Terri Munns - Manifesto

1. People should be aware of the effects technology has on them.
At first glance, this seems obvious. We’re already aware, aren’t we? Not always. We spend a lot of time online, for example, and yet don’t always notice. In the article “Miss G: A Case of Internet Addiction,” Gabriela (the addict) describes what she does online. It’s a little bit long, but still, it should only take an hour or two, right? Wrong. She usually goes to bed at 4am after a night online. To be fair, Gabriela is aware of how much time she spends online. One test for “internet addiction” begins with the question “How often do you find that you stay on-line longer than you intended?” If this shows up on a test, more than a few people must be susceptible to this behavior. How many would only start thinking about it when asked directly?

Nicholas Carr also questions the effect a lifestyle of receiving information in small bites has on the way we think. He contends that our thinking is becoming shallower, that we can’t sit down and focus on one idea for hours at a time. Gabriela’s account supports this to an extent, since her time online isn’t spent on one site, instead she bounces from one topic to another as she is reminded of something or seized with the urge to learn more about a band.

So what should we do to be more aware? Easy: pay attention. Sit down and think about why you think you can’t live without your smart phone, or why the world seems to end when the internet won’t work. Cliché though it is, being aware is a large step in solving a problem.

Sources
Heffernan, Virginia. “Miss G: A Case of Internet Addiction.” The New York Times. 11 April 2011.

Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.

2. We should continue to value personal interaction.
Personal interaction hasn’t disappeared entirely, but it is changing, and perhaps even declining. Some people spill their hearts out on Facebook, but it’s not usually directed at one person in particular. Instead, they are complaining or rejoicing to all of their friends at once, because it’s so much easier than telling each one individually. While this may be easier, it also lessens the impact on both ends. Friends are inundated with all of these bits of information, and may not give one piece personal news the same attention it would receive if delivered in person. The sender is also deprived of the experience of confiding in one person and receiving a reaction from that person.

Let me be clear, I am not necessarily saying that only face-to-face conversations in “real life” can be meaningful. There are several wonderful technologies that make it possible to share thoughts and feelings no matter where each person is. At the same time, face-to-face interactions help, because in the end, technology is affecting the communication in some way. Texting and emails don’t allow the recipient to hear one’s tone of voice. Telephones solve the tone problem, but the person on the other end still can’t see the expressions of whomever’s talking. Even video chats have limitations due to lag and only being able to see part of the person.

3. People should try to use technology to conserve resources where possible.
This is another semi-easy change to make, because we already do it in small ways. A while ago, there was a radio report about a college changing its official email font to something that used less ink when the email was printed in an effort to be more environmentally-friendly. Two questions instantly are raised: What about the paper the emails are printed on, and who prints emails on a regular basis? As far as I know, emails aren’t normally printed. In special cases, such as complicated directions to a location, someone might print the email. But day-to-day correspondence? Most people keep the emails electronically to save paper. The college didn’t give specific estimates of how many emails were printed across the campus, but the number can’t have been high enough to warrant the effort to find a more efficient font.

Advances are being made in other areas to solve the problem of paper waste. The article “Top 10 e-paper technologies in the next 20 years” discusses a future where everything from books (which many already read on e-readers) to labels in grocery stores will be displayed electronically rather than on paper.

The changes that have already taken place are helping to make our society more environmentally-friendly, mostly be conserving paper. The next step is to start reducing our energy consumption. It’s a daunting task, especially since using electronic devices rather than paper means at least a slight increase in energy consumption. Still, researchers should be able to use technology to solve this problem, and others as they arise.

Sources
http://blogs.theworldlink.com/weird_news/2010/03/college-email-font-save-money/

Jablonski, Chris. ““Top 10 e-paper technologies in the next 20 years.” ZDNet. 9 February 2011.

4. Children should have (controlled) access to computers and the internet.
We hear it every day, but it’s still more-or-less true: computer skills are necessary in order to survive in today’s world. Therefore, children should be taught and encouraged to learn how to use a computer and access the internet, at an age-appropriate level. They would need to begin by learning to type, then to understand how to get to various programs on a computer and use them, and then what the internet is and how it can be used. Teachers and parents would both need to be involved in the process, supervising their children and helping them when necessary.

Under the right circumstances, online classes could even be a beneficial supplement to traditional classes. Gary Stager argues that a properly designed online course can address problems that a traditional classroom isn’t able to, such as letting children learn outside of normal school hours. If a child is struggling with homework, parents can help them find the extra help they need online.

At the same time, it’s becoming increasingly important to teach children that there is more to life than just staring at a computer. There are some aspects of teaching, for instance, that can only be done by a person. A computer program or online class may let students work at their own pace, but it’s much easier for a teacher to figure out why a student is having trouble. Even outside of a learning environment, there is a danger of spending too much time online staring at a screen.

The idea of living a life away from the computer at times is one we can all embrace, but teaching that behavior starts with children.

Source
“Can Students Learn From Online Classes?” A New York Times online debate.

5. Parents should limit “screen time” for their children.
This relates to the previous norm, specifically the part about controlling access. As stated previously, children need to understand that there is more to life than just what they see on a screen. Teachers can only do so much, the rest is up to parents. “Screen time” in this case refers to watching TV, working and playing on a computer, playing video games—any time spent staring at a screen. One reason for this proposed limit is that looking at a computer screen for a long period of time can hurt one’s eyes. Also, letting kids sit relatively still for a hours on end is not the best way to encourage them to be active and healthy.

Of course, as the children grow up, the time limit would have to increase as well, especially if the parents wanted “screen time” to cover time spent on homework as well. Assuming that the previous norm is adopted in some way, more children would be doing schoolwork online and learning to use a computer. Preventing them from completing the work defeats the purpose of teaching them the skills in the first place. Also, as children get older, the amount of work increases, including the amount of work that requires a computer. Personally, I was strongly encouraged to type my papers (2-3 pages, usually) for most subjects by the time I was in high school. This took a few hours a week at least.

One solution to the problem of limiting screen time while not impeding schoolwork could be to limit recreational screen time only. Or maybe there could be two limits, one for schoolwork, and the other for recreational use. The decision of how much of what kind of screen time to limit should be up to the parents, so long as a student isn’t being prevented from keeping up in class.

6. Individuals should have the right and ability to refuse to use a technology and still have a place in society.
This norm may not be possible without major changes to society, but it ought to be. While technology is useful and beneficial in many respects, it’s uncomfortable to think of people being forced into using technology in order to live in today’s society. There should be a way for people to live and be a part of society without having all the same gadgets and gizmos most of the society has.

One culture where this is already prevalent is the Amish. In his book What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly explains that the Amish aren’t completely anti-technology. They can’t be, since even the simplest of things can be considered a technology of some kind. Instead, each community collectively decides whether the technology should be adopted, including discussing how it would benefit or damage the community. They take the approach of letting the rest of us “test run” the technology, while they stand back and take notes.

In the same way, individuals in “mainstream” society should be able to refuse to use a technology. In fairness, there will always be social pressures to adopt or discard something. However, surely those pressures can be lessened so that everyone, regardless of personal choice, can function in society to their satisfaction. Just as some choose to reject paper books in favor of e-books, others should be able to choose to reject e-books and cling to paper. This approach would also address the disparity in the access to technologies. Some people simply can’t afford to get certain technologies, or those technologies aren’t readily available for some other reason. Despite this disadvantage, they are still expected to fit into society at the same level of everyone else. If society was changed to allow for different levels of technology, this problem would be much smaller.

Source
Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: The Penguin Book, 2010.