In recent news, Prince spoke out against the Internet stating, “All these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers, and that can’t be good for you.” After reading the article, I’ve imagined this is all a publicity stunt to promote his new album (which I’m not going to promote). But his comments do cause me to reflect on the impact technology has had on our learning and development. Can Prince be right about gadgets not being good for you? I also thought to myself, if technology is not good for us, then is what we do in student affairs not good either?
So I thought about mp3 players – I have several different versions – ones that hook right up to the computer with the USB port and of course, a ipod. Are they no good? Sure, I can load them up with useless songs, but I have found that mp3 players (the same as the old personal cassette and CD players) represent a part of our soul. We put music, podcasts, shows, pictures, and other items on these devices because they mean something to us. When I’m running and a song comes on, it immediately transports me to a different place and time. When I’m listening to a podcast like “Tech Therapy” from the Chronicle, I’m learning and reflecting. My physical presence hasn’t changed – I’m still running physically, but my mind is running all over previous held knowledge and new thoughts and ideas are emerging. I think sometimes, student affairs can be seen as a mp3 player. We provide a menu of options for students to engage in. We have weekend programs, community service projects, student activities, student groups, intramural teams, and the list goes on. Sometimes, we have large attendance and sometimes a program or new initiative fails. As student affairs professionals, we reflect and re-analyze our efforts to reach students and provide support to them. But it’s important to remember, just as a mp3 player, students participate in different college programs as a reflection of who they are. Similar to a playlist on a mp3 player, students pick and choose their engagement on what reflects their interests and what would help them grow. We may not see how our actions impact them in the moment, but perhaps students’ cognitive processes are in motion helping them further in their development.
I also thought of computers. Are they filling my head up with numbers and useless information? Are they leading us to be disengaged with others and ourselves? There are numerous scholarly articles and research examining the effect of technology on disengagement (i.e. Main, Student disengagement in higher education: Two Trends in Technology, and Lindos and Zolkos, Technology, Community, and Education in Neoliberal Society: A Review of Michael Bugeja’s Interpersonal Divide). In these articles, arguments are presented regarding technology’s threat to higher education by encouraging commercialism and disengagement among students. For example, in a survey conducted with 116 students with GPAs below 2.0, one-third of participants acknowledged the impact recreational computer use had on their academic performance (Farrell, 2005). Many electronic addictions are also becoming prevalent on campuses like gaming, gambling, and web surfing (Carr-Chellman, 2005; Farrell, 2005). So how does student affairs practices fit into this new era of engagement? Often, student affairs professionals are seen as the experts in student engagement, being sought out by others on our expertise and talents. We are not limited by time and space. Our business is students, which sometimes requires accessibility at all hours and in various forms. There are arguments out there that state that student affairs is useless to the enterprise of higher education, that we should simply be “house mothers” and let the learning be left for the experts (i.e. faculty). But student affairs, like technology, does have a role in educating students. We can assist students in maximizing their academic goals by developing strategies to reach them. We provide a framework for challenge and support as students navigate through their college experience. Technology does the same, if utilized and directed with intentionality and purpose.
So I go back to my original question: Is technology no good for our brain? I don’t have a clear answer to that, but I know that my mind has been challenged by what technology has provided me. Technology makes me think of my practices. It delivers information to me daily that requires me to mull, reflect, act, and react to. I use a cell-phone to communicate with friends and family. I use a computer to manage all my professional responsibilities. I skype, I twit, I blog, I post, I read, I reflect, and I learn. Technology for the good or bad allows me to grow. So maybe Prince wants us to stay partying like it’s 1999, but I prefer to party it on into the future and let my mind keep growing.
Licinia “Lulu” Barrueco Kaliher, Ed.D., is a Ray Street Complex Director at the University of Delaware.
Carr-Chellman, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Global Perspectives on E-learning: Rhetoric and Reality. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Farrell, E. F. (2005, September 2). Logging on, tuning out: When students lose themselves in online worlds, it can be hard to bring them back to reality. The Chronicle of Higher Education, p. A46.