In a conversation by a neighborhood pool on a recent Saturday evening in Atlanta, I found myself trying to put language to something I have been troubled by for some time. As we find technology integration becoming more and more seamless, and as information becomes increasingly integrated through the funnel of a very few mechanisms, we are pulled powerfully in opposing directions. In order to preserve our freedom to connect quickly, efficiently, and meaningfully and in order to gather what we need through digital means, we have to surrender much of our ability to operate privately on-line. I worry about how I will find the right balance between the freedom web-based resources offer and the privacy that is diminished each time I add content to the cloud.
On one hand the convenience and apparent inevitability of having everything in our lives pass through Google, Facebook, or Twitter, is lovely, and it promises to be convenient, manageable, and understandable; however, on the other hand, I struggle because of our increasing inability to separate business from personal digital footprints. Having our entire digital lives held in the hand of a few entities that will continually mine whatever of value they can gather is frightening. Not surprisingly, thinking about this issue can quickly begin to sound dystopic; however, I am not inclined to start borrowing too much vocabulary from 1984 or Brave New World. Not yet at least. My greatest fear is cultural apathy—have we become a society that will thoughtlessly sacrifice independence and privacy bit by bit? Irony abounds here for educators in particular, for as we strive to be and to create independent learners, we risk creating dependence on the means (i.e., the platform and search engine) that facilitates access to stunningly powerful technological tools. Every step forward (and there are many that lie ahead for individuals, businesses, and schools) seems to involve a bit of surrender. Will we be aware enough or reflective enough to make the hard decisions regarding how to move forward without sacrificing too much? Or will we be like the pony that can be led astray by sugar cubes left one after the other until he has gone over the hill, across the pasture, and finally off the farm? Working in a school on the threshold of bold steps forward, I am immersed in different versions of this conversation, and I am aware of the presence of strings of sugar cubes on the hill and across the pasture. Approached thoughtfully though, the digital tools now available to us are not all sugar cubes, but rather they are something far more substantive…something that has the potential to become an extraordinary set of learning tools. I believe the role of teachers in this moment is to make sure we are helping students discover and use these tools to make meaning, to communicate articulately to a wide audience, and to learn how to participate in the conversations they will engage as adults.