When Technology Fails, Do You? What You Can Learn from Storm Sandy

Don’t Call it a COMBACK? The Pay Phone Takes over New York

The attached article is about the recent Hurricane Sandy which devastated New York and New Jersey, specifically the revival of the pay-telephone and a new-found appreciation for them.  Without electricity, cell phones are useless once the battery can no longer be charged.  New Yorkers and those hit in New Jersey also are learning this fact the hard way.  Everyone hit hard by the storm who only have cell phones, no landlines, are scrambling to find means to communicate.  As a result,  people are relying on an older technology, a far more reliable one — the pay phone, a landline.  So right now it is back to the “old school” — a  renewed need for the long-neglected pay phone.

When I was in Paris, in 2001, I noticed for the first time that pay phones had become largely obselete.  One day I had an  emergency and urgently needed to make a call.  Not having an international cell phone, I needed the local pay phones. Finding  one was nearly impossible.  Some Frenchman on the street explained to me that since the proliferation of mobile phones, the once ubiquitous pay phone, on every street corner, had like the dinosaur become extinct. Welcome to the newest age of technology.

In WISE, we go on a great deal about technology being the wave of the future and how vital it is and necessary to be competitive.  That is true. However, technology without basic writing skills, cultural literacy, and some imagination is pretty much useless. In New York and elsewhere, we learned that technology is very vulnerable and easily eradicated.  In New York, the storm destroyed hundreds of cell phone towers.  Even when electricity is restored, that communication device won’t work for 100’s of thousands of people.

This storm points out a vulnerability I see in my students and our society which relies too heavily on automated and artificial intelligence for survival.

Think about the recent Homecoming assignment.  The bells and whistles some people relied on — movies, moving images, and music were not enough to make a good and compelling slideshow.  You needed excellent and thoughtful text/writing  to accompany vivid and compelling photos.  In many cases, the photos weren’t good enough nor the text.  But the most troubling aspect was the poor writing, riddled with typos and grammatical mistakes.  In some cases, there were no sentences —  only brief captions and lots of exclamation marks.

In  a world where  you text and tweet constantly, what’s the point of all that so-called writing if the writer can’t explain him/herself without constantly mumbling,  or peppering one’s speech with the word “like” or saying “um” repeatedly.   Everyone should be able to articulate ideas confidently in written and verbal communication, using  a complete subject and predicate.

Sometimes I wonder if technology may be slowly  and irrevocably crippling us intellectually.

Ironically, we have millions of cell phones, more than there are human beings on the planet. That means hundreds of millions of texts, downloads, streaming, insta-grams, and on and on.

Yet when asked to speak to anything substantive that affects real lives — political issues, job qualifications, cultural references to news, many students, and adults not in college as well, are muted, almost as if someone cut their tongues out of their mouths.

When speaking in class, students often smile nervously, feel intensely  self-conscious and ultimately struggle to find words to be understood.  Often, frustration, intimidation and  plain embarassment just shut the student down.

My job as your WISE Instructor is to get you beyond that stuck point, to eradicate sucking your teeth, rolling your eyes, fidgeting, and just being plain miserable when asked, “what do you think?”

If you can’t take yourself seriously, then who can?  In other words, when someone asks you to consider a situation and analyze it, offering your viewpoint, and you can’t, that’s a problem.  Taking one’s self seriousaly or as an adult is consciously recognizing one’s values and opinions and being able to state them readily and clearly.  When you can do this, you are really becoming a mature person (not old, like me! but a mature thinker and fully-developed adult).

Even when students are asked to speak about subjects which they supposedly know, I see them struggling to articulate a clear idea that isn’t weighed down in cliched jargon, unclear wording or long pauses and silence.

As a result of this stammering, when I ask students questions, I am pushy. I admit it. But I think students need to be pushed out of their comfort zone in order to become sharp and critical thinkers who can process ideas faster and synthesize data quicker to express interesting observations that rely on words which go beyond these bland and vague expressions of nothingness: “good” “bad” “nice” “the way” “certain” “things” “like”.

And when students write, I am pushing them  to use adjectives and adverbs, many interpretive words that show the student is analyzing and  thinking, and that you can connect parts of a story together to make a really insightful point, using descriptive verbs that go beyond the overused ones:  is, am, are, was, were,  and verbals including “being.”

Scientists in the 1930’s figured out how to split an atom to create a fusion of power.  That great discovery of atomic energy was abused to create atom bombs to kill hundreds of thousands in 1945 when American pilots dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.  It effectively and immediately ended Japanese opposition and ushered in the end of World War II.

Today, this military strike is seen by many people and historians as a horrendous mass murder and one of the most shameful actions in America’s history.   Equally, this use of technology is often cited to make the point technology is nothing if it’s in the hands of those who lack humanity.

Technology alone is never enough.  Students today  seem too proud of their ability to manipulate data and technology, focused on these skills while the far more important skills of composition, critical thinking, and verbal communication are virtually ignored. You need imagination — and that imagination comes from reading and being exposed to a great deal of information and stories.

In this class, you all have begun to do that — looking at news articles, watching music videos critically, following the Presidential election and knowing the issues, and tweeting about all you are discovering.  You are on your way to being not only technologically savvy but competent writers!

As we move forward in this WISE class, I encourage you to continue to use technology in class and in your daily lives but to STRIKE A BALANCE where your intellectual capacities and academic skills are as proficient and developed as your technological and internet skills.

Technologically gifted is impossible if one is academically crippled.  Right now, you are becoming academically enabled, one step at a time. Don’t stop moving and growing.

1 Comment

One thought on “When Technology Fails, Do You? What You Can Learn from Storm Sandy

  1. I agree with you that technology has crippled soiciety as a whole. At Clack Atlanta you see student’s texting in class and using their electronics as a form of leisure time. However, indivduals should be using their technology to better themselves. An example is yesterday when a student in my class asked the teacher can she look in her phone to find a better word to use in class. Consequently, technology is going to continue to spread and flourish in society, but instead of indivduals turning off their critical thinking indivduiduals need to use technolody as a building ground to better themselves.

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