Has technology benevolently given us unprecedented access to information and other people or has it created a world of disconnected and discontented souls? The answer seems to be as complicated as human beings are: yes and no. Or, as we marriage and family therapists (MFTs) who are also social constructionists like to say, it’s “both and.” As a former communications executive, my perspective on most things goes further than that to, “it depends.” Technology is a tool like any other. How we use our resources as individuals or as a society is now under intense scrutiny as our climate changes and we face perhaps the sixth mass extinction, this time caused by our misuse of the Earth. Though too many do not have full and free access to technology, for many of us it is our choice how we let it impact or guide our lives.
Some critics decry that the Internet is full of too many blogs, videos, and general opinion giving. The way I see it, the everyday-nature of computers, tablets, and smartphones has turned the information superhighway into a global town full of libraries, shops, creepy neighbors you’re not quite sure you want to know any better, and community groups. Everyone has a chance to be a storyteller or historian—and the unprecedented ability to become part of a global conversation. Many will remain satisfied with connecting to the known and nearby while others will discover curiosities worth exploring or even their real place in the world far from their present reality. Too many still only lurk; Impostor Syndrome runs rampant, especially in academic circles. Genuinely talented and educated people somehow feel like they have become Bernie Madoff, a fraud just waiting to be revealed. But those brave souls who offer their thoughts and experiences up to the wider world are sharing themselves with the rest of humanity, and many receive validation from appreciative audiences.
The impact on how we learn is immense. Instead of cramming the night before a test, studying by rote, students have the chance to explore what they find interesting about a topic in great detail. If I were to teach a class on developmental trauma to budding therapists for example, I could assign the reading of web sites where survivors of abuse publicly post their stories to bring to life the list of symptoms future clinicians would need to recognize, assess, and treat. Rather than mere content delivery, the future of education lies in its application. The question of what we are teaching is being supplanted by why are we teaching what we do? This aligns us with the students themselves who ask why they should care about what we present to them.
I am a returning student, earning my master’s degree and now in pursuit of my PhD in MFT after over two decades in the workforce in communications. None of the successful companies I worked for would consider implementing a project without first answering the questions: What is the benefit and is it worth the cost? Not only that, the return on investment would have to be substantial in order for the project to continue. If success in education is defined as a grade or graduation, what does that teach? Rather, how can we advanced students’ knowledge and spark their passion so that they can develop fulfilling careers beyond our limited scope? Solutions to our problems—including the actual use and beneficial deployment of current technology—will require creativity beyond what we already know. My belief is that we are all teachers and students; those of us with the power to direct the education of others can move beyond our role of expert to that of facilitator, fostering creativity and collaboration on both what moves us and what moves us forward together.