Monday, May 21, 2012

Isabel's speech to the Nick Berg Foundation

My daughter, Isabel Bauerlein, gave this 15-minute speech to the Nick Berg Foundation yesterday at the Days Hotel in West Chester, Pa. She was the initial recipient of the Nick Berg Scholarship when she graduated from Henderson High School in 2006. The award is given annually to students who who show high character and have interest and ability in music and/or science, two academic areas Nick Berg himself excelled at while attending Henderson. 

Emelia Del Grosso, a senior at Henderson who will be attending James Madison University to major in music in Sepetember, received the 2012 Nick Berg Scholarship yesterday at the Nick Berg Memorial Brunch. The text below is Isabel's speech to the Nick Berg Foundation. I hope you find it as inspirational as I did. I am very proud to Isabel's father. Readers who may want to contribute to the award in the future can reach its president, Luke Lorenz, at the Nick Berg Initiative, Inc. 

In Ray Bradbury’s futuristic short story “The Sound of Thunder,” the main character, Eckels, travels back to prehistoric times to hunt. When Eckels come face to face with a dinosaur, he freezes. He freaks. He cannot pull the trigger. He turns off the path and tears through the jungle, diving head first back into the time machine.

When Eckels returns to the present time, he opens the door to a world completely changed. Different language, different buildings, different government. Eckels looks down at his shoes and sees, embedded in the mud, one green and gold and completely dead butterfly. He falls to the floor in crisis, trying to wrap his head  around how the death of one butterfly could change the balance of time, setting off a chain of events like unstoppable dominos.

Small, seemingly insignificant events ripple through time and change the course of our lives. This happens every day. Steve Jobs, in his famous Stanford University commencement speech, talked about how you can only find these inciting events looking back retrospectively on your life. For Jobs, an inconsequential  calligraphy class he audited after dropping out of college, later became the inspiration to
include beautiful and creative fonts on Apple computers. He said, you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you have to connect them looking back.

Dr. Benjamin Spock, the famous child psychologist, was working in D.C. in the late 1950s. On a rainy evening, he passed two women who were holding signs, protesting the nuclear arms race between the US and the USSR. Though unfamiliar with the topic, he was inspired by their dedication, and this brief encounter led him to investigate the issue further. He later became one of the leaders in the nuclear disarmament movement. His involvement gave more legitimacy to the cause and helped bring the the issue to the forefront of the American political consciousness. Now, years later, President Obama has established a treaty to cut back both countries’ nuclear arsenals by one third. You never know what moment will become the spark that ignites a movement.

I got into the teaching profession because I wanted to make a real difference. I wanted to tackle all injustice and inequality and incite real change. I saw how teaching a kid to read could open up infinite doors of possibility in their life. What I didn’t know about teaching, was that you never really get to see your hard work pay off until years later. It was pretty jarring to come to the realization that, right now, I am merely planting seeds. Those seeds will grow in time, but it could take years to see how a connection I made with a student or a lesson that stuck might manifest later. I am overly idealistic, but not a particularly patient person. I want to visibly see them being propelled into success. The most I get is a shrug, an eye roll, a vacant, glassy stare from my students.

I am currently in my first year teaching. I ran into my grad professor after the first few months of starting, and he asked me how my year was going. I described it as “being in the trenches.” I literally feel like I am in the front lines of a battle. Sometimes, I feel like a Roman gladiator, getting ready to face a lion. The days I come out victorious are few and far between. Usually the lion eats me alive.

I teach 7th grade reading and English in a rural middle school outside of Nashville, Tennessee. When I tell people I am a middle school teacher, I get one of three reactions: “oh, bless your heart,” “what were you thinking?!”, or “wow, that’s brave.”  Everyone says the first year is the hardest. Everyone says it gets better. I’ve decided that, statistically speaking, it must get better than this, otherwise there would be no second year teachers and the entire public education system would fall apart. It’s hard to feel like you are making much of an impact at all on hormonal, amped up 12 and 13 year olds. One student could not control his flatulence and showed no embarrassment at letting it rip in the middle of my lessons. Another asked me if I talked so fast because I was a Yankee. Another accidentally kicked another student in the groin. Ooops!?

Hollywood got it totally wrong. I am still waiting for my "Stand and Deliver" moment, and no one has called me “Captain, My Captain” yet. I have to remind myself that some impacts start small and resonate later in bigger ways. I am hoping, with fingers crossed, that some ounce of a love of reading, some droplet of appreciation for writing, some piece of a lesson on treating others with respect, some dash of curiosity will sit with my students and manifest later. I have faith this will happen, because I know that I have been impacted by several teachers in ways that may have seemed small to begin with.

