“So, in petitioning that our school library get rid of all books, you really want to get rid of schools?” Mr. Bailey grilled the student, Brian Stork, in front of his English class.
“Not at all,” Stork countered.
“What then is right with schools.”
“This kind of interaction.”
“Schools in your opinion are good for debates and other social interactions?”
“But if everyone is doing his or her own thing on a personal device during class how does that make for edifying or productive social interactions?”
Stork laughed. “Well, let’s just say most kids are pretty good at multi-tasking. We might be texting, but we’re also listening. I’ve seen teachers at faculty meetings. Most are grading papers while the principal drones on. Everyone multi-tasks. That’s why we’d be better off with mutli-dimensional computers than with one-dimensional books ”
Mr. Bailey paused, considering Stork’s criticism, before responding. “Mr. Stork has used the term multi-tasking. I hate that term. To me it cloaks the real issue with all these gadgets. Humans do NOT multi-task! We can only rapidly shift attention. You may accuse me of playing with semantics here, but think about this carefully. We can only give our full attention to one thing at a time. What does it do to our brains if we are constantly flitting between competing inputs?
“Let me give you an example. At the Senior Awards Assembly last week, I was sitting in the bleachers and about three rows down there were two sophomore girls I know sitting together. They both had their cell phones out and were texting. They were listening to something sharing a set of earbuds. Not only were they texting and listening to music, they were also talking and occasionally taking pictures of the assembly with their phones.” Mr. Bailey paused. “What were they really paying attention to? What was being remembered by their brains? How were their neurons dealing with all of that input?
“I know humans evolve and maybe this is what our brains need to prepare for: a world where we have to rapidly shift attention. Still, I’m wondering in all this so-called multi-tasking, if we’ll lose focus on what keeps us all together—our ability to look each other in the eye and say you have my undivided attention.”
Mr. Bailey picked up Stork’s phone which sat on his desk and shook it at the class as he made his final plea. “I don’t really want these gadgets butting in on the stories we have to tell each other in person. Face to face and eye to eye. We should never want to lose that touch.”
Mr. Bailey did not get applause. In his mind he got something better. Utter silence. Rapt attention from the entire class. He looked over at the clock for the first time and realized how fast the class had gone. “And here’s the scariest question. What do you want this school to look like when your children come here? Think about that before a piece of technology that I’m sure all of us could live without—the bell—rings. So, thank you for your most excellent attention today, and your only homework tonight is to ponder your entire digital existence.”
Stork stayed after class for a minute. “Just remember, Mr. Bailey, resistance isn’t futile, it’s a lifestyle.”
His teacher smiled. “Words can be such a two-edged sword.”
“So are these,” Stork admitted, pulling three school library books out of his backpack. “Would you mind returning these for me?” Stork asked. “I don’t think they trust me in there.”
Mr. Bailey nodded with laugh. “Sure. Me rescuing books? How could I possibly resist?”