Resources and discussion for parents, teachers and young people navigating the evolving landscape of the digital world.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Try it! You Just Might Like It!

On the menu: black bean salad and elk lasagna

The diners: Max, age 4 and Evy, age 7

The challenge: Get the young people to eat the food

This was the situation I was presented with while visiting my niece and nephew this summer to celebrate the birth of their new sister, Rose.  I'm sure many of us have faced similar predicaments. We all have tactics that work, and some that don't, but my strategy involved ice cream. No, not for use as a bribe (though the thought might have crossed my mind). Rather, I reminded the kiddos that at one time, perhaps so long ago they can't remember, they had never tasted ice cream. What if they decided not to? What if they were content to munch on blueberries, nibble on crackers and were perfectly happy tasting the same chocolate chip cookies for the rest of their lives? They didn't know they'd love ice cream until they tried it.

What  does ice cream, elk lasagna and black bean salad have to do with digital ethics and technology? A lot!  What if we'd never gotten an email address, purchased something online or even signed up for Facebook? Many of us found things we love to do, that we couldn't imagine would be better than what we had before.  But, at the same time we all find comfort in the familiar. That is as true with what we choose to make for dinner as it is with the technology we use every day.  We're Mac people or PC people. We love our iPhones, and disdain all others. We're addicted to our Blackberries. We text, but don't tweet. We read online newspapers, but think blogs are are just extra fluff and not worth our time.

I admit to finding the pace of technology overwhelming at times. Just when I think I've got a handle on the newest, most cutting-edge item, something even more new and cutting edge shows up on the horizon. It would be easy to throw in the towel, trusting what technology I've already adopted to see me through.  But what would I be missing? Is ice cream just over the horizon, waiting for a first taste? If I don't try, I'll never know and I won't have a voice in the debate. Perhaps there's something new out there that isn't such a great idea. If I remove myself from the new, I also remove my wisdom from the conversation. Having an opinion about something I've never tried isn't as powerful as sharing wisdom and knowledge gained from a new experience.

So, that's going to be my goal for the year. I resolve to taste more new things and lower my anxiety about the pace of technology innovation.  Keeping up with what's going on will help me be a better contributor to the discussion. It will also help me engage youth in the debate. We are constantly telling our students, "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should." In the context of tasting elk lasagna for the first time, I want students to make it a habit to think critically about the technology they use and why, and I need to model that through my own experiences. Not everything is bad, but it isn't all good either. I can't expect students to listen to my thoughts on ethical uses of technology if I'm not constantly tasting what's new out there; trying it for myself rather than making judgements based on conjecture.

So, what was the outcome of the black bean salad and elk lasagna stand-off? Both of the little darlings tried something they hadn't eaten before.  Evy was particularly reluctant to try the black bean salad. In the end, she did have a little bit.  But, by the next day, she was enthusiastically using it as a dip for her tortilla chips. The elk lasagna was a hit... and later we had ice cream.

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