Mrs. Gilland was my third grade teacher. She was a tiny, jolly woman who always wore cotton gloves because she was horribly allergic to chalk, dust, paper, and most airborne things. Before we opened a book, we would gather around her piano and belt out everything from “America the Beautiful” to “Let it Be.” She planted the idea that I was a musician. I loved watching her little gloved fingers work the keys. I could feel the music in my whole body and I was uninhibited when I sang in that class. I went on in 4th
grade to select trumpet as my instrument and band became a central part of my identity.

Later in high school, I went on perform in district and regional band and I marched five seasons with Henderson’s marching band. I followed in my brother’s footsteps and marched four years in the Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps. Mrs. Gilland planted the seed of music. Over the years, it was nourished in such a way that I’ve played French horn in every city I’ve ever moved to as an adult. It is easy, looking back, to connect the dots and see how Mrs. Gilland set me on a life path that would be filled with musical adventures around the world.

Mr.Umile was my AP English teacher. I knew he was going to be different than any other teacher when I first stepped into his class junior year. Mr.Umile was young, he proclaimed he knew Bam Margara from high school, he played bass in a band, and was listed on IMDB as having acted in low budget indi movies. He made being an English nerd look cool. He pulled out a guitar and sang vocabulary to us. We read "Catcher in the Rye" and he lamented, “man, I wish I could go back and read it again at your age. You’ll
never connect to it as much as you will right now.” He valued our insights despite our age, and he talked to us like adults. He infused each lesson with humor and creativity, art and music. One day we would dig into Bob Dylan lyrics and then the next, we would dissect a T.S. Eliot poem. I learned that my voice did matter and that my opinion was important. I went on to study English Education because of that class and now I find myself in front of 135 students acting part thespian, part comedian, part musician, part drill sergeant, part motivational speaker.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and down about this first year teaching. But, when I actually take a deep breath and look around, I am surrounded by inspiring people every single day. I have several great coworkers that are pretty wonderful role models. At Shafter Middle School, I teach with a man named Ryan Williams. He teaches Science and runs the track program. The kids call him simply, “Coach.” He is a master at catching kids who would normally cause problems in the classroom and builds relationships with them instead. If I didn’t know that Ryan was a 7th grade Science teacher, I would have thought for sure that he was a rock star. Kids swarm around him, bask in his presence, try harder, care more, study hard to win his approval and praise. All of his students dress up in formal attire to take his midterm and final exam. These apathetic 7th graders who care more about their hair and their cell phone, actually get excited for science class.

Ryan, an incredibly fit 29 year old, just came down with stage four melanoma thatm metastasized as a tumor in his back. It has been shocking to see what the chemo has done to his body. His commitment and drive and enthusiasm during his treatment melts my first year teaching woes into near insignificance. I have never seen someone work so hard to get back to work. He would come right from chemo treatments to school,
sometimes stealing a quick nap at his desk when the kids went to lunch. His commitment to being a positive force in the kids‘ lives is unwavering. His impact with the kids and his coworkers is monumental, and there is no telling how far and wide his presence will reach.

It’s not just the teachers, but the staff that is pretty great. Our janitors make a mere $7.50 an hour. Many work two jobs. They work harder than anyone else in the school. They show up before the sun rises and stay far past the darkening of the evening sky. They clean up the messes of 12 and 13 year olds without complaint. They polish the floors and empty the trash cans. They take pride in their work. This year, Sumner County was millions of dollars over budget. Of all costs to cut, they proposed to outsource the janitorial positions. I was inspired by the overwhelming outcry of outrage, among students, teachers, and administration. “How can you outsource family?” one teacher wrote. The janitors were left hanging in limbo for months, not knowing if their benefits would be cut, if they would be without jobs after the April 17th ruling. I am incredibly inspired that my coworkers stood up and spoke out on their behalf. The opposition was so loud that Sumner Country decided to find other places to cut costs.

Sometimes in the chaos and shuffle of the day, it is easy to forget that I am teaching children who have tremendous responsibilities outside of this school. 70 percent of my students are on free and reduced lunch. For a lot of students, Shafer gives them the only two meals they will get that day. One student has five siblings. Her mom works the night shift and is asleep when she gets home from school. She rushes home after school to hurry up and get her homework done before her siblings get off the bus. She plays with them and makes them dinner, and waits for her grand mom to come over at 7 p.m. to stay with them through the night. She is a straight A student and she is a vigilant attendant at the after school literature magazine I help run. She is sweet and kind and optimistic about her future. Her drive as a 12 year old takes my breath away.

