Archive for August, 2010
“No. I’m talking.”

Amy: “Holden, would you like to go home and take a nap?”

Holden: “No. I’m talking.”

daiyo by the harbor


I am a week and a half into my new job.  So far, so good.  The people are fabulous and the work is interesting.  When I leave in the morning, I don’t feel like I am going to work.  It feels different that the type of morning I am used to.  Things feel easier and less daunting.  In my previous job, everything felt impossible.  They never paid me on time, we often had to buy our own hand soap, we frequently ran out of paper towels in the bathrooms, they did not routinely sweep or mop the floors, and we had to take out our own trash.  No wonder I was so sick last year.  I am so used to buying my own supplies for the classroom that I mistakenly purchased some items for my classes this term and didn’t save the receipt, completely oblivious to the fact that most organized places of business will actually reimburse you for  your expenses.  The work environment itself feels more like a business than a college setting, which is actually fine with me.  At my last job, the lack of structure and oversight meant that you could come and go as you pleased, but it also meant that no one noticed or cared when you did a good job.  This isn’t the case for me anymore at my new job.  Now people notice and care about my work performance.  They are paying attention.  They give a shit.

My classes begin in a week and a half.  I have to run an orientation program the Saturday before classes begin, for the incoming psychology freshmen.  I keep trying to recollect what it was like to be 18 and going off to college for the first time, but it seems so long ago, and the person I was then seems so foreign, that I don’t think my memories are a source upon which I can depend for guidance.  This generation is different; they live in a digital age now, and don’t remember it ever being anything different.  E-mail is so unimpressive to them (not to mention slow).  They interface with technology with such ease; this is especially true at the small, private college where I will be working.  Our college is very focused on information technology and emergent media—and I, being a total and complete Luddite, feel woefully out of place with my paper academic planning calendar and lack of Twitter account.  That said, I have managed to find like-minded Luddite colleagues within the Division of Education & Human Studies.  If you want to meet true Luddites, you will find them in the field of Social Work.  Those folks have the best interpersonal skills of any professional field I have seen (ironically far better interpersonal skills than the folks in Mediation Studies), and they have acquired these interpersonal skills presumably through ACTUALLY INTERACTING WITH PEOPLE, rather than just tweeting some stupid crap or posting a series of vapid Facebook status updates.

Now, I know it probably seems like I have an antagonistic relationship with technology.  That’s not entirely true.  I’m just not that interested in gadgets.  And reading user’s manuals.  Not interested at all.  But my students who are products of the digital age probably do not have to even bother with the user’s manuals.  I am sure they just have an intuitive sense of how to get things to work.  Holden certainly seems to.  He can pick up Rob’s iPhone, choose an app (Baby’s animal show is one of his favorites), and advance through the screens.  No problem.  He is 2 years old, and has already mastered a technology that nearly escapes me (I don’t have an iPhone and don’t have any real need to have one).

So, there it is.  I am a Luddite psychology professor at an extremely tech-oriented college.  How do I fit here?  I fit here because I earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, which means I can make meaningful connections between almost any series of disparate topics or fields!  I decided that my cognitive psychology students will explore the effect of technology on cognition (our memory, attention, and decision-making).  I will get these kids to really question how we use technology (e.g. how is our ability to concentrate affected by constant jumping from hyperlink to hyperlink as we read web-based texts?)  On the surface, someone might claim that such shotgun patterns of “reading” have little impact on a broad psychological construct such as concentration, or attention.  In reality, exploring the relationship between how we read and how we concentrate (or attend) is predicated on two assumptions:

1)  The brain is plastic.  Experience changes the structure and function of our brains.  These experience-dependent changes are not restricted to young children.  ALL brains are plastic, throughout the lifespan.

2) Every session on the computer, in which an individual switches seamlessly (seemingly) from e-mail, to reading an article, to reading a couple sentences of another article, and a paragraph of yet another—constitutes a training trial.  We have many such training trials each day, each week, and throughout the year.  These training trials are learning experiences that actively shape and re-structure our very plastic brains.

Given the two assumptions above, we can conclude that our use of technology changes our brains.  What we don’t know exactly is—in what ways do these experience-dependent changes alter the way we think?  What are the manifestations and consequences of these changes?  These are questions suited for scientific exploration as well as philosophical musing.  Because I am more comfortable operating within the realm of empiricism, and well, reality, I prefer tackling these questions scientifically.  I no longer work in a lab, but I do work in a classroom, and I can help my students learn to ask the right questions through a lens that demands systematic and rigorous analysis.  Maybe the students will conclude that technology is enabling people to process information faster.  Maybe they will conclude that technology is exacerbating our attention problems because we aren’t evolutionarily adapted to handle so many competing stimuli.  Maybe I will loosen the grip of my Luddite self-concept just a little bit, and maybe my students will cultivate an awareness of how they use technology, and how it may affect their thinking.  Could my course be a vehicle for increasing self-awareness?  Could my course allow these kids to gain perspective on media that they take for granted?

Critical and unfettered self-examination is a worthy goal of any course.  I think Holden has put it best.  The other day, Holden looked up at me, smiled thoughtfully, and said, “I am me.  Not you.”


Lately, Holden’s first request in the morning is for a bowl of pasta.  He pads into our bedroom, clambers onto our bed, and whines “PASTA!!  Please!  PASTA!”

Tonight I made a huge batch of whole wheat pasta and stuck it in a Tupperware container in the fridge.  Tomorrow morning, when he asks for pasta for breakfast, I will put the whole container on the counter, and I will stumble back to bed and fall asleep again while he is eating.

Shameless Brag

Holden learned how to catch a ball this past weekend.  We were sitting out on the deck, preparing for a grilling extravaganza, while Grandpa and Holden tossed a ball back and forth.  Holden was able to catch it several times.  Each time he would successfully catch it, we would clap, and he would look up at us with pride.  His smile was radiant, and he seemed to be eager for us to witness each of these tiny successes.

The day that your son can catch a ball is the day that he officially enters boyhood.