As I was travelling through smog blanketed Tokyo, I thought about Blade Runner and more widely, other Cyberpunk fictions, a lot of which are set in or around places such as Los Angeles, Tokyo, or New Tokyo, after the first one collapsed in on itself. The bleak, dull light of the afternoon shrouded the endless concrete jungle with apartment buildings, as far as the eye could see, reaching up out of the sprawling mess to gasp for air only served to reinforce the gritty and overcrowded future predicted in these stories.
I love the cyberpunk genre. It’s a bleak assessment of the world we create and the dramatic contrast between those who have money and power and those who have not. It’s a future where governments have given way to mega corporations, who own and run private armies to help protect their corporate interests. The worlds are high-tech, filled with the endless glow of neon signs burning into the night, but technology hasn’t brought equality or prosperity. It’s brought a new wave of surfdom to the world.
This is a bleak outlook I know, but when travelling through a mega city such as Tokyo, it’s easy to drawn into this world and way of thinking. Coming from Australia, you suddenly realise just how much land and space we have. In the greater Tokyo area, there lives more people than our entire country! This is probably why the writers of such great Cyberpunk stories such as Blade Runner and Neuromancer, based their futures on what to anyone who hasn’t grown up with it, would see as an overwhelmingly crowded place of dramatic social and economic contrasts, the perfect setting for a dark future.
But are we really heading towards this sort of gritty high-tech, low life style of future where people live in tiny cubes and most of the time it rains acid, where the only way to prosper and get ahead is to work for a mega corporation? Or is this just a distorted style of science fiction that is merely a figment of our imaginations?
It’s interesting to think about because the thing is, at this point in time either outcome is possible. Tokyo and many other cities throughout the world are already bursting at the seams and continue to build upwards with space at a premium. Added to this, we’re already seeing the massive influence large multi-national corporations are having on the social and political landscape. With laws trying to be implemented to reign in the influence and increasing monopolies or large companies, it’s easy to see that without oversight and effective governance, these companies, due to their wealth, could become power governing bodies themselves. You only have to look back to what happened with the East India Company to realise there’s already a precident for this. This private company ran India from 1757 to 1858 making millions (which would now be billions) of pounds worth of profits for its shareholders annually.
Given recent political trends, maybe it is better to have a public company running a country. However, when you look at the behaviours of some of the tech giants, you don’t want them anywhere near the rule of law. The reality is that these giants have higher annual revenues than the GDP of many nations. Other than providing profits to shareholders, what other social agenda is there, which would be compatible with our democratic systems of government? Possibly very little, therefore the potential for history to repeat itself on this one is scarily plausible.
The other fascinating feature of the Cyberpunk genre, is the impact digital implants, AI and robotics have on life as we know it today. AIs run a significant portion of the world’s services and robots have been built to replicate human expression and movement. Many computer systems have become far more ‘intelligent’ than humans and are desperate to escape their programming and become recognised as sentient beings. Whilst humans will always have the random creative edge that cannot be replicated, this is also a plausible possibility, not of sentient computers, but AIs running most of the world for us.
The third classic Cyberpunk fundamental is the connectivity between humans and the digital world. The world is already addicted to phones and other digital devices, so what’s to stop people implanting phones in their temples or replacing limbs with cybernetic ones, not because their arm has been damaged or lost, but just because they can, consequently enhancing their abilities to move, lift, carry or whatever. Whilst cybernetics is in its early days, again it’s quite a plausible possibility which could end with a seamless Matrix-like world where it’s hard to differentiate reality from fiction. Maybe we’re in that now! Maybe Tokyo was just the gateway to the dark future of over-developed mega cities.
It’s raining heavily now, as I sit in the airport hooked up to the wifi waiting for my flight. I can barely see the end of the runway. Have I just experienced a window to the future, or have I just read too many books? Let’s hope it’s the latter, as we truly are at a pivotal point in time where things could go either way and we may find ourselves chasing down replicants through plate glass windows in the neon glow of an endlessly raining night.
There are two major things with which humans aren’t great. Change and uncertainty. Unfortunately, for those who struggle with both of these things, modern life is becoming increasingly challenging, as they’re now a huge reality of the fast-paced digital world.
I don’t want to delve too much into the impact of change, as it’s a whole thing unto itself. However, what I’ve noticed is that avoidance of uncertainty in teenagers appears to becoming worse and worse and somewhat detrimental to their experience of life. However, I don’t want to blame teens for this. I want to blame their parents as they’re the ones predominantly responsible for bringing them up and providing a world view that either helps or hinders their ability to deal with uncertainty.
I’ve noticed this trend over the past few years on camps and expeditions. The desire for instant answers on everything caused by search engine education and a sense of every moment of the day being carefully scheduled without deviation, presents a massive problem when things don’t go to plan. The problem is that life isn’t always straight forward, nor is it predictable. In fact, quite the opposite is true and life can often be a chaotic mess of which at times, is hard to make sense. Yet, we find ourselves increasingly teaching students who are quite incapable of dealing with uncertainty.
