Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Too Much Tech Nonsense - Too Much Tech Stress and Addiction!

One of the prime culprits in many Americans melting down from tech stress: the ''smart phone."

Yeppers, call me a Neo-Luddite, at least in tech gadget terms. I don't do 'Twitter', abhor 'tweets' as language abominations (also encouraging laziness), own no smart phone, no cell, and no I-pad. I do have a Facebook account, but I seldom go on my page, nor am I in any competition to get "friends". I simply don't care, and it isn't a priority in my life.  And I get along just fine. Now, it appears, according to a Denver Post article yesterday ('As Gadgets Multiply, Tech Stress Builds', p. 1C) I may well be on the right track. Less tech is more: more freedom, less being hostage to a device.

Quoting one tech helper specialist from Palo Alto -based 'Bay Area Solutions':

"People are under incredible pressure these days because of how dependent everyone is on their computers, and especially their smart phones. We get calls from CEOs with email problems and they're going crazy, so it's a good thing I took psychology courses in college because it helps me calm talk them off the ledge."

Off the ledge? Are you kidding me? But evidently this is no joke. Palo Alto psychologist Francine Toder, quoted in the Post article, blames it on the "always on" syndrome. Toder notes that she's observed people "overwhelmed by life" whose problems then become far worse on account of being complicated by the array of techie devices and data coming at them.

What are some of the symptoms of the tech gadget addiction 'always on' syndrome? According to the piece:

- The skipping heartbeat when your Android phone beeps with an alert

- The nagging need to ceaselessly check for incoming texts and emails, even at the movies or while having dinner with your family.

- The recurring 'phantom vibration syndrome' - the creepy sensation in your gut that your cell is sounding off and you need to deal with it.

- The need to access your Twitter and text some bullshit, oblivious to walking in a high crime area.

All of which bespeaks serious tech addiction.

But what may be even worse, and far less noted, is the educational dysfunction bred by the techie 'black box' syndrome, as pointed out in a letter by Ludwik Kowalski to Physics Today (October, p. 8). The 'black box' refers to any and all gizmos where one punches in data or whatever and some output is forthcoming.  To the button- puncher, it appears like magic because there is no physical relation to what is happening inside the gizmo. Hence, to the user, it's a 'black box'.

For example, take the scientific calculator. Kids in college (or High school) today mostly just punch in numbers to get a log or cube root, or sine of an angle with no conception of what's going on. Contrast that to the slide rules we used to use (in the 60s) and the Mannheim style slide rule I still own, see e.g. below:

ACU-MATH Mannheim No. 4008 Professional Slide Rule, 1960's, In Case Retro Tool Mid Century Tool Collectible

One had to at least be familiar with logarithms, log scales and trig relationships, identities. In other words, you were physically manipulating the device and saw the process at work as you got the answer. According to letter writer Kowalski:

"Our electronic gadgets tend to become less transparent and more difficult to use as they evolve. ....I asked what effect such gadgets as your 27-button cell phone with its 21 screen menus and 124 page manuals, have on the minds of our youngsters. Their push button experience is very different from their parents' experience. Responding, one teacher wrote:

'There are no radios, no grandfather clocks, no cars which anyone can take into their garage and work on, Those things we used to find fun and intriguing to put together and repair do not exist any longer in the world where everything is run by electronics and chips."

Kowalski rightly goes on to note that this disappearance of transparent gadgets such as radios and clocks is "certainly a concern for physics teachers because we have come to see them as powerful reinforcers of curiosity and motivators of learning. The non-transparent smartphones, Ipads and similar gadgets don't promote learning."

Kowalski is also spot on in expressing his dismay at the increasing prevalence of toddlers "spending more and more time watching what happens on the screens of Ipads."

He's right. This sort of thing, while it may be 'cute' and entertaining for parents to see the little guy funning on a mini-computer, is designed to turn him into a gadget addict later. Why isn't he instead learning geometrical and relationship principles by playing with blocks or Legos? Thereby he's getting a direct physical feel for manipulating objects toward a defined outcome in the physical world.

Kowalksi's  final cautionary note is well worth taking seriously:

"Any tool we are using without understanding - for example a sophisticated commercial instrument, can be said to be a non-transparent black box."

1 comment:

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