The Changing Tides

On February 14, 2018, a young man entered his former high school and gunned down 17 people, both students and faculty. This horrific event has sparked a massive debate on schools, guns, and the second amendment. With about 80% of Americans using social media today, it is no surprise that the conversation is filling feeds on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

There are many different ideas being brought up in the online discussion, some awful and others great, but there is one supporting fact being used by the pro-gun crowd that bothers me: people remember back in their high school days where guns were brought to school and stored in racks in the cab of a truck or even stored in a locker inside the school. They say that the guns were in close proximity to the school, yet no one used them on their classmates.

The tides have changed. In those same days, we saw our friends at school but each afternoon we parted and went our separate ways. We would journey back to our homes, our families, and maybe, occasionally entertain a phone call with a friend that evening. We were not constantly connected with our friends like the kids of today. Texting, snapchatting, videocalling. But do you know from who else we were separated? Bullies.

In the days before cell phones, when we left school and we went home, away from those that bullied us constantly each day. This separation gave us a reprieve, some downtime. We were given time to get away from those that sought to hurt us and to find comfort among those that loved us most.

Today, the bullies follow us everywhere through technology [1 2 3 4 5]. Instagram shows us what we are missing, giving us a glimpse into the wonderful, fabricated lives being lived by those around us. Teen depression is at an all time high and has been linked to social media usage. A perfect storm has been created where we can no longer seek solace from those that seek to torture us and at the same time, we are barraged of highlights of only the good from others’ lives.

The tides have changed. This post isn’t about creating a solution to gun violence in schools because it is a complex, difficult problem. This message is about that fact that we no longer live in the past and the solutions that worked then may not work now. We need to study the things that impact us in order to understand them. We must become digital ethnographers. We must allow government researchers and those at public and private institutions to have the academic freedom to study gun violence. We need to understand the ever-changing world around us.

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Reboot.

In 1978, Madeleine L’Engle released the novel A Swiftly Tilting Planet as a sequel to the multi-award winning novel A Wrinkle in Time. A Swiftly Tilting Planet chronicles the impending doom of humankind due to technology (i.e., nuclear weapons) and the use of magic to alter the past, present, and subsequent future in order to save the world. While it might be troubling to consider technology which has the purpose to destroy instead of create, it is ultimately the connectedness of humans that determines how we utilize the technologies we invent.

As for magic, a few years prior to the publication of L’Engle’s story, Sir Arthur C. Clarke proposed “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” as the third and final of his predication-related “laws”. As we consider the juxtaposition of these two thoughts, 

Often new technologies are unleashed like Ashe with his shotgun declaring, “This is my boomstick,” and while this is a humorous take on the principle, there are many examples throughout history of advanced technology being used to shock-and-awe people and cultures. It even happens in less threatening environments.

Jonathan Safran Foer posited in a 2013 New York Times opinion column that “technology celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat.” In 2007, Michael Wesch stated, “we tend to emphasize our independence and individuality, failing to realize just how interconnected we are with each other and the rest of the world, and disregarding the health of our relationships with others”. And finally, going back to 1982, Ernest Boyer stated that “as a global society, we simply cannot afford a generation that fails to see or care about connections.”  

With these thoughts in mind, we must be mindful how technology impacts connectedness; how does it influence the human community? Whether we consider it technology or magic, we must consider how technological advances change how we interact with one another and whether we choose to use it to create or destroy.

This blog explores these themes, among others. This is the fourth reboot of this blog since it’s original publication a decade ago.