For years I’ve been saying that the technology doesn’t matter. I’ve spoke at conferences, on webinars and to hundreds of people one on one and I’ve always told them to concentrate on pedagogy and learning. I’ve told them that since everything has moved away from the old days of Mac vs. PC and online that as long as you have a device and can get online to do what you need, that the technology doesn’t really matter.
But times are changing and these days I am recognizing more and more that the technology we choose to use matters.
Twenty years ago when I bought my first PC I had my choice of beige boxes. They were expensive and heavy. They were glitchy and unreliable, but they got us online. From there, the first step was plastic boxes that were black instead of beige. (Don’t laugh, it was a thing to simply even have that much choice). The years went by, Apple was saved by Microsoft to save them from being a monopoly, and for a time, the technology world seemed to roll along. Web 2.0 became a thing, dot-coms boomed and busted, Facebook exploded, we all got super computer phones to carry in our pockets (do you remember the first time you saw an iphone in action? I do, it belonged to Bob Sprankle at my first BLC conference and he looked up the history of one of the forts in Boston Harbour. I knew right then that the world had changed). But, along this later part of the ride we also got corporate and government surveillance, Edward Snowden and hackers wanting to steal our credit data and our identity.
The technology has changed too. While few people want to go back to a command line existence, there is no doubt that the 21 GB operating system on my Macbook Pro is putting far too many computing cycles into looking pretty than is completely necessary. When I can run a Raspberry Pi 2 on an OS under 2 GB, there is obviously a lot going on under the hood of my Mac that isn’t strictly necessary. Instead of heavy glitchy desktops we now have everything from $35 computers to iPads to $3500 retina screen laptops to phones which follow us everywhere we go.
Choice is good. But are all choices equal?
As educators, we have a responsibility to our students to educate them about their choices. Giving a student an iPad and teaching them using mainly that model of computing and technology leaves out so much. The information is there. We can access it from anyplace. Access to information and having a platform from which to publish isn’t the difficulty anymore, those are the easy parts. How we get to that information and the skills and knowledge we have to work with them are.
Since I started using many web services years ago, I understood the trade off I was making when I used a “free” service. It wasn’t free. I paid for that service with ads and my email address. As time went by I began to prefer paying dollars out of my pocket instead of with my data. That was a clear trade off and I choice that I made. What I struggle with is the idea that I have paid about $2500 for my laptop and $800 for my phone and yet Apple still collects numerous data points about my use of these devices. I have a great deal of respect for the recent stand that Apple has taken on privacy and the distance they are putting between themselves and companies such as Google and Facebook, but it still is worth watching.
But what do our students know about all of this? Do we teach them about privacy? Not just the “don’t give out your address to strange people on the internet,” kind of privacy, but the larger ideas. Do they understand the data that a website collects about them? Do they know about the trail of data their phones give off? Do they understand the options for privacy that their OS provides? Have they evaluated their options next to a free OS such as Linux? What options do they need to be aware of as we move into the age of personalized health apps and smart home data?
The kinds of information we have access to is not changing. It has become increasingly more pervasive, easy to access to expected, but really hasn’t changed. What changes are the options we have surrounding access to that data and the knowledge we have about working with it.