Friday, September 09, 2011


by Shelly Blake-Plock

Technology is not making life easier.

And the tools we use in the classroom do not make life easier. Going paperless won't make your life easier. Going paperless won't solve your problems and it won't "really" clear up that clutter on your desk.

And I say, "Thank goodness."

Because by striving to make things simpler, by striving to make things more manageable, we put ourselves in the mind-place where we might just wind up making the same sorts of decisions with regard to networked connections and personalization that led to the very things we hate about bureaucracy and standardization.

We have to fight the inner urge to make our lives easier.

Life is not easy. Neither for the individual nor for the society. Life is complex. It takes the ability to solve problems and the ability to face problems that can not be solved; it takes the ability to recognize both beauty and ugliness and to know that you can't have one without the other.

We are living in an age of connections. That does not mean we are living in an age qualitatively "better" than any other. Technology itself is ethically neutral.

And that is the way it has to be.

Technology is not making life easier. We know this. Fundamentally, we understand that we are awash in an alien sea. And to we -- including myself -- who have stated at one time or another how simple a certain app makes something, or how much more manageable a certain device makes something: to hell with us.

Life is not simple. Life is not something to simply be managed.

Our kids get this. Our kids are still of an age where they aren't impressed by the technology they use so much as they are satisfied by it. We teachers are old enough to understand the shift in context and we therefore are amazed and at times overwhelmed. But few 15 year olds on Earth really care about how innovative Spotify is; the 15 year old just wants to listen to music.

They don't want to celebrate the simplicity of the e-music revolution. They don't want to specialize in the management of audio data.

They just want to rock out.

To the 15 year old, Spotify -- and the whole of the technological vista -- is pretty obvious. And pretty simple.

And yet not simple at all. Because what Spotify -- like the radio stations of our youth -- represents is one's identity. And there is nothing at all simple about that. And it is identity that our kids struggle with -- identity within the context of technology.

And so there is really nothing simple about it at all. Nothing simple about it when you put it in the context of identity formation in a 24/7 connected pluralistic society. What's simple is just thinking about the matter from the point of view of technological innovation and dealing with the end result -- the product -- the user interface.

And that's emblematic of the problem with technology in schools. We tend to think about technology in such a way that we divert our attention from the social aspect -- the formative aspect -- and instead look for the easiest-to-use user interface. So often we fall into a pattern of behavior that either obsesses over or ignores the interface because it seems to present itself -- and the "life" it represents -- in such an easy and simple way.

But there is no simple way.

And there never will be. And there shouldn't be.

You can pull up the most easy listening Milquetoast music you could dream of on Spotify and it does nothing to diminish the complexity of the process that is bringing that music to you -- a process equally economic, technological, artistic, labor-intensive, political, and cut-throat competitive. It does nothing to diminish the social and psychological intensity of the process of identifying oneself culturally for or against an aesthetic. It does nothing to diminish the very life-stuff and joys and tragedies and wealth and poverty and salvation and abuse behind every note of music and every blip of byte to byte.

We are teachers. And we know that when it comes to assessing the intellect and understanding of a student, there is no "simple".

Technology itself will never do anything to change that.

In fact, the power of personalized observation into formative development that technology does provide will probably only make the whole thing more complex.


Maybe that's what we should be focusing on. Maybe that's what we should be calling this age -- not the Digital Age, but rather the Age of Complexity.



  1. Very well put, as usual, Shelly. The obvious complexity of life is what makes our ability to discern all the more significant. It's why teaching and learning is so crucial to the Qualities of Life. It's why what you do is so important. It's why the work of my friend, John Caddy, is so important. John will use this thing called technology to send you an image and poem everyday, and to occasionally invite you to write about what you see. See and read and write.

  2. simple is when we allow ourselves to swim in complexity. love it.

  3. life is simple in simple words....we make it difficult for us.

  4. Great post. I have been thinking about the idea that the value of technology is not as conduit but as obstacle as well lately. I think it is false to assume that the sole role of technology is to make life easier, sometimes it is good learning practice to stumble, to not know, to struggle, to work out and technology not only also us the ability to do that alone, but with each other.

  5. There are two sides of a coin. We cannot determine the development of the technology is good or bad. However, when most people, especially teenagers, regard it as a cannot-live-without tool, we, the adults, parents and teachers, should pay attention to this situation. The technology could be an impediment at the same time. It is true that it doesn’t make our life simpler and easier in some way.

  6. A fantastic read….very literate and informative. Many thanks fitness equipment


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