Aurora Citizen

News & Views from the Citizens of Aurora Ontario

Guest Post: Is Technology Stifling Our Children?

Posted by auroracitizen on February 28, 2011

In honour of Family Day and in recognition of our responsibility to our children, let me turn your focus 180 degrees from Aurora’s political circus to a more serious topic.

Last month we got a thank-you note from our 15 year-old granddaughter on behalf of her brother and herself, expressing appreciation for the Christmas gifts they had received. This young lady is extremely bright, gifted and a really nice kid, for a teenager.

What was particularly striking about her note, and the envelope in which it arrived, was the fact that it was printed in her hand, and not very well at that.

On the next occasion that one of us spoke to her mother, my wife asked a simple question: “Does Mary (name changed) know how to write?”

The answer curled my wife’s ear. “You don’t have to know how to write anymore! Nowadays everyone has a laptop or a Blackberry – writing is history.” This from our elder daughter who had started her university career with a journalism career in mind.

Our younger daughter, who is an elementary school teacher in a town north of here, came down on her sister’s side. “We don’t bother with mechanics any more, rather teaching children to be well-rounded, something their parents no longer do.”

Kicking into the conversation a couple of days later was our son-in-law, above daughter’s husband, a swing elementary school teacher. Everyone that he came into contact with in his school not only wrote, but did so beautifully. It seemed to be a competitive thing and reflected a certain degree of pride in the accomplishment. Possibly because of a different mind-set in some cultures.

Into the mail this past Friday were a couple of books on cursive writing and a kit on calligraphy. We might get a blast for meddling. I really hope not.

Today’s young generation is swamped with technology, a lot of it very positive. But social networking on the Internet strikes me as an extremely dangerous alternative to getting out and playing with kids in your neighbourhood, seeing and talking face to face with real people.

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22 Responses to “Guest Post: Is Technology Stifling Our Children?”

  1. Geoffrey Dawe said

    What a refreshing post!

    Let me suggest that rather than “Is Technology Stifling our Children” the question should be “Are we letting technology stifle our children – or ourselves”.

    Technology development goes back to the dawn of time. The wheel was definitely a technological advancement. I can’t think of many who would rather we didn’t have it.

    So, it’s not the technology, per se, but how we end up using it and how (if?) we let ourselves become dependent on it.

    (check out this newsletter on Technology Dependencies: http://wxpnews.com/ March 1, 2011)

    I think it’s incumbent on us to teach our children to be well-rounded, and part of that is some of those archaic skills like writing – legibly!

    I suspect that my communication life is similar to many others – too many emails and not really enough time to properly digest and thoughtfully respond.

    Yet who of us would not appreciate receiving and take the time to read a hand-written note?

    Technology has allowed the majority of us lead better (easier?) lives. It has provided stunning advances in so many areas that it’s probably impossible to list them all. It has certainly made this type of communication possible!

    Balance is the key! So, while I certainly appreciate the wheel, I also like to go for a walk.

  2. Anonymous said

    I think computers and keyboards have been a godsend for students who have certain types of learning disabilities, physical and developmental disabilities. It has opened the door to legible written expression. Accessories such as calculators have also made life easier. However I don’t think that technolical devices should be used exclusively; I still believe there is a need to learn “the old way” of physically and cognitively possible.
    A while ago, the system was down in my local grocery store. The cashier was a young lady who had great difficulty adding up the cost of my items. Giving change was beyond her. It took me about 10 minutes to explain the deduction and to convince her that what I was doing would result in an accurate transaction. Technology is wonderful and fast but what happens when the “technology” is down? We need our old back up systems. We need to know how to do things simply using our brains and/or a pen and paper.
    I have always found the educational system insteresting in that evidence shows that it is actually easier to learn cursive writing from a developmental graphomotor (motor skills required to write) perspective and yet the system insists on teaching printing and neglecting cursive.

  3. Elizabeth Bishenden said

    I would also note that my in my extended family, children have at times been frustrated by the computer skills of their elders.

    Some of the grandparents don’t have email, which means long hours on the phone, transcribing oral histories for school projects that are assigned on Monday and due on Friday.

    Only some of the aunts are on Facebook. Almost none of the uncles are.

    In my experience, “thank you” can be handwritten, spoken to me, or sent via electronic media. It’s as heartfelt as it is meant, regardless.

  4. sharon said

    To Mrs. Buck and RTB,

    Thanks to you both as each of your posts lends such a positive and open minded attitude about todays children.
    Made my day.

  5. Kelli said

    Abacus – perfectly stated!

  6. Good idea to bring this issue forward. I have been reading about it in Era Banner for past few weeks, and been really having mixed emotions about it.