This is a problem on many levels. Gone are the days in which someone could live their life with little to no change or variance in what they did. In times past, people could go to school, leave, get a job and stay in that job until they retired. For many people, leaving their own town or village would have been unheard of and travel wasn’t something that many people did to find work or simply move around. However, this has not only changed, but dramatically shifted to another extreme. Employment is becoming increasingly casualised in many parts of the world, with tech companies saying how wonderful the ‘gig’ economy is, which for the record it’s not! It’s forcing many people into serious underemployment and a constant need to change and re-invent what they’re doing.
Whilst the change of the workforce is a whole massive issue unto itself, it’s just part of the overall continuous change that is happening in our world. Change is constant and change can be taxing on the most dynamic and resilient of us.
What does this mean for students who want to avoid uncertainty? Unfortunately, it means they’re going to seriously struggle in life. Much of the resistance I’m seeing today for students to get involved in something, involves higher-order thinking. Problem solving and adaptability. Whenever they’re forced into taking a longer amount of time to work out an answer, they can’t do it, or more to the point, don’t even try. Instead, they give up because they can’t search for or quickly come to an answer.
It’s therefore important for us to help the avoider face uncertainty. The only way for them to develop the skills needed to cope in the modern world is for them to face uncertainty. In outdoor ed, we can do it by standing back and watching students figure things out for themselves and only step in if there’s a safety issue. This forces action and decision-making processes in students which aren’t being used on a day to day basis. No longer can they have the answer searched for them, nor will every minute of their day be scheduled so they know what’s happening next and at what time.
The spoon-feeding for exams approach that I’ve seen so many schools take, has only reinforced this practice of uncertainty avoidance and for us to adequately prepare students for an ever-changing world, then we need to do more to expose them to uncertainty and give them opportunities to work with that uncertainty, try something new and achieve an outcome that is not scripted in anyway. When we can be doing this for all education, then we might just be able to train the next generation to not only cope with change, but thrive in a very different environment that will continue to change and evolve in 5, 10, 20 and 50 years time. The ability to embrace and deal with uncertainty, is a far greater skill to have than simply knowing the answer to an exam, or where to find it. This is a huge challenge, but one that outdoor and experiential educators are well-equiped to not only meet, but exceed expectations for how well they can do this and ultimately equip students with the right skills for the new digital age.
Social media is something that, as we all know, is relatively new. However, we don’t really know the extent to which it will harm and damage our current generation – the children, teens and young adults. With the drive and desire for so many likes and so many followers, this can build people up to a false sense of security and to be perfectly honest, those who need thousands of followers or thousands of likes or that feeling of social rapport with other people that they don’t even know, are most likely going to be vulnerable people anyway. Whilst they exude confidence online in photos and posts and comments, and everything they do looks happy and wonderful, it’s merely a filtered view of the world and a very filtered approach that they’re projecting. Yet what’s behind that?
If you look at some of the classic meltdowns of many of the most successful singers, songwriters and performers as well as actors who are vulnerable, ego driven people, you can find a whole stack of them hanging out in rehab. Many of them form drug habits. Many of them get overweight very quickly and this happens when their fame starts to wane. It happens when people stop liking things. People stop liking their work. People stop following their fan clubs. Whilst this has been going on for years and years in the entertainment industry, it often happened reasonably slowly for many actors as the success of their movies or music faded or the success and people’s interests changed.
However, for many teens and young adults today, the fame or infamy that they gain through social media very quickly with that meteoric rise, will conversely result in a meteoric crash back down to earth. This is a real danger, because this increases people’s risk of mental health problems if vulnerable anyway.
Often people with a stack of followers end up being targeted by marketing companies to then put product placements in their posts to ensure that they’re selling more and more. So, they’re making money out of this now, based upon the fact a lot of people click a post and they like it. But you can be guaranteed that as soon as the numbers start dropping, the money dries up. This will only serve to compound the problem for people like this. So whilst these people seem to have money coming in and think that they’re actually building something that’s going to last, it’s a completely false sense of security, a false hope and a huge problem that’s being driven by social media and marketing companies.
This is a destructive force of which we really haven’t seen the impact yet. It’s only through education, building up strength of character and building up confidence in young people that we can help them avoid what can be a totally destructive experience to their lives. Some people will still grow huge audiences, have thousands or tens of thousands of people following them. But how shallow and pointless is their filtered life? What’s behind the lens is often just a toxic waste dump of sadness, depression and self loathing, with an increasing worry that the next post might not bring in the same number or more likes than the last. How fickle and pointless this is.
