Many technologies are suspected of impoverishing our capabilities, making us shallow (Carr, 2010). But things look not to be simple, and those kind of asseverations always come with some controversy.
For the last 3 weeks, we have been discussing the possible benefits and drawbacks of applying mobile technologies to learning. We talked about beneficial uses and wasteful uses of devices. We mentioned their suitability both for informal and formal learning. This week, we try to undertake the question of technology, identities and interpersonal relationship.
Gee established a useful scheme with the different levels of identities (2000/2001). He enumerated 4 stages: Nature, Institution, Discourse and Affinity. A key difference among them is provided by the interpreter of the identity. Thus, an identity can be understood as part of the individual’s nature – N-Identity -, as a status defined by some kind of institutional rules or traditions – I-Identity -, as a style of things like acting, dressing or speaking – D-Identity -, or as a certain affinity with some group of people – A-Identity. (Gee, 2000/2001). Avoiding the debate regarding nature, it is worthy to notice that many identities may be achieved or enriched with personal commitment.
In a different book, Sherry Turkle analyzed some effects that the ubiquitous mobiles have in the life of multitask users (2008). In particular, she claimed that language becomes poorer, shorter, and faster; attention becomes shared rather that dedicated; and the desired identities that are pursued are virtual rather that real. Bruckman (1992) wrote that “online life emerged as an ‘identity workshop’” (as cited in Turkle, 2008, p 124).
The resource of virtual identities leads us to think of technology as the “ESC key”. Thus, it may serve to get rid of the disgusting things in our lives. Its consumption could be compared to that of painkillers. Despite the possible benefits, a question arises: might a virtual escape world stop us from trying to improve or achieve the real identities that we want to have in our own lives?
Turkle (2008) also pointed out that technology is not only a communication device, but a sort of emotional management tool. It keep us connected with people we know, so that as soon as a feeling arises, we can contact with whoever we want to validate it. Furthermore, she argued that the connection can be with machines, not only with another person. Those machines would be relational artifacts, and they have the ability to inspire a relationship based “on their ability to push certain ‘Darwinian’ buttons in people (making eye contact, for example) that cause people to respond as though they were in a relationship” (p. 133). I wonder to what extent this idea, and the example that she provides could be compared to the consumption of soma that Aldous Huxley described in his novel Brave New World, in 1932.
Nonetheless, Gee (2000/2001) related identities to their interpretation, recognition, by other people, not by any machine. Therefore, relational artifacts can hardly help to personal improvement or to any identity achievement.
A final word could be added by Roy Pea et al. (2012). In the impressive study that they carried out, they highlighted the benefits of face to face communication. They concluded that time spent in face-to-face communication is “the variable most closely associated with a wide range of positive social feelings” (p. 334). This could be easily connected to Turkle’s claims regarding language.
- Gee, J. P. (2000/2001). Identity as an analytic lens for research in education. Review of Research in Education, 25.
- Pea, R., Nass, C., Meheula, L., Rance, M., Kumar, A., Bamford, H., Nass, M., Simha, A., Stillerman, B., Yang, S., & Zhou, M. (2012). Media use, face-to-face communication, media multitasking, and social well-being among 8- to 12-year-old girls. Developmental psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027030.
- Turkle, S. (2008). Always-on/always-on-you: The tethered self. In J. E. Katz (Ed.), Handbook of mobile communication studies (pp. 121-137). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Retrieved from http://web.mit.edu/sturkle/www/pdfsforstwebpage/ST_Always%20On.pdf
- Carr, N. (2010). The Shallows–How the Internet is changing the way we read, think and remember. Atlantic, London.