Techno-addicts Shouldn’t Teach

I’m very much a product of the iGeneration. I tweet, text, Skype, and Facebook. I have a smartphone, iPod, and two laptop computers. I’m hooked-in to RSS feeds, Google news alerts, and I love downloading cool new apps.

But I’m not like those people, a growing number of 20-to-35 year-olds who can’t tear themselves away from electronics. I appreciate technology, but I’m not controlled by it. I keep my phone off the table, and I don’t constantly check e-mail. Recently, I even disabled the push-notification on my phone, which alerts users to each incoming message.

To be fair, I do plan to create a special Google-number and ringtone for close friends and family who must reach me in an emergency. But I’m concerned about another breed of iGenerationers, what some have dubbed “techno-addicts.”

The techno-addict has a mobile device glued to his anatomy. He doesn’t feel at ease in any situation unless he can sense it on his person, and even then only if it’s fully-charged. At dinner, he constantly glances to check his device. He knows it’s rude (or perhaps he doesn’t), but he feels an overwhelming urge to accept another Twitter follower. He brings his device to bed with him, watching Hulu before falling asleep.

But he never really reaches deep sleep, alert enough to wake-up for an electronic alert—just in case somebody wants to contact him by e-mail in the dead of night.

Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry and the University of California Los Angeles, offers a great explanation of techno-addicts:

When we think of addiction, most of us think of alcoholism or drug abuse. But the easy access, anonymity, and constant availability of the Internet, email, texting, chatting and twittering has led to a new form of compulsive and dependent behavior–techno-addicts. The same neural pathways in the brain that reinforce dependence on substances can reinforce compulsive technology behaviors that are just as addictive and potentially destructive. Almost anything that we like to do– eat, shop, gamble, have sex– contains the potential for psychological and physiological dependence.

I’m concerned about the techno-addict who becomes or remains a teacher. An overreliance on technology has rendered this person unable to appreciate real human connections.

Several weeks ago, I interviewed Brenda Hunter, a prominent psychologist and coauthor of From Santa to Sexting. Hunter explains the importance of human connection, especially between parents and their children.

“What I fear is being lost with all of [these] hours on cell phones and Smartphones… is humanity. I work with mothers to establish eye contact with their babies. I see this as the language of love…”

I’m not at all suggesting the teachers show similar affection to their students. Still, combining techno-addicts with the recent push for technologically advanced classrooms is a risky mix. I’m worried that education’s sometimes rushed embrace of technology has served to justify and deem appropriate the techno-addict’s behavior.

How can a techno-addict teach students about the proper and ethical uses of technology? If a techno-addict is constantly checking his phone, even in class, how can he reprimand others for doing the same? Most importantly, how can a techno-addict help students appreciate the human condition, especially if he lives much of his own life within a fake virtual world?

Once teachers enter the classroom, what we do with our private lives makes us either role models or hypocrites—and it doesn’t matter that we are the only ones who know the difference.

If I sound like I’m placing teachers on a pedestal, I am.

As a coach, history and journalism teacher at Brimmer and May, a wonderful independent school in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, I have the absolute best job in the world. I am thrilled to get up every morning to engage with interesting young people, and I'm equally fortunate to have such amazing colleagues and mentors. As the founder of Spin Education, I encourage you to check-in frequently and submit posts and lessons—all in an effort to better our practice as teachers.

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