    Eventually technology will make us vegetables, not now, but in the future – of course if we don’t do anything. We are going backwards to the ages that will have to start learning how to make our own fire.

    I am disappointed with the answer: ‘You don’t have to know how to write anymore! Nowadays everyone has a laptop or a Blackberry – writing is history.’ – well not until the power goes OFF. She may not see why she is wrong now (I think she is), but hopefully she will later.

    It is all about CONVENIENCE. Technology is one big babysitter for children at school, just like TV for children at home. Who does not like technology? I have son almost three years old, and he can google his favorite toons by typing the keywords he learned. It is very easy to keep him quite for a long time. However, his activities are well balanced, where technology is probably 5-10 % of his activities per day. I like technology, and I think we should not keep them away, but we have to balance it between other activities, and still teach the traditional hands on skills – and this is where school should lead.

    Anna

    • Sprite said

      I would wager that Christopher Watts can sign his name and that he could take legible written notes at a meeting without the aid of a computer.

      Why shouldn’t a teen-ager aspire to do likewise if the need arises?

      I don’t think the originator of this post subject is condemning technology or the future, but rather is assuming that a skill humans have had for thousands of years should be preserved and used in every day life.

    • Christopher Watts said

      Thank you Sprite for your vote of confidence.

      In fact I do take legible notes, although my preference is printing not cursive so some may perceive that I’m not doing it right…whatever “right” is. I’m over trying to earn gold stars for my penmanship.

      For the last 6 years I have used a tablet PC with pen based input that allows the best of both worlds. I can write (print and cursive), and it can translate my input to editable text. If I feel that pen input is slowing me down I can switch to the keyboard.

      Technologies that are mentioned in this post, and ones that are on their way can provide great advantages to our ability to communicate. They can also provide great hindrances.

      Both can be made apparent through their usage. Knowing more about the technologies can only help you maximize their benefit and diminish any negatives. The key here is of course balance.

      Touch computing, gestural input, surface computing, mobile computing, augmented reality…all of this is where I’ve spent the last 10 years of my career and I’m not losing any skills, nor will anyone that looks to embrace the developments in HCI that will be upon us in the next 10 years. There is great potential to enhance these skills and give them extended purpose.

      I tackled the original post in one of my own here:
      http://christopherwatts.posterous.com/why-wont-anyone-think-of-the-children

    • Technology is relatively easy to learn if you are user, harder if you are creating applications. For applications you need foundation, language skills and math. Just like engineering is application of science and math. It would be nice if teachers would use if for creating applications rather then encourage usage. Kids can use technology easy, they learn fast, researching is relatively easy to learn. Just beware of free content on the web, there is lot of copying going on, how valid it is we may not know.

      Now we also forgetting, that hand writing has other benefits than just writing beautifully. It helps our children to work on patience and discipline. Simple experiment for heavy technology users, just watch yourself, family member or your friend during earth hour, of course if you are observing.

      Some mention we don’t need to memorize. No body benefits from memorizing dates or verses in school – DAHH I say, everyone is forgetting that memorization is another form of brain exercise. Keep doing it or you lose it.

      Lastly, technology is addictive, anything that you are addicted to is not good for you. Extensive use of one thing isn’t good for you. Technology is relatively young, we shall see good or bad results in may be 30-40 years, just like smoking and junk food we are starting to realize how bad it is for us NOW.

      Well, I thought I throw few more of my thoughts here. I still think that technology is a big convenience package for parents and teachers, so please use it wisely.

      PS Christopher excellent post on your side.

  7. Generation Gap said

    You’re judging your grandchildren by your standards. The antiquated standards by which you were taught. Be pleased that you have a courteous granddaughter, and stop sticking your oar in – the notes may not be sent to a judgemental, persnickety grandparent in the future.

  8. Kelli said

    Excellent post, and thank you so much for beginning this discussion! It has been my worry for a few years now that technology is taking over childrens writing, grammar, and social skills … all of which can be proven on a weekend trip to the mall! It is beyond me that not only is the ability in being able to suitably articulate themselves in many different situations diminishing, but the desire to do so has faded as well. I also just happen to be a very proud “book worm”, worked at the Aurora Public Library for years, and absolutely loved my Writers Craft Course in High School so I do admit I am a bit biased on the subject. – I do however believe our children are losing their ability through both the written and verbal word to connect, negotiate, lead, debate, and fully function as well rounded individuals in our current society …. but what do I know – I still think it’s nice to pick up a phone, dial it, and actually speak to the person on the other end….. does anyone do that anymore?

