Two-Faced Technology: Hardening and Healing a Child's Heart
Our young people's connection to technology at times seems designed to close off their hearts and destroy their souls. From the redefinition of "face time" so that it removes actual face-to-face contact, to the brutal social dynamics of online bullying at scale, to addictive games that require taking the first person perspective of serial murderers, technology's powerful gravitational pull seems to be in the direction of dehumanizing its users. No wonder many educators are convinced that while technology may be a good way to distribute information, it comes at a terrible cost to the education of the whole child.
The counter argument—that digital technology has a gravitational force that humanizes and pulls people together—is just as strong. Video chat turns foreign citizens into familiar faces for students who will soon operate on a global stage. Online games provide the means for even young children to take their turn at solving difficult problems, from climate change to urban housing. Twitter can promote social change at a speed and scale unseen in previous human history—witness the recent weeks in Egypt!
The truest statement may simply be that technology is less of a force field in one direction or another than it is a power-generating source that has enormous potential to help, harden, hurt, heal, and hinder, not only children's minds but also their hearts and souls and, indeed, all forms of life. Like nuclear power, we may not be ready for it before it is ready for us. We may learn about protections that need to be in place for unanticipated outcomes after the fact, instead of before.
The latter is what has happened to me. As the designer of a technology-based program designed explicitly to address children's social-emotional needs, I have learned that technology can indeed scale best practice in social-emotional learning. That was the predictable part. I have seen the data that shows computer-based social-emotional learning can indeed translate into school success—a reasonable hypothesis but previously unproven.
I have also learned that digital technology can be an effective mediator of whatever it takes to begin to heal a child's broken heart. That was the big surprise. I've learned too that, as with nuclear medicine, without the proper protections in place, the process of highly targeted, digitally delivered emotional healing could have unintended additional consequences. That's the other foot dropping from this great surprise.
The kinds of emotional trauma students address on the computer when given the chance to do so privately, how it has affected their school performance, and what unintended harm they need to be protected from will be the subject of further blogs here this month.