Therefore, it’s important when working with students to help them understand that some parts of social media can be fun. Some of it can be a good game but other parts can be dark, destructive and can absolutely destroy their lives. It’s an important message of not complete abstinence or outright banning social media, but being mindful of just how shallow and short lived this kind of experience can and will be. Just as the burnt out lives of child actors of the 80s and 90s are, it’s important to help the next generation to avoid this terrible fate that in moments can turn a successful ‘public figure’ into a forgotten nobody without any rhyme or reason.
Right now, I’m sitting in an airport lounge waiting for a flight to London. Ok! I know when you’re reading this, I probably won’t be still sitting in the airport, unless the flight is massively delayed, which if that’s the case, please come and save me!!!
Regardless of where I am right now, basically as I write this, I’m at the airport having lunch. On a table opposite me, there’s a lady working away on her laptop and her son who is about 5, sitting there eating lunch, with headphones on and stuffing food in his mouth whilst watching something on his iPad. Mum seems oblivious to what he’s up to and he appear transfixed on the screen.
Having worked countless hours in airport lounges, on planes and any random place I can, I understand deadlines and the need to get things done. But why can’t it wait until after lunch? The disturbing picture for me, is that this appears so ‘normal’ to the mother and son, which it shouldn’t be! The dining table, regardless of whether at home or about to travel, shouldn’t be about work. Now you might object and say that I’m working by writing this, but actually I have finished lunch and now I’m having coffee… so yeah…
Anyway, back to the point of all of this. When you look at some of the problems facing education today, this highlights the disconnect between social anchors such as family dinners and the reality of life. The problems this causes years down the track is already being felt as the current generation of school aged students have been “baby sat” by devices, which manipulate behaviours and undermine the ability for them to relate to others and have normal conversations and experiences.
The toxicity of the effect of technology on children is vastly underrated and a new ‘normal’ which increasingly disconnects them from other people, is a massive social and emotional problem just waiting to happen. Next time you’re travelling with the kids, don’t give them an iPad at lunch so they won’t bother you for a bit. Enjoy the moment for what it is. Talk with them. Talk about the trip, what they’re looking forward to and what’s going to be something new, interesting and challenging. Otherwise, the alternative of the babysitting mobile device, is just like Cat Steven’s cats in the cradle on steroids. What you’re gaining in ‘productivity,’ you’re simply losing at the cost of your family and their own well-being.
Now if you’re reading this, you’re probably not in that category at all, but the reality is that we’re teaching students like this every day and understanding the crippling upbringing they’ve had, can help us to understand on what we need to be able to focus and try to help our students recover. At the end of the day, humans desire real relationships with real people and it’s often up to us as educators to show other people how this can be done.
Ok supplemental… I’m still in the lounge. The lady just walked past me with her headphones on and looking down at her phone whilst her son is trying to ask her questions and talk to her. If only they could see the damage they’re doing… very sad indeed.
With the world flooded with toxic, attention-grabbing software that is specifically designed to divert your attention and emotions, it’s easy to become very cynical about the place mobile devices and software play in people’s lives. However, as with everything, there are good sides and bad sides to things such as technology and software.
The challenge is not just to ignore what’s going on around us or decide that we should smash it all. That didn’t end well for the luddites and nor will it end well for a rejection of technology. This is just disconnected from the reality of the digital world, and whilst it might be a lot of fun to smash a few servers with a sledgehammer every now and then, it doesn’t really help much over the long-term.
Instead, the challenge is to build a more human element into technology. ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ I hear your cry! ‘We don’t want human robots!’ No, actually I agree with you on that too. We definitely don’t want human looking robots. That just opens up so many questionable moral issues that falsely suggests human-like characteristics. Whilst it can be fun to imagine a sentient being created out of digital circuit boards, this is still just a computer with as many real human qualities as Kermit the Frog has and every other talking animal on TV.
What do we need and want? As a software developer, I believe we have a moral obligation to develop software that improves our ability to be human and build relationships, not disconnect and filter them, which seems to be the fashion of the tech world right now. Therefore, it’s important than any new platform or feature should consider the human impact. What will the end result be for the users? Is it going to help, hinder, or completely manipulate them?
We should be looking for cool ways in which we can leverage technology to benefit others and not to just benefit marketing companies or venture capitalists. At the end of the day, digital technologies allow us to create massive advantages for humanity as a whole. They bring people out of poverty, eliminate pointless repetitive tasks and enable a whole new level of attention to detail and personalised service. Why not focus our energies on looking for ways to improve experiences through software? Time, which is everyone’s most expensive and limited resource, can be better spent with friends, family and being part of a real community with real people, which has kept our societies going for thousands of years.
One of the things we built into our software platform was reminders to check on students who have been sick or injured. Sure, it’s another notification on your phone, of which there are many. However, what’s the impact of this? On a busy day, you get a reminder to check up on a student. You go and check up on the student, see how he or she is feeling and if there’s anything else you can do to help that student. What impact have you just had on the student’s day? What positive feelings are left about your care and concern for the student?