I feel lucky to have grown up with a mom who instilled a sense of independence and self reliance within myself. When she told me that I could do anything I could putm my mind to, I believed her. I’m not sure if she regrets this, or is proud of this trait, as it has given me the desire and the ability to just pick up and leave the country at random. I went to Australia for a study abroad program and after graduating from college, I spent a year in China. The spicy schiwan noodles, the towering skycrapers in Shanghai, the busy streets, the tiered pagodas. Big things stick out and still do, but the smaller details can only be recalled when I pull out my photo albums. What does stick out in my memory, without any photo album crutch, are the interactions I had with incredible people around the world. People stand out in your mind in ways that architecture or
landscapes can’t.

You don’t need a picture to remember Nick Berg. He is a man whose intelligence and compassion graced the world in resonating ways. After reading all of the anecdotes on the Nickberg website, it is obvious that this man reached out and affected many people. So many people look back on interactions with him and connect the dots to how he changed their life. People like Katie Werner, who knew him as a camp counselor when she attended a short science summer camp as a kid, recalled that his love for science was absolutely contagious. She went on to take Physics in high school because of her introduction to Bergology years prior. Over and over again, friends and acquaintances describe the pleasure of knowing him as, “unforgettable,” “influential,” “life changing.”

People who have crossed paths with Nick mention little events as memorable. It’s the science summer camp, or a drive with a friend from college back home for winter break, or a casual conversation in a dorm room, or a memory from high school marching band that stick out. These moments set our lives in motion in undetectable ways. Much later, we can look back and connect the dots. With a little distance, we can
see just how much of an impact those fleeting moments made. Just like Dr. Spock’s brief encounter with a sidewalk protestor, brief encounters with Nick Berg resounded in large ways for everyone who met him.

I regret that I was never able to meet Nick in person. However, winning this scholarship in 2005 as a high school senior linked me to him forever. It gave me the opportunity to learn about his life, his family, his friends, his vast contributions. I am honored to have my name tied to a guy who was so compassionate and driven and philanthropic. I feel a good sort of pressure to live a life that embodies these traits.

I am honored to be here to help continue the scholarship in Nick’s name. I am so happy to see the love and support in this room and the pledge to continue doing good in his name. Nick’s presence continues to send out positive waves of influence. Carli Shillingford, Nick’s friend from high school may have said it best in her anecdote. She said, “sometimes people come into our life, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same. I can safely say for many of us, that we will never be the same after having the gift of knowing Nick Berg.”

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Internet: Humanity's Friend or Foe?

This term paper was written by one of my WRT220 (Writing About the Apocalypse) students and turned in this week. I thought his message was worth sharing with friends and readers of my blog column. I found this to be an immensely enjoyable and thought-provoking read. As I like to tell my students: the best papers are the ones that teach me something. This one did. Well cone, Jacob Bremmer! I have posted a picture he gave me at the bottom of his paper. Kudos, Jacob!!

The Internet: Humanity’s Friend or Foe?

By Jacob Bremmer

Throughout our history as human beings, we have evolved and developed new ways to communicate. This, above all else, is what has set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. We started with grunts and groans, moved up to pictures on cave walls; spoken word came about, and finally, written language. We moved from writing on stationary rocks and brittle clay tablets up to papyrus scrolls and eventually paper. As technological advances increased, information has become more readily available; modern advances such as the telegraph, radio, telephones, televisions, and now, computers have made information more accessible than ever.

Today, anything you want to read about is just a Google away. Despite this ever-growing abundance of available information, it seems to me the amount of general, useful knowledge known by the younger generation is rapidly declining, as well as the amount of face-to-face interaction. The rising use of smart phones, social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and even 24 hour news networks have contributed heavily to the incessant increase of mostly irrelevant information and the decline of face-to-face interaction, which is crucial to everyday life. This generation does not know what it is like not to live such constant, and yet veiled, connection to the people and things around them. They do not know how to change the oil or a headlight in the car that they rely on every day (both extremely simple tasks), but they can tell you all about Kim Kardashian's million dollar wedding in 140 characters or less. This overload of irrelevant information has brought us to a very crucial point in human history: will this new Internet generation, raised on quenching the undying thirst for distractions, take advantage of the positive uses of the internet, or fall into social disrepair?


