New Year's Eve is the night where we celebrate on the precipice between past and future. It is a time to reflect and prepare for a meaningful year, so I decide this morning that I will reflect and think about possibilities.
I woke up to the CBC radio show, The Current, with Sherry Turkle. I've used her Ted Talk, Connected but Alone, with students and we usually have some really interesting discussions about the use of cell phones in our social lives. Students readily admit to an addiction. But some of Turkle's statements in this radio interview made me wonder.
Now, I know that she is a well educated scholar who has done extensive research on this topic, but my own personal experiences with my teen aged children and my own students make me wonder about some of her claims. To begin with, both my boys, much like me, dislike talking on the phone for anything other than purely pragmatic purposes, yet we are lovers of radio and podcasts. When communicating with family, we prefer face to face interactions, or the next best thing, the written word. We enjoy long conversations at the dinner table, in the car, or on walks with the dog. Both sons write long text messages in complete sentences and tell me that they care about word choice and punctuation, knowing how imprecise diction and punctuation can skew a message. These are young people who have grown up with computers and cell phones. On the other hand, my over 60 husband frequently sends out messages, sans punctuation, which leave me frothing at the mouth in frustration as I try to figure out his possible meaning.
Another idea raised by Turkle bothered me. She talked about students exhibiting a decline in empathy, yet I see students involved, concerned for the planet, for refugees, for social justice. In Canada, we elected a young Prime Minister whose philosophies of inclusion and social justice are humanitarian and grounded in empathy. She said that the markers of empathy in children have declined in the past ten years.
Yet, I was reminded of a British documentary series which followed the lives of school children as a sociological experiment. The series recorded observations and interviews with the children every seven years starting in 1964.
In the first series of the documentary, 7 Up, young British children are seen throwing rocks at a Polar Bear in the zoo, and at the 7 minute mark of the video, the audience witnesses two young school boys having a full on fist fight in the school yard while others carry on playing, and a teacher is slow to respond. In interviews, the children say that they are "concerned for the poor". I wondered if there is a gap between the action and the word.
And as I scrolled through my Twitter feed over coffee, this Upworthy video called Cyber Seniors appeared. I open the video file and watched this with my husband:
There is a Senior's residence right beside my son's high school, so I've resolved to bring this idea to the school Administration. What a wonderful way for students to contribute to the community, to learn about patience, and teaching someone else is always the best way to learn.
This idea that New Year's Eve gives me time to reflect upon the past and prepare for 2016 requires that I step outside of my own experience and reflect. With or without technological connection, I must do this. Language, whether spoken, or written, always mediates between the lived and the shared experience. I do think Sherry Turkle's message is important; we are connected but alone. But, technology can document our experience and allow us to emotionally, if not physically, connect and hopefully, empathize. Technology is full of possibilities, if we choose.
As with anything new, time must pass, observations must be made, and reflections on the purpose and meaning must be drawn. And where there are gaps, whether they be economic, academic, or otherwise, the reflective empathetic person is called to action, called to possibilities.
May your year be full of possibilities and poetry.