    • Evelyn Buck said

      Are children losing out with technology?
      Who can answer yes or no to that question?
      Conversations with my eight year old and six year old great grand-daughters simply astound me.
      As a councillor,I find it very satisfying and helpful to be able to respond at length to e-mails I receive from residents seeking answers.
      It takes time but handwriting a response would be out of the question.
      I was probably ten when I was taught by an English teacher,a nun,it was bad manners to type a personal response.
      When I started to write a weekly column it was in longhand. Then I typed with two fingers.Handwriting and typing were both too slow to keep up with my thoughts.Re-writes were endless.
      When I started to write a blog, I was amazed at the difference the keyboard made.
      My grandchildren produce amazing work for school projects because of answers they can google.
      O.K. so they haven’t memorized the material. Is that better than knowing what questions to ask and where to find answers and by the way inevitably absorbing knowledge while they are at it.
      A single line of poetry can produce the whole poem and the author, the date and anything else one might want to know.

      Art is a gift that runs in my family. My grandson Patrick does unbelievable graphic art with the computer. He paints beautiful art on blank ugly walls with spray cans of paint.Is either medium less than traditional art? Who is to say so?
      Our generation or theirs?
      I’m sure, good teachers are still teaching essential skills.
      Lazy teachers are as lazy as they have ever been and just as unconscionable.
      Curious, intelligent children will not be held back, no matter what.
      Children without nurturing parents or teachers will still be at a disadvantage but computers will help to take up the slack.
      Technology might just turn out to be the grand equalizer.
      Maybe if lazy, uninspired teachers become the norm rather than the exception,they themselves might render schools irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
      How much more can be chiseled out of classroom time before that happens.
      What about the study that show how much of a first year university student’s time is spent learning the basics.And how long has that been true?
      Then there’s the other study that shows fifty-three per cent of graduate students cheat to obtain their degrees.
      And faculty members are aware of the fact but keep silent for their own purposes.
      Maybe the effect of technology isn’t the only question parents should be asking.

    • Bemused said

      Our neighbour’s 12 year-old son can’t spell very well – actually based on samples of his written work his mother has shown me, his spelling is atrocious.

      My neighbour sent a note to the teacher asking if she could spend some extra time with him.

      The teacher’s note in reply was that he should switch over to his computer whenever he wants to “right.” The spell checker would take care of his problem.

      This is scary stuff.

    • Anne said

      Children communicate differently today there’s no doubt. For a time, I was concerned that my daughter was struggling socially as our landline phone never rang for her anymore when she reached her pre-teenage years. I soon realized that they all communicate online or via texting. Even now, when she has a homework question, I will suggest she ask a friend and she will reply “there’s no one online right now” or “no one is answering my texts”. I will nudge the antique home phone in her direction…

      However, all on her own she set up her own Skype account (after asking our permission) and communicates regularly with her grandparents and cousins out west. She creates great projects for school both on and off her computer, makes and edits videos, and is very careful about her social media profile (with my monitoring). Her handwriting is legible and fairly neat. And I still make her hand write thank you notes for Christmas gifts. Whether it’s cursive or printed does not bother me. I personally write in a combination of the two.

      I am not concerned about kids losing their ability to write. There will still be people with good penmanship and those with poor penmanship. My husband’s lists are a case in point. I have to call him several times on every trip to the grocery store. Something I couldn’t do 19 years ago before cell phones…

  9. Anonymous said

    Is technology stiffling them? I guess it is if you think cursive handwriting is a skill required in the future. It used to be that most boys learned to tune car engines or rebuild a carburretor – how many can do that now? How many cars would they be able to do that now? How many people are changing their own engine oil anymore? – growing up it was something almost everyone did.

    The fact that you got a thank you card should be a triumph. Not many would do that anymore. I think that you should look past the media and look at the message.

    Social networking or the internet is not a problem for the young. They embrace the technology because they don’t know anything different. We are an evolving culture.

    As far as getting a blast for meddling. I think you should. If you grandchild is the product of teachers, who are you to interfere? If they sent you a book on a technology, how would you feel?

    • JOHN H SARGENT said

      Anonymous 1.11pm..I have to agree with you on the fact that if the guess postie received a hand written thank you note in a envelope from their 15 year old granddaughter in early 2011(applause), that should answer there own worries as to is technology stiffling her as a young child, she took the time to write not text or e-mail,not many of that age would !! .. yes culture is evolving into technology as a whole,whether it be fixing cars(( their make so they not be fixed without it)),learning, reading ,writing,social,employment etc,etc…I am involved on a weekly basics with high school age children and can see the good and the bad in its affects on them,,yet it is a needed resource in this age to succeed. Should be up to parents to teach their children every day life skills to be well rounded.. It is for the teachers to have time to educate them ..In the past teachers could discipline ,but not now.. Maybe the Question should be is technology allowing some parents to be sniffling their children

    • Abacus said

      It is both puzzling and disturbing to read Anonymous @ 1:11 pm.