I am in no way the first one who has been concerned about the dangers of our thirst for more visceral forms of distraction. In fact, this concern has been voiced for almost as long as we have been able to voice it. Plato wrote about man's inability and further, his unwillingness to see the real world some 2300 years ago in Book VII of his Politeia, where he introduces the famous Allegory of the Cave. He surmises that most people see a life as though they were watching the shadows of a puppet show; they cannot see the actual puppets themselves, just the silhouette it casts on the wall. The majority, who had the ability to think and speak but could not grasp the “forms” or ideas of the things they were seeing, would go about their lives thinking that those shadows were things themselves. Today, however, instead of seeing shadows of ideas on the walls of caves, we see them on the walls of our Facebook friends. Only if we turn our heads to view the objects themselves, to grasp the ideas that are represented, will we break our delusion.

Neil Postman wrote in his 1985 book entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death of an even earlier, wiser, and more formidable example that stirred his thoughts on the dangers of different forms of media:

I refer specifically to the Decalogue, the Second Commandment of which prohibits the Israelites from making concrete images of anything. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water beneath the earth.” I wondered then, as so many others have, why the God of these people would have included instructions on how they were to symbolize, or not symbolize, their experience. It is a strange injunction to include as part of an ethical system unless its author assumed a connection between forms of human communication and the quality of a culture. (Postman)

It seems important to mention that the belief in an abstract being requires the ability to grasp and put faith in abstract concepts. As media has progressed, we have moved from entertainment from the conceptual media requiring us to use our imaginations (such as books) to concrete pictures of things (as seen in the visual representation brought forth by television). This “picture book” society poses an inherent problem for the intellect of humankind by offering distractions from the ideas that are important in maintaining and furthering humanity along the same path. One key example of this is talked about by Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death. He mentions the shift in political elections from dealing the ideas of a particular candidate, as was the case before television endowed the masses with the ability to see particular candidates and speeches, to one where visual imagery such as body language and physical appearance is of more importance. Postman, in talking about how William Howard Taft would not be considered as a candidate today, said that “the shape of a man's body is largely irrelevant to the shape of his ideas when he is addressing the public in writing or on the radio or, for that matter, in smoke signals. But it is quite relevant on television.” (Postman, 7)

I am reminded of the lead up to the 2012 primaries where the media heavily criticized the potentiality of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as a GOP candidate because of his physical weight. In this way, we are moving from a society based on words and ideas to one based on images and appearances.

Chris Hedges in his book Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, makes the case that “the culture of illusion thrives by robbing us of the intellectual and linguistic tools to separate illusion from truth.” (Hedges, 45) He cited a study conducted by The Princeton Review that:

Analyzed the transcripts of the Gore-Bush debates of 2000, the Clinton-Bush-Perot debates of 1992, the Kennedy-Nixon debate of 1960, and the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. … In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln spoke at the educational level of an eleventh grader (11.2), and Douglas addressed the crowd using a vocabulary suitable (12.0) for a high-school graduate. In the Kennedy-Nixon debate, the candidates spoke in language accessible to tenth graders. In the 1992 debates, Clinton spoke at a seventh-grade level (7.6), while Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.8), as did Perot (6.3). During the 2000 debates, Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.7) and Gore at a high seventh-grade level (7.6).

This drastic decline in rhetorical significance represents the decline in American's interest in ideas and abstract thoughts. He concludes that we have fundamentally turned away from the ideas that candidates present and focus instead on the power of their narrative, truth notwithstanding. This is why we see so many negative ads during the political season, many of which are simply not true or taken completely out of context; the worst part is that nobody bothers to look into whether or not these accusations are true or not (even though websites like Politico look into the truthfulness of accusations, most do not bother finding out the truth), the majority just nod along and add it to the list of why we are not voting for a particular candidate. We do not vote for someone because we like their ideas, we vote because we like the candidate, rather, we like the story that the candidate presents us. Politics has moved from an important process in exercising our rights for self-determination to become another gear in the entertainment machine, a circus sideshow act like the fire-eater or sword-swallower.

