovered this bit (immediately below) that I had written as part of a conversation about computers, children and education. Interestingly, the first sentence resembles an idea currently expressed by some, that in about a hundred years, give or take a few, people will be abandoning bodies to upload their consciousness directly into Cyberspace. I do believe, although I have watched only part of it, that the movie The Matrix also incorporates this idea.
Here is the excerpt:
It is rather scary to think that one day everyone will exist in virtual reality, divorced from the Earth itself, from knowledge of how to relate to people, and without any need to calculate, write, spell or speak – because the computer can take care of everything. Yes, a computer is a powerful tool. However, even if you are a rich girl with a mansion and servants, it is wise to be able to do the things the servants are doing for you. Then, at least, your existence is not dependent on the continued willingness of the servants to take care of you. I think we do our children a distinct disservice by allowing their lives to be swallowed by machines. Yes, they need to know how to use the machines; they also need to know the things people knew before machines disempowered them under the aegis of making them more powerful (another illusion). If we really want to serve our kids, we will see to it that they can actually do the math, not just tell a computer to do it, that they can speak and write well – vocabulary and grammar – and that they have been fully exposed to the classics of the philosophers, scientists and humanists of several cultures. We will do that even if it means Saturday school. We will also see that they have at least two weeks during the summer away from devices and connected to the earth – summer camps, gardening, survival courses or orienteering, or the like. This in connection with other people, who will also not have devices. At least twice a month we will make sure to do an outing on a smaller scale, with the same purpose. This should be a minimum for our kids, if we do not want to lose them to machines. They, too need to have a foot in each world. The Native Americans, most of them, are aware of what I am talking about. Some of them have managed to keep a foot in each world, and they are richer for it.
There is an old story about a village that hired a flute player (piper) to drive away rats from their village with his magic flute. When he had finished luring the rats out of the village into the sea, the villagers decided that they were not willing after all to pay his fee. The piper then played another tune, luring the village’s enraptured children into a mountain, from which they did not return. The analogy here is the enchanted flute and the addictive road into Cyberspace.
Of concern is not simply that we use computers, but that we are drifting farther and farther away from the Earth and physical reality. Cyberspace is convenient, intriguing – and addictive. It is at first useful to have at our fingertips all the connections that Cyberspace allows us; it is increasingly pleasurable, and socially sanctioned. Gradually, our various pathways into Cyberspace become extensions of ourselves to the extent that we cannot comfortably be apart from them. We check them first thing in the morning, before bed, and many times in between. We use them both to conduct business and for personal activity, such as shopping – even grocery shopping. We socialize via the Internet. We panic if we feel we have forgotten our devices, or if they are not working for one reason or another. Our communications with others are increasingly through our devices, less frequently face to face with each other. Less and less awareness is given to our physical surroundings, especially those of Nature, in favor of attention being focused on the Internet. We have, in essence, moved from Earth to Cyberspace. The addictive factor has ensnared us. Perhaps those who think the next step is abandoning our bodies for Cyberspace are not so far off base as it would seem.
The process of growing from pre-screen technology to where we are at the moment has been a gradual one, slow enough so that it has been easy to remain unaware of what has been happening. The use of technology as a babysitter is not new. The TV screen has long been the resource of choice for giving parents a break, as have video games, and much has been written on that subject. From land line phone to cordless phone to cell phone to smart phone has seemed a reasonable progression. From the first IBM computers that would fill entire rooms, to personal computers and laptops, calculators rendering memorization of number facts unnecessary, I-pads capable of giving instant answers to classroom questions, and computers and data bases becoming prevalent means of teaching in our schools, expanded technology has been joyfully touted as money-saving and more effective (?) learning experiences. It has been welcomed by most as the wave of the future. We can no longer read maps and find our way by ourselves. Instead, we have a digitized voice telling us when to turn right or left. Somewhere in all this progress, have we stopped to anticipate where we are headed, to think about it? Or, has the process been so gradual that we have happily jumped on the bandwagon, without questioning where the wagon was headed, as the frog who is being slowly heated in the water fails to jump out before it is cooked?
The Earth is becoming feverish and ill. Global warming has begun to show results in sea level rise, glacial melting, droughts in some areas and floods in others, and changing weather patterns. Again, the progress is gradual, making it difficult for some to perceive the changes or to acknowledge the changes we need to make to ameliorate the effects of warming and adapt. Those who are least involved in Cyberspace are the first to perceive and acknowledge the Earth’s distress. Perhaps, if we still can, coming back at least half of the time to the Earth on which we were born would create the extent of awareness among the people needed to do what is necessary to heal the Earth.
Let us do ourselves and our children the favor of frequently unplugging from our technologies to discover again the joys of touching the Earth that has nurtured us, becoming familiar with our fellow non-human inhabitants on the planet, and reconnecting again with each other face to face. We need and deserve at least that much.