Research Publications

A shifting paradigm: An evaluation of the pervasive effects of digital technologies on language expression, creativity, critical thinking, political discourse, and interactive processes of human communications

Title: “A Shifting Paradigm” (Click above link for more)

Published: January 30th, 2018

Visual Presentation: A Shifting Paradigm_Seminar Presentation 2018

Technology is an all-encompassing aspect of life in the 21st century. Its existence has implications on how communication occurs, education is shaped, knowledge is spread, and ideas are formulated. There is a significant shift taking place in society as we become more accustomed to existing in a digital world. Digital natives, young people who have been born into a virtual reality, view the world differently, have a ‘digital footprint,’ process info-graphics speedily, but lack basic capacity for interpersonal interactions. They also present neurological differences from those who were exposed to digital technologies later in life. However, regardless of human capacity for technological understanding, digital technologies adversely impact our shared humanity and the ubiquitous nature of these technologies is quite frightening. As a high school English teacher, I experience the impact of digital technologies on learning and language expression first-hand through my work with digital natives. My concern is that because of student dependence on the rapid influx of digital technologies, they will not possess certain imperative faculties of the mind including the ability to embrace mystery, wonderment, and inquiry. There is also concern for the potential loss of creativity. The research that follows attempts to evaluate the impact – both positive and negative – on the domain of language expression including reading, writing, and faculties for imagination and critical thinking. Through thorough examination of neuroscience, trends in reading and writing, usage of electronic communications, social media and politics, levels of digital literacy, primary observations of high school students in a tech-dependent classroom, the evaluations that follow form a basis for theoretical assumptions about technology’s impact on language expression and education.

Ask Siri. Google it. Check your phone for updates. Use the new app. Download it. Follow me on Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Blog with me on Tumblr. Check out my website. Text me. Scroll your newsfeed. Skype call Mom later. Discover new emoticons. Spell check, instantly. Copy, paste, and plagiarize. The majority of our time in the in the 21st century, dubbed the “age of technology,” is spent navigating a virtual world (Seife, 2014: 5). From social media networks to reality television and on-demand movies, to e-books, and students holding small computers in their hands in classrooms across the United States, we are rapidly outsourcing entertainment and educational experiences to technological devices and programs.

Our growing digital dependency has profoundly changed basic human interaction, and access to information at our fingertips has created a vast new landscape of digital learning and connectivity. The exponential growth of technology and its all-consuming nature has been fascinating to witness from the early development of the web to multi-faceted computerized devices that fit to the size of our hands. But what is the result of this instant access, virtual reality in which we live? How does our digital dependency affect our consumption, use, and understanding of language? Furthermore, what impact does our reliance on technology have on our ability to create and think critically?

At the time this research is being formulated in 2017, a movie about Emoji’s has just been unveiled in theatres, the latest iPhone is available for purchase, hundreds of new apps are being developed every day, and a surge of digital natives are seamlessly navigating an increasingly interconnected, technology-reliant world. Children are more accustomed to screens than paper books, and adults are becoming innately tethered to their electronic devices. We are compelled to publicize our lives on social networks, and to let our pocket computers do all the thinking for us. From maps giving visual and auditory directions, word definitions being provided via multiple digital dictionaries, and how-to articles and videos in every possible category imaginable, we no longer have the need to actively participate in organic thinking processes (Birkerts, 2016). Organic thinking processes require self-generated thought. Rather than being informed of personal thinking from outside sources, an individual generates ideas and meaning on his own. Larissa Pahomov (2014), author of Authentic Learning in the Digital Age, states that a possible solution to the interference of the digital age in regard to authentic learning is to teach students organic thinking processes so that they can create new ideas and solutions to problems on their own.

Our dependence on digital technologies in the 21st century has transformed human interaction, improved the mode and speed by which we perform daily activities, and increased the efficiency of production. But in consequence, it has had detrimental effects on human capacity for creativity, critical thinking, and language expression. With change and complacency a common result of our increased access to information and growing reliance on technology, do we still have what it takes to read, to write, to express, to understand literature, to analyze problems, or to imagine innovative solutions? What can we forecast as the cumulative results of our behaviors in the digital age? If we cannot debate or sustain meaningful discourse without the interruption of digital technologies, can we ever become rational, self-functioning, thinking, human beings again?

The existence of technology has implications on how communication occurs, how education is shaped, how knowledge is spread, and how ideas are formulated. The genesis of technology was to create commerce and improve quality of life. Today, technology is used for everything from entertainment and communication to data mining and assisting in or preventing acts of war. Technological advancements have been isolating as well as liberating. Most notably recognized in the form of smart phones, digital technologies are no longer a part of our world we can avoid (Palfrey, 2009: 10).

Digital natives are young adults who have been born after the advent of the internet (Palfrey, 2009). They have been born into a virtual reality of life via screen and as such, view the world differently, process info-graphics speedily, lack basic capacity for interpersonal interactions, and present neurological differences from those who were exposed to digital technologies later in life (Ray, 2017). There is a significant shift taking place in society as we become more and more accustomed to existing in a digital world. However, regardless of human capacity for technological understanding and ease of its implementation, the ubiquitous nature of digital technologies have the potential to adversely impact our shared humanity (Palfrey, 2009).

As a high school English teacher I experience the impact of digital technologies on learning and language expression first-hand through my work with digital natives. My concern is that because of student dependence on the rapid influx of digital technologies, they will not possess certain imperative faculties of the mind including the ability to embrace mystery, curiosity, wonder, and inquiry. There is also concern for the potential loss of creativity. The research that follows attempts to evaluate the impact on the domain of language expression including reading, writing, and faculties for imagination and critical thinking. Through examination of neuroscience, trends in reading and writing, usage of electronic communications, levels of digital literacy, and first-hand observations of high school students in a tech-dependent classroom with a digital curriculum, the evaluations that follow form a basis for theoretical assumptions about technology’s impact on language expression and education. The following research coalesces collaborative solutions for authentic, inquiry-based learning that cautions against the use of technology as the primary means for which students acquire information and instead promotes the implementation of hybridized learning that uses both technological and traditional learning practices.