The Instant Gratificulture

Another key shift from in our culture that I would like to address here is the consumerist nature that drives us. We have become a culture of instant gratification and quick fixes. I cancan not even count how many times I have heard people say, “I’ll just buy a new one!” instead of fixing what was broken. This mindset goes hand-in-hand with the drastic decrease in quality goods; instead of spending the money on a quality made item that can be fixed if it should ever break, we are more than happy to buy cheaper, goods of inferior quality multiple times. Oh, and we want it now! Aldous Huxley, who warned us in Brave New World about the dangers of a culture believing that “ending is better than mending,” would be rolling over in his grave at the lack of functional knowledge in today's society. Perhaps I am biased in this respect since I have always had the curiosity to know how the things I use every day work and family members that have taught me things I could not figure out on my own. I draw on no more than my own personal experiences in this matter. For example, the car of a friend broke down on him a few weeks back; the engine would not turn over. He opened the hood and gave it only a cursory glance before calling a tow truck to haul it to the nearest garage. Some $350 later, he had a working car and no desire to learn what was wrong with it or how to fix it if it happened again. Turns out, he had a bad starter motor, something that costs roughly $60 and is relatively easy to change out. To me, paying to have the car towed to a garage and having them perform a simple job like this is a perfect example of how today's society views things.

A major example of a society that still possesses that 'know-how' of generations past is the Amish. This incredible sub-sect of society relies solely on themselves for their livelihood. They till their fields with horse and plow, erect buildings with no more than hammer and nails. They rely on their farm animals to get them into town. They know everything they use inside and out, and can fix something if it breaks. They do not rely on modern conveniences such as electricity to make their lives easier; they are living proof that anything can be accomplished with a little elbow grease and a minute of contemplation. We could learn quite a bit about life from these people if we just slowed down to listen.

Effects of the Internet on Information

The increases that new technologies, such as the Internet, have brought to the abundance and speed of acquiring information are a principal part in the downturn of thought. A half century ago, the general speed and accessibility of information was much lower; we were confined to huge libraries full of books that had to be picked through in order to find something of relevance. Computers have completely automated this process, making it much easier and faster to find pertinent information on a subject. Something as simple as looking up a word in the dictionary takes Google just .35 seconds to perform, with millions of results. This incredible speed and accessibility of information has only served to reinforce the ideas of instant-gratification that society is embracing.

The advent of the internet has brought us to a point of no-looking-back. In his book, Neil Postman has gone through great lengths and many pages to show American's historical obsession with printed material. He points out the huge emphasis on literacy in Colonial times and the strong desire of the people to read. “From 1650 onward, almost all New England towns passed laws requiring the maintenance of a “reading and writing” school, the large communities being required to maintain a grammar school, as well.” (Postman, 32) With this focus on teaching the skills of reading and writing compounded with the availability of printing presses as early as 1638 and rise of newspapers and attention to books over the subsequent centuries, it is no surprise why Americans have become so fascinated by the Internet. It makes printed word much easier to be found and read at our convenience.

It is clear, then, that the Internet is a great resource for improving our education, but it has been argued that it is no substitute for face-to-face learning in a classroom setting. According to a study published by Jay Liebowitz in Volume 51 Issue 3 of College Teaching, classes were studied that taught exercises related mainly to face-to face skills and, as such, the author was skeptical as to whether such skills (such as dealing with employees who were not performing properly) could be taught in a solely online class. Nevertheless, he found that “online students believed that they achieved the course objectives to, at least, the same extent (98 percent) as the face-to-face students.” It seems obvious the potential of the internet in improving our understanding of the world, but many like me believe that unless we actively seek out useful information, it blends into the distracting din of the entertainment machine.

There are countless websites that simply extend the boundaries of television culture. We can now watch our favorite TV shows on our smartphones or iPads while we ride along in the car or on a train. MySpace and Facebook allow us to keep in contact with friends we have not seen in years because they live across the country, and to keep in even closer contact with friends we see more often. We spend hours a day looking to see what our friends are up to. The internet, which offers such novel ways of spreading ideas between people, has been reduced to a way to share pictures of cats. This is not to say that ideas are not sparked on such online collaboration websites such as Facebook. In fact, we can look to Egypt for a perfect example of how these social networks should be used to spread ideas and inform people in order to facilitate change. They managed to inform and organize enough people through the internet to start a revolution in January 2011 and overthrow an oppressive regime.

