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The Hidden Voice of Youth

Technology and Technology Education. Perspectives from a Young Person

Molly Watson

Editor’s Note:

Every author who has contributed to this book believes that education in general, and technology education in particular, should not in any way be about training young people. Rather, the authors believe that education should be about the development of critical faculties—critical faculties that enable young people, and people in general, to challenge the received wisdom of the day. However, with very few exceptions, technology education around the world is perceived to be an area where young people are trained to understand an already-established technological world where all knowledge is stable and fixed. This type of training tends to manifest itself in a curriculum that favors the development of preestablished skills. These particular skills bear very little resemblance to the technologically mediated world that we all occupy today and have little to do with technological literacy. Several chapters in this book, in their own way, challenge the extant curriculum as being outdated, outmoded, and having nothing to do with the technological world we inhabit. Molly Watson is a 15-year-old school student. Her chapter, I would argue, resonates with many of the perspectives offered in the other chapters. Molly’s chapter details her perception of technology and what she perceives school-based technology education offers her as a student. There appears to be no match whatsoever.

Her chapter is not academic in the conventional sense. However, it offers a personal account of what appears to be a mismatch between technology education

J.R. Dakers (ed.), New Frontiers in Technological Literacy © John R. Dakers 2014

today and the technological world that young people occupy. It is both poignant and illustrative of the issues raised in the other chapters. It grounds the academic rigor offered elsewhere in this book with a realistic account by a typical young user of technology. It does not offer a universal perspective; no account ever can. As editor of this collection, I believe that this chapter adds a unique dimension to the book..

Every generation has experienced some form of technological development that affects them to some degree. I am of a generation that that was born into a new age of digital communication. As a15-year-old, I don’t remember when computers weren’t around or when mobile phones weren’t commonplace. Such things were revolutionary only a couple of decades ago but have quickly become something that’s simply part of the everyday, and there’s an assumption that everyone should own these gadgets, which are more like necessities now. Technology is not something that’s really questioned anymore; it’s just something that is there, a part of our environment and our society. It surrounds us 24/7, and we thrive on it individually and collectively—but we don’t often realize just how much we use it and, in some cases, depend on it. It’s almost subliminal. We tend to treat technology as just an everyday feature without really knowing the first thing about the power it can have, or certainly its colossal impact on the world. It is an impact that, I feel, affects people my age more than anyone.

Technology is absolutely rife among my peers—both the use and abuse of it. In many cases, young people are far more confident than adults when it comes to working gadgets, and this is something that can be seen all around us in households and schools. I remember when our first family desktop computer was installed in our home. My brother was at elementary/primary school, and I was even younger. Yet we both were confident around it for a long time before our parents dared log on. Similarly, this can be seen in the classroom, where technology is being incorporated more and more into our lessons. Although I do think this is a good idea, since technology is becoming a huge part of our society, sometimes it doesn’t work out. The students actually end up teaching the teachers, who sometimes tend to be far more uncertain of technology than we are. I find this to be quite a strange thing because, on the whole, adults are considered far more knowledgeable and capable than children. Yet, surprisingly, when faced with a machine too huge and complex to ever really explain or control, filled to the brim with endless information, it’s the children that often seem to handle it the best while the adults may struggle to grasp the basics. I think it all has to do with adapting. If a child is brought up surrounded by something, then he or she is more likely to feel confident and familiar with it. Infants are almost being fed as much technology as they are milk, so it’s hardly surprising that they won’t feel uncertain around computers and phones.

After all, nowadays technology fills in so many areas of our everyday lives. We’re exposed to almost everything because of technology, and it’s so much easier to access whatever we want. One of its major advantages is enabling users to download music, films, and books onto iPods and Kindles. There’s no longer any need to go to the shops to buy a song, and downloading music is much cheaper and more space-efficient. I wouldn’t be listening to half the music I listen to if I’d had to go out to buy it in a shop—it’s considered the norm to have hundreds, or even thousands, of songs stored on an iTunes account, which would take up a whole lot of room if they were physical CDs! There’s no denying that downloading is very practical and efficient. However, strangely enough, the ease of downloading can sometimes have the opposite effect: people I know have returned to buying record players because they prefer the rusty, flawed sound of vinyl and the challenge of building up a record collection to downloading music. Equally, I prefer holding a book in my arms and turning the pages by hand to reading from a screen. There’s something very clinical about Kindles and iPods; I think it’s fair to say they lack character. But it’s all about preference; they definitely have their place and have turned a generation on to literature and music. When it comes to Kindles, I think I’m an exception to the rule in my preference for books: the vast majority of my peers would take the sleekness and practicality of a Kindle, despite its clinical feeling. I find it’s often the same with teenagers and children; on the whole, we like technology more than adults. We tend to opt for the more high-tech option, and I think that’s because we were born comfortable with it.

