The Intersection of Technology and Humanity

Dear Teachers,

One of the things I most love about being a connected educator is getting to know some really smart people who I would likely never meet in real life. I especially love when I see a particularly smart social media post that really makes me stop and think. Recently that post was one from my brilliant first-on-Twitter-and-now-IRL friend Dr. Kristen Mattson:

Screenshot 2018-07-13 at 3.37.40 PM

I have thought and written about how the “#digcit conversation” has evolved over time, and the process many of us go through when we first start thinking about the term. When I first became aware of the concept many years ago, the focus (at least for me) WAS on Internet safety and preventing cyberbullying. A lot of people I know start their journey into a deeper understanding of digital citizenship in just that way. (I’ve described a typical evolution at this infographic.)

The part of Dr. Mattson’s tweet above that has grabbed me and won’t let me go is “…wrestle with the important ethical questions at the intersection of technology and humanity.” That is some beautiful language right there, and it begs the question: what ARE some of those ethical questions at the intersection of technology and humanity? That is what I have been pondering the past several days. I’ve come up with three major ones for this blog post; more may be coming as I continue to think about this important question.

  1. Many adults seem to lament that “kids these days don’t know how to have a real relationship,” but I would submit that informed and empathetic digital citizens are all about relationships. I’ve seen first hand how the digital relationships that we create can often be just as rich and satisfying as ones cultivated through more traditional means, and for our students, there is often not a line between digital and “real life.” Because for them, digital IS real-life. At the same time, I have observed no small number of people who scroll through their phones absent-mindedly even though actual people are right in front of them, longing for some conversation and connection. Talk to your students about the ways that the digital world can both unite and divide us. Also, we could use a lot more civility in many of our online spaces, so while you’re at it – please mentor your students in how to disagree without being disagreeable.
  2. Informed and empathetic digital citizens develop “digital soft skills” along with the technical skills they need when they go online. I love this blog post by Dr. Josie Ahlquist, where she discusses some soft skills that every incoming college freshman needs. As someone who admits to a HUGE problem with digital focus (my team teases me relentlessly about the number of tabs I have open at any given time), I try to imagine what it would be like to be a NINE YEAR OLD and have to manage the amount of distraction that came my way every day! Kids that age have always been impulsive. They’ve always wanted to look at naughty pictures. They’ve always been bad at anticipating consequences of their actions. We need to talk to our students about online decision-making, digital focus, and the necessity of empathy, just as we would talk to them about cutting in line, scribbling on someone else’s paper, or blurting out inappropriate comments. Sometimes teachers forget the value of a good conversation if the topic happens to involve technology.
  3. Informed digital citizens fact-check EVERYTHING. In today’s era of “fake news,” indiscriminate forwards of urban legends, and easily manipulated images and videos, it is crucial to the survival of our democracy that students understand how information – and misinformation – is disseminated. All of us must know how to scrupulously fact-check, carefully examine our own filter bubbles and possible confirmation bias, and commit to careful and honest reflection about the quality of our own posts.

leeann tweet

And this doesn’t even begin to address much brainier ethical considerations that technology provides: artificial intelligence, 24/7 surveillance, cyber security, preventing identity theft, and on and on. What are your thoughts? Where do you see “ ethical questions at the intersection of technology and humanity”? I am still pondering this meaty question, and I think it behooves all of us digital citizens to do the same.




For further reading:

The Many Ethical Implications of Emerging Technologies – Scientific American, 3.13.15

Tech’s Ethical Dark Side: Harvard, Stanford and Others Want to Address It – New York Times, 2.12.18



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