Monday starts a new semester, which along with the new year, provides a kind of rebirth for academics. There is power in this opportunity to start fresh, both meeting and teaching new students, at the same time refining and expanding on how we go about teaching them.
Living in 15-week spurts has disadvantages as well. Time goes entirely too fast. January bleeds into May, the short summer break comes, and then by the fall semester start in August, the year is basically over. The constant controlled and uncontrolled chaos of teaching pushes along at warp speed. The train is constantly moving and the destination seems a bit fuzzy. It is easy to develop a love/hate relationship with the semester clock.
Last week we lost electricity for a couple hours, just before darkness fell on our little piece of Florida. With a beautiful two-year-old daughter running around, the first instinct is to make sure she understands what is happening and, basically, does not freak out. To her, total darkness can be terrifying, so we made it a game with “magical” candles and fun sitting outside watching the stars. A few hours later, the lights came back on, and we packed up the Scion and went driving around to look at holiday lights around the neighborhood. We turned it into a great family evening.
The idea of the power outage stayed with me. My wife and I discussed how refreshing it felt without distractions, whether telephone calls or the constant blare of the TV (damn, it was nice to get a break from watching Caillou’s Xmas movie for the 1,000th time). For the first time in as long as I can remember, I actually felt decompressed. We pledged to turn everything off more often in the future in an attempt to recreate that unplugged feeling.
I realized that this conflicted feeling is similar to the way I feel about technology and teaching it to my students. On one hand, I love technology, not only working for years as a tech communicator and journalist, but exploring its power with my students, as well as the influence it will have on their careers. I think intellectual curiosity is the lynchpin of a career in communications and the constant technology evolution forces professionals to continue evolving, growing, and learning.
On the flipside, though, I hate my own addiction to technology…the gnawing feeling I get when I am not checking e-mail a million times a day; reading countless electronic newsletters, articles, journals, and essays; and trying to stay ahead of the curve on everything technology-related. When I give myself time to think about it, I know for a fact that I am spreading myself too thin, which is perpetuated by the way technology brings me closer to whatever pops into my head.
My lone attempt at fighting my own addiction is by completely repelling all technology based on cell phones. I realize that their are implications and that I am falling behind somewhat by not engaging in that arena, but there must be a stopping point.
Honestly, though, I can’t say that I use my time more wisely because I am not plugged in by cell, but I do devote some of it to the act of thinking. What I have noticed is that quiet time is virtually nonexistent in today’s society. We are so plugged in that reflection comes infrequently, if ever. Most college students cannot even walk across campus, whether a 7 a.m. or 7 p.m. without chatting away on the ubiquitous cell phone. For those of us over the age of 35, it is still unsettling to see people from a distant whose lips are moving or in the next lane over on the highway though all alone. I cannot be the only Gen Xer who gets a weird feeling in that fleeting moment before realizing that the person is on a cell phone.
Obviously, a blog is an odd place for such a technophile/technophobe confessional, but perhaps those who would read this are the most in need of thinking about the topic. These kinds of examinations are never simple and much larger than thinking about corporate America’s fascination with “work/life balance,” since technology is at the heart of the profession and unavoidable in the workplace.
More importantly, I do not think these issues should be pushed under the rug. Turnover (i.e. burnout) is a critical challenge in communications and tech-based chaos is a factor. My primary criticism is that technology should have made people more productive, thus enabling workers to work less, not more.
In fact, what happened is that technology gives management the opportunity to heap more on workers’ plates. I do not know a single communications professional who isn’t working the job of a person and a half or more. Fewer people on the payroll increases margins and profitability. Thus, the smartest, most efficient employees are given even more work, not a break from the onslaught. But, now I’m venturing onto another topic…
Getting back to the point. Technology enables us for better and worse.
I’ll admit: I am a technophile and technophobe. Are you?