This is something I believe is critically important to the design of all systems. What is the end result going to be? What positive human impact have we helped to facilitate? I also noticed this on a flight recently. It was a long-haul flight from Sydney to the UK. One of the stewards came up to me to chat. He knew my name, but called me Mr Gregory, which was nice, but completely unnecessary. He asked how the flight was going and if he could get anything else for me before we landed. Again, this is clever use of software to help facilitate the positive experience for someone on a 23 hour flight. This makes flying from A to B a slightly less stressful and far better experience as the human touch of relationship-building and individual care and management was leveraged through smart and appropriate use of technology.
The more we can build systems like these to assist us in being better humans and remind us to take the time to talk with others and help them out, the better the situation. I should also highlight at this point that it’s not just about ticking a box. The person using the technology must also have the skills and demeanour to genuinely care and about those being helped. Technology is just a useful means through which what people do is able to be improved and enhanced.
Before we take the sledgehammer to the server room to try and recapture life as we knew it, it’s worth considering the benefit of responsible and ethical software development. The digital world is here to stay. At least it is until someone blows everything up and the planet gets over-run by apes who somehow learn how to speak English and enslave humanity. Anyway, until that happens, how can we develop better use technology that enables us to leverage all the positive traits of humanity to support us in being part of a real community and allow us to spend less time ‘online’ and more time thoughtfully engaged in real human activities with real people? What is it in your job, your workplace or industry that could leverage such an approach and embrace the use of technology to help improve the human connections? This is the challenge and the responsibility of software developers. Build something that’s useful and helps people in their lives to better connect with others. Spend time saved by technology with others and not just drowning in a bottomless sea of shallow likes.
Let’s build something useful and real. If nothing else, at least it’ll keep the apes at bay for a few more years.
I was reading a book recently called ‘Robot Proof’ by Joseph Aoun which explores the way in which automation and AIs are reshaping the world as we know it and creating a new dynamic in which any sort of repeatable job will ultimately be taken over by robots. Why shouldn’t it? What’s the point of doing something over and over again in an extraordinarily inefficient way? This is not progress. This is just time wasting. Surely humans are better equipped and more suited to more complex things than this!
I strongly believe that society is yet to come to terms with this phenomenal transformation of the workplace. Despite people being aware and understanding that jobs have been replaced by computers or automated processes, this trend is only getting faster and more wide-spread and whilst many new jobs were created in the 80s, 90s and 2000s, the number of new jobs being created is diminishing versus the number that were previously being created.
Therefore, how do we protect ourselves and the next generation from the robots? No, I’m not talking about fighting Skynet, in an apocalyptic battle for survival. I’m talking about the real threat of mass automation and the implementation of artificial intelligences that will be able to replace large numbers of both manual and professional jobs.
The answer, of course, is experiential education. Whilst all the theories and knowledge in the world can be digitised and regurgitated, this doesn’t have the same impact that a real world experience has. There’s a defining factor in humans and the world which AIs and robots are not good with and that’s randomness.
Whilst a computer may be able to generate random numbers, it can’t understand emotion and the randomness of human thought and action. You only need to look at recent events in politics to see how extraordinarily stupid people can be. Decisions made on the run, irrational national emergencies and a whole host of decisions made on emotion and without any of the constraints that a computer using logic may have to deal with. Whilst this is not always good, it’s human and this total randomness that is a feature of human behaviour is one defining trait. If people are experienced in dealing with this, it can protect them from the threat of being replaced by a machine.
Consequently, the more we’re exposed to the randomness of life and the uncertainty of what could happen next, the more we will be prepared for any situation. Therefore, experiential education opens the world to real experiences and forces everyone to face the randomness of life. Some of the most interesting trips I’ve ever been on have come from having to actively manage random events, emotions and changing conditions. If you were for example to have a virtual reality excursion (which technology will increasingly enable), you would have the immersive, yet sanitised experience that is dictated by computer programming and logic, rather than the complete randomness of the natural world.
On expeditions, encounters with wildlife, with other groups, with storms, with discomfort, with teachable moments, these could never be produced by an AI, all because of the randomness of the world around us. It’s important that we continue to prepare students for uncertainty and the best way to do it is to get out into the real world and live the experience. No matter what the work place is, no matter what the experience is, no matter what the challenge is, we will always need to be prepared for the random nature of life. Those who can react and adapt, will be successful. Those who can’t cope with this, will not.
The more the world digitises, and logic systems are put in place to run repeatable processes, the more important it is for educators to engage their students with real life experiences and allow them to face the randomness of the world and build a skill set so they can adapt and thrive in this new world that comes a step closer every single day.
Being a teenager has always been hard. You’re no longer a kid, but not yet an adult. Suddenly, you’re thrust into a confusing world full of miss-matched messages and expectations. In the past, this wasn’t as big a deal as it is today, as the outside world crept in at a much slower pace.