Of course, for today’s adults, it’s a lot harder to adapt as well as children do. Advanced technology is still a relatively new concept; it’s a change, and change can make people feel uneasy. So, approached from different angles, technology can mean different things—while adults may see it as a daunting new concept beyond their control, young people may see it as entirely the opposite. In fact, young people (myself included) don’t really see it as “technology” at all!

I think the very word “technology” has always been something associated with newness, learning, and development—something that requires skill and concentration, almost a challenge. But among people my age, this isn’t what I see. I see all gadgets—be they mobile phones, iPods, or Kindles—being used as though they are the most ordinary things in the world. I realize that to some people these things are the height of high-tech, but the truth is, in the teenage world, there’s a whole different perspective. Technology isn’t used just as technology; it’s also used as a status symbol. When I had just started high school, I remember the boys and girls in my class having a conversation about who had what kind of phone. They were all listing the best brand names—BlackBerrys, iPhones, and other variations—except there was one girl who didn’t have a “good enough” phone. She felt the need to lie about it and just pretended because that was easier than admitting her mobile wasn’t like everyone else’s. Later on, when her friends saw her real phone, she threw it on the ground so she could tell her mother it was broken and she needed a new one. This competitiveness isn’t out of the ordinary in my high school, and I’m sure it isn’t in any other. Technology is a way of saying who you are, and everyone wants his or her peers to get the right idea. It’s like a competition, sometimes, on a par with who has designer clothes and who wears the most cosmetics.

This is when technology starts to show its ugly side as something that can be abused—when it opens up a gateway to a whole new level of bullying, known as cyberbullying. Many people can underestimate the effect of cyberbullying, and other people are quite oblivious to it. Cyberbullying is incredibly common with people my age, and I see a huge amount of it from day to day. Social networking sites such as Facebook are very popular, especially among teens; the vast majority of people in my year at school have an account. These sites do undoubtedly have their good sides. As a member of Facebook myself, I know that it proves to be a great way of keeping in touch with friends and finding information about the people and things that interest you. However, it can definitely have its downsides as well. Bullying has always been around in schools, so of course that in itself is nothing new. What’s made bullying these days scarier than ever is the ability to make it far more public and the inability to escape from it. Gone are the days when a victim was bullied only within the school gates. Today, the bullies can catch up with you from the comfort of their own homes while hiding behind a screen for protection. Certain websites even provide the optimum opportunity to make people feel small. Current fads like “ask.fm” and “spillit.me” allow you to create a webpage where anybody can anonymously ask you questions or say what they really think of you. This practically encourages criticism and victimization of others, and sadly these are both things that happen a lot among young people. Even people who appear to be very popular at school receive some disgusting messages and threats through these websites because it’s just so easy. All it takes is somebody to type out a few vicious words under the comfort of complete anonymity. In the past few months, there have been a couple of cases in which young teenagers have taken their lives due to the threats and harassment they have been given on “ask.fm.”

On the other hand, the ease of reaching people over the Internet can be a good thing. Speaking from experience, I know getting in touch with people over the Internet can provide support and advice without the pressures of face-to-face speech. I’ve suffered from illness in the past, which can be very isolating, and joining a forum designed for other young people in my situation definitely helped me feel less alone, as I didn’t know anyone in person who was going through the same thing I was. Technology gives people this chance, which was never available before, to be able to communicate with anyone at all. It connects people from all around the world, and no one has to be entirely alone, which is a great thing. Obviously, when you’ve never seen people face-to-face, you have to be careful not to give out personal information or to become attached to or obsessed with them, as they may be completely different in reality from who they are on a computer screen. But sharing experiences, asking advice, or just chatting is harmless enough and can provide a safe method of socializing for those who may not have the opportunity or ability to do so otherwise.

In addition to connecting with people individually, nowadays it is easier than ever to reach wider audiences through technology. Websites and forums can provide excellent platforms for people who want their voices to be heard or to share a talent. Countless singers who are now world famous started out by uploading videos of their songs to YouTube, where so many people would watch them that word spread to talent scouts. The same can be said for most other hobbies and interests. Whether you’re into writing, acting, photography, or athletics, there’s bound to be a website on which you can launch your career and get noticed. All this means that our dreams and aspirations are more within reach than ever before, and that can only be a good thing.

