Saturday, October 16, 2010

Using Hamlet's Blackberry to Help Our Digital Natives Disconnect

I just finished an interesting book by William Powers, Hamlet's Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age. The premise of the book is that throughout history man has struggled with the best uses for new technology (written language, books, printing press and more) and 21st-century man is struggling once again in this digital age of perpetual connectedness and, as the author says, "busyness." Powers cites some interesting historical examples and makes compelling arguments. If you're as plugged in and connected as I, you might do well to read this one.

More importantly, as a result of this book, I really started contemplating what we're about to do at school. Next school year we're joining the growing number of schools that are one-to-one laptop schools. Don't get me wrong - I'm thrilled we're finally joining the 21st century and equipping our students and teachers with powerful educational tools. However, we're about to take our hyper-connected kids and make them "perpetually connected," as Powers says.

I've seen firsthand how this state of perpetual connectedness wears on me and other workaholics like me and I'm feeling a sense of responsibility to stop the madness before it begins with my students. Powers has a great chapter in the book in which he sums up seven other chapters. Chapter Twelve is "Not So Busy - Practical Philosophies for Every Day." He cites historical examples of Plato, Seneca, Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Ben Franklin, Thoreau and McLuhan, and offers some really insightful strategies for, as he says, "building a good life in the digital age." I've already begun thinking about how to adapt this chapter to create a presentation for my students next year on how to create disconnected, unplugged time for themselves. (As much as I'd love to share the details of the chapter in great detail, I'm sure Mr. Powers would rather you purchase the book.)

How can we issue laptops and other wireless devices to our kids without also equipping them to disconnect and experience some healthy, unplugged alone time?

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