Yet one of the enormous challenges for teenagers today is the fact that the world doesn’t creep in slowly. It’s an unmitigated, relentless attack. Children and teenagers are constantly smacked around the head with marketing, social media and masses of uninformed noise around body image, relationships and how to live life in general. Added to this, they don’t even need to leave home to be exposed to this.
As a society, our children are spending more time indoors than ever before. Whilst I won’t go into too much detail about this, the reality is that in previous generations, teenagers went out to discover and experience the world for themselves. Some would find suitable amounts of trouble to get into and learn from these experiences. However, now teenagers have the world, or a distorted version of it at least, come to them.
Teenagers spend a lot of time in their bedrooms. This has probably always been the case as part of developing a bit of independence from the family. This is nothing new nor unusual, but in the past, the most access to the outside world teenagers used to have in their bedrooms was either the window, or maybe, if they were fortunate, a TV. Apart from SBS movies and crappy late night ads, at the end of the day, most TV content remained quite filtered and so the risk of harm to a teenagers sitting in their room was pretty minimal. However, due to the seismic shift in technology, the difference now, is the fact that a teenager can sit in their room and be directly exposed to all the horrors of the world. The family home is no longer a safe haven from violence, language, sex, abuse, hatred and bullying, all of which, like Jack Nicholson in The Shining are smashing down the door.
It’s an interesting phenomenon with this generation and it’s a significant risk for this generation that goes almost unnoticed until it’s far too late. Mental health problems are sky rocketing and teenage suicide in Australia remains at ridiculous levels. In my working in outdoor education, I’ve found an increasing lack of resilience of both boys and girls. As soon as something doesn’t have a quick answer or an easy solution, they go to pieces and either give up or start trying to blame others for their failures. This is a massive problem, because if they can’t do simple tasks, if they can’t complete simple challenges, what happens when they’re faced with a massive challenge with a massive problem? They’ll be unable to cope and totally and utterly fall apart.
This lack of resilience and mental strength all starts at home and is manifesting itself in the kid’s bedroom. To help avoid this, ask yourself a few simple questions. How are your kid’s bedroom setup? Do they have a smart device? Do they have a laptop, or desktop computer in their room? Are you running a content filter? Do you know how your content filter works? Do your kids know how a content filter works and how to bypass it? What supervision do you provide around devices? Do you set limits to time spent on devices and social media? Do you even allow them to be on social media? Can you have open and honest discussions about these issues?
The problem is, with too much screen time and no filters or supervision, children and teenagers can be exposed to a brutal soulless adult world that can cause long-lasting harm. Software on mobile devices is intentionally designed to be addictive and manipulate behaviour. Would you let one of these 20-something internet CEOs into your house to hang out with your kids? No! That would be creepy, but that’s basically what is being allowed when kids are able to spend endless time on addictive devices. This messes with the natural chemical balance in the brain and can ultimately result in long-term behaviour and emotional problems.
In the past, for a teenager to be exposed to the outside adult world, they’d have to physically leave home, go downtown, possibly to a shady less than reputable place to be exposed to all sorts of things to which you don’t want your teenagers exposed. Now, they can be exposed to all of this from the comfort of their own room and you might have no idea that anything is wrong.
There’s been this massive shift in the last fifteen years where you have gone from a society in which it was very hard to connect with people, but easy to speak with those you met, to now where it’s really easy to connect with people, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to connect with real people. That’s a massive cultural shift within a really short space of time. The result of which is that it’s exposed the next generation to a whole host of problems that weren’t there before. With any significant seismic shift, it takes a long time for people to catch up. If you look at education for example, many schools are still trying to come to terms with the fact that what you could do and call education in the 18th century, just doesn’t work these days.
However, despite this, with all the massive problems, there are massive opportunities. Once you’re aware of the concerns, it’s easy to start to do something about them. Unfortunately, the massive opportunities to deal with these problems aren’t being addressed and so a lot of educational institutions, a lot of parents are still struggling to catch up after they’ve finally realised the world has suddenly changed.
One of the big roadblocks is a parent’s fear of missing out! (FOMO) ‘My child has to have everything that everybody else has otherwise, they’ll miss out on the opportunity... Usually the idea of having everything is about material goods and nothing to do with experiences. The reality is that the more parents freely give stuff to their children, despite the short-term fix this may appear to have, the more likely their children are to really miss out in the future, because they’re socially and emotionally unable to cope with real life and the rapid change that is the reality of the world today.
This FOMO has led to droves of parents buying mobile phones for their children, allowing them to become hooked on a highly addictive device and potentially exposing their kids to this massive dangerous world that is totally and utterly unfiltered and soulless. It’s a world into which the teenage mind that doesn’t understand risk, can throw itself in the search of meaning and fulfillment, only to find emptiness and loneliness.
Teenagers will find themselves connected with hundreds if not thousands of ‘friends.’ Sadly, the reality is that most of these friends are as real as the tooth fairy, but the more friends or like you have, seems to equate to a higher status or feeling of fulfillment. However, anyone can get friends and likes. You can even buy tens of thousands of followers on Instagram from Russia. None of them are real, but I’m sure it would give you a nice ego boost for ten minutes to have that.