In fact, it could be argued that it’s almost too easy to become an Internet sensation—even for people who completely lack talent. The truth is, a number of people in this day and age are fame hungry and will resort to almost anything for a moment in the spotlight. One hundred hours of videos are uploaded to YouTube every minute—that’s more than four days of material uploaded for the world to see every sixty seconds. Huge proportions of these people are contributing nothing of value but are instead taking the risk of being publicly humiliated just to get their 15minutes of fame. In some cases, they do become the “flavor of the month,” but often for all the wrong reasons: people laughing at them and, more often than not, giving them a considerable amount of hate comments. I often use YouTube, as I find it to be an excellent method of listening to music or watching videos that interest me. In fact, I’ve even uploaded a video project I did with friends. Making the video was something that we all enjoyed, and meeting up to film and plan it together brought us closer together. It was a great feeling to see the end result of a lot of hard work. We only did it for fun, but upon uploading it to YouTube, we got a few thousand hits in a short amount of time. On the whole, the comments we received were positive, but inevitably we also got a few malicious ones. It didn’t bother me all that much, mainly because I expected it. Sadly, it’s pretty much a given that you’ll get some negativity on YouTube, no matter what you upload. But some people can be more sensitive than this and find it hard to deal with the hate that can go hand-in-hand with Internet fame. I’ve found that if you’re going to put yourself out there on the Internet, you have to be thick skinned by nature.

I think there’s definitely a lot of naivety surrounding such technological powers as the Internet. I know several people who have thrown house parties, and the amount of guests got out of hand because these events were leaked on Facebook or some other social networking site. Sometimes one of the guests openly advertised it, and other times it was the hosts themselves that made a mistake and posted about it publicly. The thing is, often people just don’t seem to realize how potent technology can be. Before you know it, something that was supposed to be private can spread until everybody knows about it. But people continue to risk sharing what really should stay completely private. There’s always one thing or another circulating. Just among my own peers, mobile numbers have been revealed, embarrassing videos have been uploaded, and even topless photos have been passed around; some people don’t seem to learn from it. A sobering truth is that once something is posted online, no matter what it is, it can never be removed completely. Even once it’s “deleted,” it will still be floating around somewhere in cyberspace, and this is something that can often come back to bite people in the future when they apply for jobs and universities. This is a fact that very few people know, but I think it should be the first thing we’re taught when talking about technology—people don’t fully grasp that technology is in fact beyond our control. I find this a very strange thing, because all technology is manmade, dating back to ancient history. Technology has always been around in some capacity—even the wheel and the axe were once examples of technological equipment—something that we made so we could use it and manipulate it to our convenience. The difference between “old” and “new” technology is that over the years it has become more and more complex until it peaked with the birth of the Internet. This is technology so advanced that it knows no limits. It’s something so incredibly powerful that it almost controls us, rather than the other way around, and we don’t even know everything it does or what it means. Simply put, even though we made it, we don’t understand it, and this is a frightening idea to me. If a person is unaware of what they are getting into when they post things on the internet, should they be posting things at all?

The rule that “what goes online stays online” really starts to hit home when you think about all those millions of people that have a Facebook account— myself, and the majority of people I know, included. To state the obvious, none of these millions are going to go on living forever. In the bluntest terms possible, we’re all going to die. So this may well leave you wondering just what will happen to these millions of accounts when their possessors are no longer alive. The answer, in short, is that the accounts will stay there pretty much indefinitely, just the same as they were when the people who held them were alive. If you happen to have told somebody your password, then that person could deactivate your account, but that just means that it lies in wait like a dormant volcano: as soon as somebody enters your old email address and password, it’s reactivated, just like that. If nobody else knows your password, then your account will simply sit there open as it always was. Depending on your outlook, this may seem like a terrifying prospect: having all your old photographs and everything you’ve written just floating around as if you’d never died. It can seem very eerie, almost “sci-fi.” However, there are positives, too. In a sense, it immortalizes a piece of you: it’s something people can look back on to remember you by, and it’s a place where people can write messages and tributes to you if it helps them cope. I suppose it’s kind of like an online memorial—a legacy of sorts. How you feel about the situation completely depends on how you see it.

I think that explains all these opposing views on technology. Quite simply, it depends on how you see it. It’s a strange situation I’m in as I write this, because although I’m just a teenager, I think I’ve seen more technology than most of the adults I know. It’s something that I am constantly using or witnessing the use of, even when I’m not fully aware of it, and it is something I think I’ve been conditioned to know pretty well. I understand that some people find technology frightening and new, and I know I’ll probably be the same when I’m older and something comes along that I can’t identify with. It’s always been the same, really—technology isn’t considered new technology for long. It’s new technology for as long as it’s unfamiliar and needs to be understood. I’m not claiming that I understand technology, because I don’t think anybody truly does. What I do understand is how it affects me and the people around me. If you take a look back at every paragraph I’ve written in this chapter, you’ll see that essentially they’re about the people behind the technology: how people use it or misuse it, as the case may be; how it makes people feel; what it makes people say or do. These are the things I know, because I see them every day. Whatever the technology is, as basic as the wheel or as complicated the Internet, it’s all about what people can do with it. I believe technology is what we make of it, the pros and cons of it—we’re responsible for it all. I’ve found some aspects of technology that are very ugly and some aspects that are equally brilliant, and it’s up to us which one of these we make it. Because, when you think about it, what is technology without the people who use it?

