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Posts Tagged ‘fear

I love the Pessimist Archive podcast. I hate that there are so few episodes. But I appreciate how much work it takes to create each one.

I have not been listening to the podcasts in the order they were made because I jumped on whatever interested me first. A standout phrase in episode 1 from host Jason Feifer was this: The best antidote to fear of the new is looking back at fear of the old.

So I made an image quote of it.

The best antidote to fear of the new is looking back at fear of the old. -- Jason Feifer

We cannot claim to be teachers or educators unless we have been, and continue to be, students first. What seems like new problems the students experience or bring into the classroom often has old roots.

We can deal with the symptoms or we can tackle the causes. The key to understanding our new fears is having a mind open enough to learn from history.

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The press peddles this because it is easier to focus on dangers and fear.

Such clickbait might work in terms of getting attention. But it does not necessarily work to accurately and factually inform, to educate, and to change minds.

This does not mean there are no dangers or that we ignore what is negative. It does mean that we also highlight what is useful and positive as well as how to mitigate what is not.

Technologies push and pull us forward, often to places with new possibilities, no rules, and unseen consequences. We can paint such movement as dangerous — demonic as the graphic in the tweet illustrates — or try to provide more balance.

According to these archived newspaper clips, there were people who feared for their young as the latter were drawn to reading off paper and books.

Do you see a pattern with respect to the worries about screen time now? If not, consider how people have always feared emerging technologies through the ages.

Fear of the New.

Note: I shared the graphic above in 2015 and it was originally created by Kevin C. Pyle and Scott Cunningham in their book Bad For You. The image was shared here in 2013.

History repeats itself. Sometimes it has to because we do not learn. Sometimes it does so because we do not change.

Ignoring one another with papers and phones.

When I read this tweet, I thought: Here we go again — fear mongering.

When I read the article (TODAY borrowed from the NYT again), it was more a more uncertain set of answers to the question. The answers were not new to anyone following the debate, and more importantly, following the research.

The link between insert-latest-condition-to-fear (e.g., cortical thinning) directly and insert-latest-evil-to-fear (e.g., screen time) was inconclusive.

If there is a tweet that sums up the nuance is a whisper, it might be this one:

Youth Day fell on a Sunday. This made Monday a school holiday, the roads less congested at peak travel, and everywhere else youthfully crowded.
 

 
TODAYonline featured Youth Day wishes by our Prime Minister to not be afraid of making mistakes. This is a good message, but one that is difficult to live up to.

Why?

Unlike our evolution-selected fears of snakes and spiders, the fear of making mistakes and failing is learnt.

The most natural way we learn as higher mammals is play. When you unpack play, it has elements of hypothesising or risk-taking, deciding on choice of action, taking action, getting immediate feedback, and dealing with consequence.

Making mistakes is essential to play. Whether joyous in victory or abject in failure, the event is linked to emotions and these cement the lesson in memory. Play might be the quickest and most effective way to learn.

However, the adult human animal devalues play. Play a word association game with “video games” and most adults will say “waste of time” and “fun and games” as if games have no value or are not serious work. The adult learns to fear play as childish, a process to outgrow, or something to not mention if one is to be taken seriously.

This adult way of thinking is taught or caught. Consider a few examples.

A child picks up an insect and a care-giver shrieks and tells the child to let go. There is little or no explanation why and the child learns that discovering, exploring, and making mistakes is dangerous.

Another child travels with a parent in public transport and her parent tells her to avoid certain races of people because of the way they behave, look, or smell. There is no option to find out for herself whether those things are true, but why would she question someone she trusts? The child learns not to question or critique.

Yet another child goes to school and learns processes of enculturation. Some of these processes are good because he learns to socialise. Other processes are bad because they create over-reliance. With the latter, the child learns to not try and to wait for someone else to take action instead.

These lessons entrench themselves in our social norms. Action contrary to social norms is rarely rewarded and is often punished instead. But there will always be a few who will persist and try.

The article concluded with this:

In a more humourous vein, Lionel Chick urged Mr Lee against jumping: “I’m afraid you might sprain your ankle (because you’re) so old already … Do take care.”

That earned the following rebuttal from Mandy Lim Beitler: “That’s the mentality that makes people old long before their time. Thankfully, our PM has a young heart.”

A call to not be afraid to make mistakes is a call to trust our instincts, to take calculated risks, and to try.

Who are you, Lionel (the cowardly lion) or Mandy (who manned up and disagreed)? Will you only talk the talk or also walk that talk by encouraging and even rewarding mistakes?

Do the commonly labelled “new media” bring new dangers? Or are they just old dangers magnified or reinvented? Do “new dangers” actually hide something more insidious?

Put “cyber” in front of any established danger and it becomes “new”: bullying, stalking, theft, crime, and so on. I am not making light of these. I am merely saying the dangers are not that new.

They are new to traditional publishers who wish to spread fear. They are new to those who lack a critical lens with which to read what these publishers disseminate.

Such electronically-mediated crimes might be easier to commit and more difficult to detect, but that does not make them new. You might kill a person by remotely stopping his heart’s pacemaker, but that does not make it new murder.
 

Day 60 - Fear by juanpg, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  juanpg 

 
What “new media” does require is for people to stay informed, keep up, and take action. So it might actually be fear, ignorance, or inertia that are the dangers. When not wanting to try something new, it is easier to call it “dangerous” from afar.

I know very intelligent people who make very poor assumptions or take questionable action because they choose not to know and do. The more frightening thing is that some of these people shape policy in large organizations.

New media use does not necessarily lead to new dangers. But there are many people with old mindsets fueled by old fears. I know which I am more afraid of.

This is a continuation of a rant I started yesterday against an STonline article.

I can almost understand why parents would want to attend a forum on factors that influence early childhood cognition. It is hard for any informed parent to believe what they read in the press and they would rather visit the stable and hear from the horses’ mouths. But I worry when the stable opening is organized by the press.

The answer to the question of letting your child use technology is not yes or no. It is knowing about when and how instead of being blinded by fear.

It is never too early to introduce technology to kids, just as it is never too early to teach them about setting rules, how to self-regulate, the consequences of one’s actions, etc. You do not do one (let kids use technology) without doing the other (learn discipline). If you leave kids unsupervised or unmanaged, you cannot expect good to come from it.

All this sounds like common sense. So why are we allowing organizations to not only take advantage of parental fear, but also get parents to part with money to hear expert opinion?
 

ttl by Stitch, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Stitch 

 
The fundamental problem is that we are shortsighted. We tend not to be concerned about the foreseeable future or choose not to learn from our past.

If we let kids watch videos with a mobile device at meals, they will keep doing so because the videos are motivating. This does not seem harmful over the short term because the child is easier to manage. However, the ease of the here-and-now hides longer term problems like an unreasonable dependency on the device, a lack of discipline or internal locus of control, and selfish or antisocial behaviour.

We are just as myopic looking back as we are looking forward. We do not learn from the history of our fear of technology.

This graphic was originally created by Kevin C. Pyle and Scott Cunningham in their book Bad For You. The image was shared here in 2013.

Every previous generation fears what it does not understand about the current one. It treats the current generation’s technologies and preferences with suspicion. Some might call this neophobia, the fear of the new. Such a fear stems from the fact that the old is established and comforting. The new is the exact opposite.

We need to look back and realize that history repeats itself with every major technology. If we do, we learn that such fear is irrational. We have progressed because a few people chose to ignore that fear and even what passes as expert opinion. They relied on an uncommon common sense to do what they knew was right.


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