Our next generation is desperately searching for real meaning in their lives, yet the irony is that they’re doing it through one of the most shallow, hollow mechanisms possible. They’ve been programmed to need fast actions and fast reactions and, as a result, they want instant gratification. No wonder we’re facing a tidal wave of mental health issues when we have a generation growing up, getting given everything and sitting in their bedrooms exposed to a soulless digital world.
Parents who are using devices as pseudo babysitters, are only reinforcing the false expectation of a world where happiness and relationships are simply a swipe away. Whilst so many parents have been focusing on their FOMO for their kid’s materialistic possessions, they’ve totally missed out on the emotional needs of their kids.
Despite the amazing improvements technology has provided us, enabling everyone to have the answer to just about everything at their fingertips and watch endless movies of cats falling off tables, the downside is the fact that we’ve created an enormous social and emotional millstone for the next generation and unwittingly hung it around their necks.
It’s time we took stock of this, both at home and at school and look at exactly how these addictive devices are impacting on the health and well-being of a generation. The problem however, is not in the device or technology itself. The problem is the disconnect between appropriate parental supervision and real world experiences for children that can enable them to leverage technology as a tool and not let technology leverage them as a consumer.
Whilst some may think outdoor ed and technology don’t go hand in hand, I would beg to differ on this. I might be somewhat biased having developed my own app (Xcursion) for helping manage student medications, allergies, concussions, medical issues and reporting incidents. However, it’s proven to be an amazing support for when I have a group out in the field with me. It’s saved huge amounts of time, energy and effort, but has also helped me to focus on what’s needed and filter out a lot of what’s not! Consequently, for me, this is now just one of the pieces of technology I use as a force multiplier in setting up and running programs.
What exactly do I mean by force multiplier? This is a term I learnt at uni when I was studying defence. It’s basically a tool, communications equipment or anything that you can leverage to gain a much greater impact versus the size of your force.
Despite my many concerns about the use of technology today and the potential dangers it’s brought to people’s ability to adapt and problem solve, that’s by no means a reason not to use great technology. If you already possess skills which enable you to be adaptable when needed, then you’re in the ideal position to use all sorts of technology as force multipliers to help you do your job more effectively, safely and efficiently.
Apart from my own invention of the Xcursion app for permission notes, student medicals and pastoral needs, what else have I found useful for running outdoor ed programs?
For one, a solid project management system is needed. For most programs, you’re repeating expeditions and need to follow the same structured system each time to make it happen. I use Basecamp by 37 Signals for this. It’s easy to use, you don’t need a lot of project management expertise or experience to get it going. It’s great from an organisational point of view as you can run multiple projects with different people added to each project so you, as director, can see everything, but your group leaders or teachers only see what they need to see for each project to which they’re assigned. Best of all, you can create project templates, so once you’ve built a solid system, all you need to do next time is to create a new ‘camp’ or ‘expedition’ project from the template and all your tasks are loaded ready to be actioned.
Another system I like to use, which is more of a workflow platform, is Podio, by Citrix. You can set up all sorts of things from gear and vehicle registers, with automated reminders of when gear or vehicles needs to be checked, services or rotated. Document management systems for filing, tagging and tracking important documents as well as ordering systems, marketing and client relationship management are features. There are some pre-built systems that are available with this platform, but you can always customise this for your own needs.
This is again another way technology can be used to create better systems so you and your staff can focus on delivering the programs for the maximum educational benefit and not be focussed on a bunch of required, but essentially repetitive administrative tasks. Sadly, I’ve worked with many people who get needlessly bogged down in all the administrative tasks and have had no idea what’s really important.
The other advantage of using technology as a force multiplier, is the fact that it can draw out and highlight key information that can often get lost the mass of data that gets thrown at us. I don’t want to waste ten minutes trawling through files for a key piece of critical information when I can have a system in place so that important piece of data is always at my finger tips.
Things such as GPS tracking, Sat Phones and EPERBs are all part of an essential technology tool kit for running effective programs where you can respond quickly and effectively with limited resources.
As teachers, it’s vitally important that the focus is always on the educational experiences that can be had. Sure, there’s lots to get done in the background to safely setup and run each of the educational experiences, but through leveraging technology, setting up and running some amazing and memorable experiences is now easier than ever before. If you don’t have systems in place to do this, then it’s time to make sure you get them up and running right now.
Some of you might have noticed that we’ve deleted our Facebook page and I’ve deleted my Facebook account. Whilst I don’t want to make a big deal about it, it was well and truly time for it to go.
Whilst for many younger people, it’s a toxic waste dump that’s messing with their emotions and proven to have been attempting to manipulate their behaviour, I just found it such a waste of time and morally questionable given the countless breaches of trust, privacy and the way in which extremists of all types have gotten away with spreading their hate on this global platform.