I do not think my perspective on technology is atypical for people my age. This is why I find it strange when I consider how we are educated about it. What we are taught about technology and the way in which we are taught about it seem like pieces of the puzzle that do not really fit. In my school, we have two main forms of what is considered “technological education.” These are called CDT (Craft and Design Technology) and ICT (Internet and Computing Technology). They both have very different connotations surrounding them. CDT is a subject many people in my school see as an “easy ride” and “unimportant.” It is not considered at all academic, even by many of the teachers, and nothing much is done to stop this. ICT, on the other hand, is considered academic. This confuses me somewhat, because I cannot help thinking that outside the school gates, computing is something nearly everybody does confidently and capably, while construction is a task about which we would be far less certain. So why are these two forms of technological education thought of so very differently? Because when I strip them both down to what they are basically teaching, they seem very similar to me. CDT is teaching you how to make things that you can use. ICT is teaching you how to use things that have been made. You use your hand in CDT. You use your mouse in ICT. Neither of them seems more academic than the other, when I put them in those essential terms. They are both just teaching “how to.” Whether it is how to build a bookshelf or how to work specific software is irrelevant. Technology education, in either form, is currently about giving an instruction or formula with the student following it precisely.

I personally do not think either CDT or ICT is irrelevant. They both matter, depending on what career path one wishes to go down. What I disagree with, however, is how they are presented, because in my opinion, we are predominantly taught to remember things and not necessarily to comprehend, appreciate, or identify with them. If we are given a task to do on a computer program—for example, Photoshop—then we are told how to make one specific change to one specific picture and not how to actually use Photoshop.

We now know how to blur a line on a photo of a donkey, but that is where our knowledge ends; we still cannot use that program because we haven’t been taught how to. In the next lesson, we will move onto another program, and so it will continue—getting only glimpses of all the things we could be learning. Technology education has become far too specific, in my opinion. I feel we are not encouraged to use our initiative but rather are told what to make and what to do. It seems to me that we are given little explanation for why we are learning what we are learning, why these programs exist, and why they could be useful to us in the future. We barely seem to be told what it is we are learning. Reasons do not seem to come into the learning process. We are given a sheet with a method, and we often do not know what we are learning about; we are just memorizing a formula. How is this effective education? I asked a friend of mine, Alice, how she felt about her education in the field of technology. This very important to Alice, who is one of very few girls in school who chooses to study CDT and ICT and who wants a career in the more hands-on aspect of technology. She felt very strongly that the curriculum being taught left much to be desired. “CDT is beginning to focus far too much on computers,” she told me.

I am passionate about the handcrafts, and I feel as though they are being completely lost. We have two types of technology in the school, and they are

supposed to offer two different types of skills. But more and more in what is supposed to be “Craft and Design,” we sit in front of a computer. The worst part is, we don’t know why we are doing what we are doing, or sometimes even what we should be doing. It seems to me that I simply press buttons that I don’t even know the purpose of. All I want to do is make things using my own brain and my own two hands, not an artificial brain and an artificial hand. But that doesn’t seem to me to be what happens.

I believe technology education would be far more effective if it were open, because it currently seems to be very narrow in terms of what it offers a student. It is clear to see that from what Alice experiences in her CDT lessons. In the real world, technology is not about doing what you are told. It is about using things to your advantage and having your own ideas. Technology is actually a very free thing, but this does not seem to be the way it exists in schools. We do not seem to be developing a real understanding of technology, and this can only lead to a lack of confidence and initiative—things that schools claim to “build up” in young people. I don’t think it would be difficult to greatly improve technology curricula for pupils, in both the CDT and ICT areas. But currently, the curriculum does not seem to lead us to be self-sufficient or to use our brains and creativity. I think that needs to change. There is too much focus in the current technology curriculum on following orders. Most young people I know do not want this. And perhaps the reason many teenagers dislike school is because they are not given sufficient opportunities to express themselves, and they are not presented with things they feel are relevant. And if something is relevant, they are not always told why it is relevant. I think in technology, it is crucial that we can express ourselves and that we are told “why.” I have already stated that many people abuse technology, but perhaps if, along with using it correctly, we were encouraged to discuss the consequences of what can happen when we do not, this would not be an issue. How can we be expected to be responsible and knowledgeable when there is an insufficient focus on discussing the dangers? And how can we be expected to turn into successful, independent individuals when the main emphasis in learning appears to be on following commands?

 
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