Oppressing Ourselves

Unfortunately for us, our oppression is self-inflicted. As Chris Hedges talks about in Empire of Illusion, we readily throw ourselves into the chains of slavery to the entertainment machine, willingly passing by thought about ideas and sitting down to be entertained, shutting our brains off in the process. We have found a way to become active participants in the drama that we are so enthralled by on television through the internet. “Reality” shows, such as The Real World, that put people in constant conflict with one another may have brought this into acceptance in actual life, not so much in person where it could cause trouble for the aggressor, but on the internet under the veil of anonymity and separation. There has been a shift from conflicting ideas as a way to advance those ideas to conflict for the sake of conflict. In fact, according to a study done my Kaveri Subrahmanyan and Patricia Greenfield in Volume 18, Issue 1 of the psychological journal The Future of Children, “teens now conduct a higher proportion of their communication through writing in an electronic medium rather than face-to-face or voice-to-voice—in effect, relatively depersonalizing the process of interpersonal communication.” (Subrahmanyan and Greenfield, 136) This depersonalization of interpersonal communication that is provided by the internet seems to “produce a disinhibiting effect on both sexual and racist behavior,” leading to a drastic increase in cyber-bullying, which could be filling the need our society has gained for conflict.

The Internet, Learning, and Family Relations

The depersonalization could be a good thing, however, if it has anything to do with the findings of Jay Liebowitz in the previously noted study on online learning in college students, stating that he was impressed by the “thorough, insightful, analytical, and well-written paragraphs and pages that the students posted on the bulletin boards.” (Liebowitz, 82) Behind the screen of a computer, the depersonalization of communication between parties allows for ideas to flow freely and time for responses to be revised and thought through.

Depersonalization of those who we talk to on the internet also allow for more self-disclosure than teens would normally feel uncomfortable talking about with those they know. In a study done by Gustavo Mesch in 2006, published by the Journal of Family Communication, it was found that family relations were negatively affected when the internet was used for social communication.

Social scientist Claude S. Fischer argues on the contrary in his book Still Connected, Family and Friends in America since 1970, saying that,” Some of the ways in which Americans engaged with people in their immediate circles changed, but the intimacy and support of close family and friendship ties stayed about the same” from 1970 until now (Fischer, 94).

Richard Fisher even goes so far as to argue that Facebook has done wonders for our social lives, bringing up findings by sociologist Mark Granovetter in 1973 who “showed how the loose acquaintances, or “weak ties”, in our social network punch far above their weight in their influence over our behavior and choices (American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 78, p1360). Granovetter found that a significant percentage of people get their jobs as a result of information provided by a weak tie.” Facebook, by its very nature, increases the amount of “weak ties” we can keep in contact with and, therefore, increases our opportunities to glean relevant information. Fisher goes on to say how “their [Facebook] acquaintances provide them with more trusted and relevant news, information or recommendations.” (Fisher, 2)

These studies have shown generally mixed feelings about the benefits and dangers of using the internet for social matters. Some say that it hasn’t caused a significant change in offline relationships (Fischer), while others (Subrahmanyan and Greenfield) come to the conclusion that teens use of the Internet for social matters did, in fact, take much away from family relationships. Still others (Fisher) praise social networking websites for the all-important “weak ties” that influence our behavior and choices, and Jay Liebowitz had nothing but good things to say about the feasibility of the internet to teach interpersonal skills.


In the end, there is much conflicting evidence on the nature of the Internet as it pertains to social development as well as the ability to facilitate learning, but it is also difficult for researchers to keep up with the blazing speed with which technology advances. As it seems social development can be affected by the role the internet plays in teenagers lives (Subrahmanyan and Greenfield), it is crucial that the educational benefits of the internet must be taken advantage of, especially as children are increasingly spending time indoors rather than out. We must instill the desire to learn in the minds of our future generations if we wish to avoid the prophecy posed by Joshua Meyrowitz in his 1985 book No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior that “the increasingly sophisticated use of interactive computer graphics and the drive toward computers that can understand and use human speech, both suggest that mastery of literacy may soon be as irrelevant to the basic operation of computers and computer controlled machines as it is to the operation of television sets and automobiles.” (Meyrowitz, 328)

Siri, the talking iPhone, brings us one step closer to this fear of Meyrowitz, which is no doubt a shared consensus with Huxley’s Brave New World. “Huxley feared that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. . . that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. . . that we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.” He saw, unlike an oppressive Orwellian dictatorship, that “people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacity to think.” (Postman, vii) We must make sure that this vision does not come to fruition by educating our young people, teaching them to think of all perspectives on an issue instead of going along with the rest of the sheeple. We must instill the insatiable desire to learn in the coming generations in order to keep this nightmare just that.