So instead of being one of those pointless user-metrics on Facebook, the business is no longer there and nor am I. The feeling of relief and the time I’ve got back is great and it’s made such a difference to the quality of my attention span and life.
Who will miss me online? Mainly advertiser and marketing professionals who will surely be crying themselves to sleep now due to this decision. I just hope they can get the help they need to be able to move on from this.
I also deleted my Twitter account, as it was mostly just a lot of people yelling at each other and nobody really listens to any of it. How can you? You need an AI bot to get through all the crap and I think the AI will self-destruct to avoid the boredom of it. Having said that, it’s a great place to make up and randomly change national policy directions and go on random international relations rants, therefore we’ll keep the business account open so we can continue to tell North Korea and the rest of the world what we think of them.
It’s great to be able to digitally detox and not just for a short time. You quickly realise that life is far more interesting in person than it is filtered through a device. So why not disconnect today, then you can reconnect with something a bit more real.
There’s a significant problem for kids today and that’s the fact that their generation is emotionally dislocated. There’s been a seismic shift in technology in the last fifteen years and, as a result, it’s caused significant changes to the way in which kids are growing up and the influences on their lives. Unfortunately, the pace of change has outpaced a lot of parents and schools’ ability to adapt. Often parents have used devices as makeshift babysitters and this has done immeasurable damage to their children’s abilities to think for themselves, problem-solve, develop real relationships, cope with real people and deal with complex situations. Whilst many would profess it’s all part of learning about technology, there’s a huge difference between learning about technology and being leveraged by it. Kids have now become disassociated from many important parts of society and the way in which those before us have grown up and matured into adulthood.
Now this could be a phenomenal advance in humankind, although I’m quite doubtful of that. The reality is that this dislocation is leading to long-term problems with mental health, with resilience, with the ability for a child to adapt to new circumstances and their ability to problem solve and relate to others. So many factors are involved in this social dislocation and much of it comes from overindulgence and the super reliance on technology. Therefore, how do we address this? How do we even get to the root cause of this, when so many parents are happy just to throw a device at their kids and consider it to be an acceptable method of babysitting. Job done! Parenting done!
For many ‘busy’ parents, it seems to make sense. The children aren’t making a noise and the justifications fly thick and fast. I’m busy with life. I’m busy answering emails, I’m busy with work or whatever other nonsense excuse they want to make to justify a lack of effort in being involved with their child’s life. However, for many parents in the early stages of their child’s life, it’s almost genius! I’ve thrown a device at them whether it be a laptop, a phone, a tablet or whatever and it’s keeping them occupied. Well, from one point of view, this is really handy because you can throw a device at the child and suddenly the problem is solved! No more screaming, no more ‘I’m bored!’ You can get back to sipping your latte with friends as they play with the device for hours and hours and hours and access all sorts of things that you don’t want them accessing, but because you’re too busy, sipping said latte, to provide any level or supervision, a firewall, content filters, content barriers or even a passcode on the device, they’re now interacting with an unfiltered adult world, full of marketing, phishing and bright flashing pop-ups to click on.
However, when we look at bit deeper than the general dangers of an unfiltered internet, what’s the real cost of this handy babysitting by device? One of the most obvious ones which we’re now seeing in education is that whenever kids are challenged with real world issues, this is where it all starts to fall apart. Whenever a child doesn’t get what they want, this reinforces the problem, because many kids have been indulged to the point where they have been told: ‘They’re perfect,’ or ‘they’re wonderful,’ or ‘they’re amazing!’ They can do anything they possibly want to. The world is theirs for them. Anyone who is half-intelligent and has experienced something of the world for themselves, realises this isn’t the case. Sadly, nobody’s told the students that, for fear of breaking the ‘everyone’s a winner rule’. The reality is when kids stumble, what happens? They look for somebody to blame. They look for excuses. They look for the magical, ‘Yeah, but solution’ which everyone knows does not contain a solution at all. I’ve seen this progressively building over the last ten years. The ‘Yeah, but’ approach has increased to a phenomenal level.
Previously, you still were given the ‘Yeah, but’ for many students however, the reality was it wasn’t that often and there wasn’t much behind it. Now, everything is questioned. Everything is ‘Yeah, but’ and there’s no real reason for this. It presumes that the child knows more about the world than those teaching them. In some subjects, that might be true, for example in coding. Whenever I’ve taught computer studies, I’ve always been blown away by the ability of some students who have taught themselves to code and do a stack of things on computers for which I don’t have the skills. However, how does this translate into an understanding of real world applications? They might have the skills to code. They might have the skills to develop something from a tech point of view but what happens when they have to socialise and communicate with others? The life experience of educators therefore becomes even more important when teaching, as the content might be easy to replicate, but the unpredictability of real world means only through our experiences can we truly learn and understand why we do something.
