Sometimes the best learning happens in the hallways.
Todays technology class was an exploration of the educational potential of the video game Minecraft. A group of expert elementary school students introduced the world of Minecraft to us with inspiring words: “you can do anything”; “the sky’s the limit”; “there are no rules”; “you can create your own world”. It was obvious that we were talking about a powerful platform for engaging students.
Despite being paired with a wonderful grade 7 Minecraft tutor, my Minecraft session lasted 10 minutes. Then my nausea-inducing key-command navigation, and the stimulus overload of 30 large video game screens, made me seek fresh air in the hallway. Fortunately I found myself standing beside one of the moms of a grade 5 Mindcraft tutor.
She told me her story of raising her family off-the-grid in the gulf islands – a tech-free, nature-full childhood for her 3 kids. However, when her son entered kindergarten, and was exposed to video games for the first time, he was instantaneously swept with intense passion, aptitude and curiosity for technology. In grade 5 now he is a programmer extraordinaire, internationally competitive Minecraft player, and internet entrepreneur making $20/ 5 min for his tech help. He was in our class today for his pro bono contribution to society. I admired her ability to support her son’s passion and giftedness in the world of technology.
As someone with a similar desire to provide screen-free, nature-rich experiences for young kids, I asked her how she has adapted to her son’s propensity for the inside, tech-heavy world? Is she discouraged by her son’s path (an emotion I imagine I might struggle with if it were my son)? How has she developed the technology literacy needed to be able to support her son’s safe exploration of the internet world?
Her answers were enlightening for me. She sees her son for his personality, and not his activities. She believes that his calm, mature, reflective, respectful personality is a product of his early years immersed in nature. He brings this personality to his technology exploration, and she is amazed at the maturity with which he approaches the tech world. They learn tech literacy together, and have a mutual trust that she will support his tech businesses, so long as he engages with technology in an appropriate way. She seems happy to support his tech world as fuel for his gifted mind. And she seems to have hope that one day he will return to his nature roots, and find balance between the two worlds. What was enlightening for me, was to think about nature and technology worlds existing not in resistant dichotomy to each other, but rather as complementary character building opportunities for creating whole, engaged, intelligent people.
My nausea from the shifting, spinning screens would not subside, so I decided to leave class early. My legacy of years as a righteous tech-free supporter, made me able to drop my desire to include Minecraft in my future lessons with an aloofness…that is, until I got home, and acknowledge my own dismay at a power outage . Quickly, I realized that everything I had planned to do in the evening relied on technology, or at least electricity. I found myself wandering the house not able to turn on the radio, make tea, connect to the internet…and type a blog post. I succumbed to pen and paper, and quickly ensuing candle light, somewhat brgrunginly as I like writing with the ability to cut, copy, past, research, and spell check. I always appreciate these moments for me to break down my own misperception that I live with mindfulness and control of my technology use. While I may not be a Minecraft user, my existence is very much mediated by technology use.
The power outage made me think more about the book I just finished: The End of Absence by Michael Harris. I have made mention of this book on my blog and in class several times this fall. I haven’t found the content of the book particularly insightful, but the book’s basic premise has been on the forefront of my mind. Harris wrote the book with the hopes to encourage people’s awareness of the impacts of living in a highly-connected, distraction-laden world of technology. Specifically, he explores the loss of lack – the demise of daydreaming and deep creative thought due to constant tech connection. In an evening of lack (thanks to the the power outage), I realize how seldom I have true technology absence these days.
I think back to my converstaion in the hallway with the Minecraft tutor’s mom. I wonder what her son does in this time outside of the technology world? Or maybe the world of Minecraft is so fantastical, that his brain engages in the same daydreaming and creative thoughts that Harris describes as only possible in time of tech disconnection? Nonetheless, I think of my own overstimulation of the computer lab this afternoon, in contrast with an evening of candel light, pen and notebook, and hold firm to my commitment to keep engineerring technology absence into my life. However, in light of my hallway conversation, I am reminded that we are all fueld by different environments, and kids need the support and freedom to find their own fluid symbiosis between nature and technology throughout their development.