      In a highly literate and economically advantaged society, surely it is beneficial for all of us to be able to read and write, and also be comfortable with the technologies of computers, the Internet and down-loadable entertainment.

      The familiarity with one does not exclude the other, nor should it.

      Simple good manners should require the prompt response of a thank you note; receiving one is not a triumph, but something one was taught from an early age.

      It is being statistically discovered through ongoing studies that children who are exposed to a constant diet of computerized war and other games, social networking and increasingly sophisticated cell phones are losing their humanity. Some would suggest that these provide unlimited opportunity; if it doesn’t yet exist it will come along in a week or two.

      The counter argument is the lack of personal contact with one’s peers at school, at work and at play. It is a different world when you are with someone in the same room as opposed to in another town. This applies to adults also, maybe even more so.

      We should never knowingly embrace only a portion of our total culture and heritage. This is a big world and our options are almost without limit. Let’s not squander them.

      We are indeed an evolving culture, but that does not mean forgetting our past in exchange for the unknown future.

    • To Abacus,

      The original poster did not say that the child could not read or write. Unless you take “write” in the literal and are talking about cursive writing. The child printed the note.

      I have been working in IT since 1981. In my post secondary education, we used things called punched cards. Sometimes programs that we wrote were thousands of cards in size. We could not punch them all ourselves due to limitations in equipment so they were farmed out to service bureaus or the internal keypunch department. In order for them to punch them, we had to write them out on special forms called coding sheets. We had to print everything as it was a representation of what we wanted. We even had special hand-written characters to differentiate the letter O from number 0 and letter I from number 1 and letter S from number 5. IT people always print, that’s the nature of the equipment. My cursive writing skills are terrible. Does this make me a lesser person?

      As eluded to, this child took the time to write out a note (maybe with parental persuassion?). This has nothing to do with technology. Cursive writing is not something that I would not consider culture or heritage. It is a skill that 40 years ago was taught in school (penmanship). But I know children that still have issues telling the time with an analog clock – they have been brought up on digital and did not get taught it in school.

      My concern with today’s education and technology is the crutch of spell check and grammar check tools. People do not know when to use the right word. You see this constantly online. Your instead of you’re; To instead of Too or Two; the list is endless.

      You have made some mightly leaps from printing a note to the lack of contact at school. Those that are champions of social media would argue that technology enhances the contact between people. I can atest to the fact that I have re-established contact with a number of people from my primary school days that still live in my home town. Without the technology, I doubt that would have ever occured.

      Embrace the present – get ready for the future. The past is the past, there were good times and bad. Today’s present will be our grandchildren’s “olden days”. They may very well look at things like Blackberries in the same way our kids look at record turntables today.

      FUIMUS

    • Pedant said

      RtB said: “People do not know when to use the right word. You see this constantly online. Your instead of you’re; To instead of Too or Two; the list is endless.”

      Yes, like ‘eluded’ rather than ‘alluded’.

    • Anonymous said

      To Robert the Bruce:
      … except turntables and old gramaphones have made a comeback and command a pretty high price these days… along with old LPs. So, who knows, cursive writing may be valued once again sometime in the future.

    • Anonymous said

      To Pedant
      Oh, please let’s not get into literacy skills otherwise we will probably get a repeat blast from Mr. Watts about that one. From one who knows what that feels like!!

    • Curious said

      This conversation seems to be getting both emotional and a bit irrational.

      Each of us is unique. We have a past that has shaped us and a future that some approach with great anticipation, others with apprehension; we all coexist in the same present tense.

      Why should any of us have to forget the past and focus entirely on the future? Why can we not take some of the first and blend it with what is to come and call that a degree of happiness and satisfaction – the here and now.

      Newton and Einstein discovered laws of physics long before computers and yet these discoveries are as relevant today as when they were first postulated. What they did was to use their brain, a highly complex organ.

      A computer is not yet a brain and hopefully will never be one as it does not have our human ability to feel, to see, to smell, to hear, to touch. Will a computer be able to enjoy the sound of a lark or the sight of a sunset or the sound of a symphony?

      How many of you have studied closely the appeal of the various cellphone manufacturers to the buying public, private or corporate. How many movies will anyone watch on an iPhone or a Blackberry? Your eyes would probably pay a serious price for this indulgence. Do we need 20,000 apps from a single company, with tens of thousands more to follow?

      The average human being’s practical use of all this stuff is very limited. It might be great to know it’s there, but so what?

      Let’s take all this technology with a big grain of salt and at the same time acknowledge that the ability to write using ones hand is not something of which we should be ashamed, something from the past.

      There are two sides to this discussion; they both have merit and they both have flaws. You chose what’s right for you!

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