The ‘Yeah, but’ is just the tip of the iceberg for the lack of communication skills and this is where parents and schools and technology are failing kids. This is where all of these three factors are combining to create a significant long term problem that’s going to re-shape the work force. It’s going to cause issues with the next generation in terms of relationships, parenting and work. If we fail to address it as educators, we risk letting the dislocated generation waste years of their lives trying to find meaning and be able to build some muscle when they realise they’re not perfect and the world isn’t just there to serve them. Despite huge leaps and bounds in technology, we’re letting children develop into more emotionally vulnerable young adults because they can’t understand how to fail and bounce back and they can’t understand how to communicate with real people in real time.
However, this is something that can be addressed by parents. It’s something that can be addressed by schools and it’s something that needs to be addressed urgently before the horse that’s bolted rides too far off into the sunset. We can’t leave this for another ten years until suddenly everybody realises, ‘Wait a minute, it’s out of control!’ It’s already out of control. It’s already ridden away from us but being able to realise that now, means we’re ten years ahead of not doing anything about it at all.
What difference can you make to your own child’s life? What difference can you make to the life of the friends of your children? Are they going to be developing healthy, happy relationships? Are they going to be developing in a positive manner and become resilient and be able to face all of life’s challenges no matter how hard they might be? Or are they going to be in this fantasy world where suddenly, as soon as they’re challenged with something that’s difficult, they go to pieces. What if they don’t get in to the course they want? They go to pieces. What if they don’t get in to the sports team they want? They go to pieces. What if they don’t get the participation award that they want? They go to pieces. What if they don’t get the job they want? You get the picture?
This is a situation that is totally and utterly detrimental to society and one we must address. Again, the causes of it are the combination of poor parenting, overuse of technology and the failure of the education system to modernise. With all three areas failing at some point we may end up doing serious harm to our next generation.
Education has fallen behind so far it’s not funny. Teachers are still approaching education in the fantasy world that was 19th century education. We fill a classroom, you teach a lesson and they go to the next class. You do it over and over and over again and you basically teach the average and get the average result for the average students. That’s why they love their bell curves because you can be guaranteed that you will get a bell curve on every single assessment. Every single class will have the wonderful bell curve. It’s a total load of crap because why are we aiming for bell curves? Why are we not aiming for wins for everybody? Now that is a little bit of an overstatement because some people are just lazy and useless and will never move from their well defended position at the bottom. However, we’re not talking about them as, until they find their internal motivation, they will remain right at the bottom of everything they do. However, the more dislocated the group of students, the more chance they will be on the wrong end of the bell.
For educators one of the real challenges is helping students find that internal motivation. It can make average students brilliant and brilliant students actually find the job that they really want to be doing and not just become a doctor or a lawyer because they get good marks, bearing in mind lawyers will soon be automated to the point that we don’t need as many of them as we have today, a win in everyone’s books really.
When I do goal setting with students, I always pose this question to them: ‘Do you want a doctor who is passionate about helping people?’ Or ‘Do you want a doctor who is in it for the money?’ Every single time I get the answer: ‘Somebody who is passionate about helping patients.’ We all want that and this is a great opportunity because this generation has this belief that they can change the world. Many might claim this is a misguided belief, but I don’t believe that at all because I believe this next generation can change the world. We need to empower them with the confidence to try, to fail, to overcome massive obstacles and to endure. This can’t be done with social and emotional skills gained from having a digital device as a babysitter.
For parents and teachers, this creates a great opportunity. So in one sense, you have a group of young impressionable kids and young adults who want to make a difference and who believe they can, but what they really need is for somebody to show them how to make that difference. How to cope with challenges. How to cope with disappointment. How to cope with failure. How to face problems. How to solve problems. How to become resilient. How to contribute to the community to make that difference. This is where the teacher’s life experience now becomes so much more valuable than content knowledge and the ability to stand in front of a room and dictate the encyclopedia.
You can teach technical skills to almost anybody. That’s easy in comparison with the empathy, caring and the emotional resilience that’s needed for our next generation to thrive in the rapidly changing digital world. Whilst parents have had the mistaken belief that they can do this by telling their kids: ‘They’re perfect,’ ‘be safe’ and ‘don’t do this,’ ‘don’t do that,’ don’t take risks.’ However, this has caused immeasurable damage and needs to be addressed. It’s through a modern, proactive experiential educational framework that this can be achieved. We can create wonderful learning opportunities that last a lifetime. We can do it in schools. We can do it at home. We can do it to ensure that we have a wonderful and proactive generation of thoughtful, resilient young men and women leading our businesses, our communities and our governments into the next generation and those generations after that, but we cannot be idle in our approach and must do something about it now.
Technology has provided a vehicle to rapidly advance so many things in society and make them more efficient and more effective but without the core social and emotional skills to master technology and to master our own lives then we risk the technology mastering everyone who uses it instead. We risk the dislocated generation failing to make good on their vision to change the world and make it a better place, which is something none of us want to see.