Human Connection in the 21st Century

I found Sherry Turkle’s opinions in the TED presentation, Connected, but Alone, to be very informative and thought-provoking.

I agree with what she had to say about people’s growing dependence on technology and withdrawal from real communication.  I think people today are more comfortable with expressing their thoughts and feelings on social media or by text because they have a chance to think about what they are going to say.  They don’t have to worry about someone finding out the complete truth by observing their body language and hearing their tone of voice.  It also takes away the feelings of guilt if one person has to deliver bad news.

Person-to-person, face-to-face contact makes us feel vulnerable, which is a feeling that nobody enjoys.  Vulnerability makes us feel weak and as though we have no control over things in our lives.  Expressing how we feel via technology helps us to eliminate that sense of vulnerability.  We control how in depth we are going to get regarding our thoughts and feelings; we control how we say what we need to say and do not have to let anyone see our faces as we say it.  A sad conversation can take place without the other person seeing our tears.

I fear that we are eventually going to have a society where nobody can maintain a face-to-face conversation for longer than 30 seconds.  I have been in many a situation where two or more people are sitting together, having a meal, and instead of speaking aloud, they are texting one another.  I miss the times when families gathered around the table for a meal and talked about their days.  I know that probably makes me sound very old-fashioned, but it’s true.  I do not quite understand why people go to live sporting events just to spend the majority of their time on their Smartphones.  I understand the desire to use your phone as a camera (I am guilty of doing that myself) but to constantly be sitting there texting does not make sense to me.

Computers and the Internet have changed the way people meet and fall in love.  Online dating has become a more common way to find a partner.  It is slowly losing its stigma.  Sure, you have to weed out the “one-night stand” profiles from the “I want a commitment” ones, but you have to do that with offline dating too.  I met a wonderful man online nearly five years ago and we are very much in love.  I have a few friends who have met their spouses online and they have been married for over 10 years now.

Someone told me recently that a fair amount of people under the age of 25 think it is acceptable to send and reply to text messages during sex.  I heard something on the radio the other day about break ups.  Apparently, the most commonly preferred way to end a relationship is by text message.  I think that’s a cowardly way to end a relationship, but I can understand why some people do it: it’s quick, easy, and you don’t have to look the other person in the eye when you break their heart.  You can also take your time and really think about what you want to say.

Text messages do have their advantages, though. You can receive news and weather alerts in an emergency.  I personally love waking up in the morning to find a “Have a good day, I love you” text message from my boyfriend.  A text message before a doctor’s appointment or an “I am thinking about you” can be a welcome break in the day.  My pet peeve is when I am out with someone and they are constantly checking their text messages.  Sometimes I just want to scream, “Are you spending time with me or the person on your phone?”

I am not anti-technology.  I have a laptop, a digital camera, an iPod, and a Smartphone.  I just think we need to find a balance between using digital communication and face-to-face communication.

We need to go back to the time where people sat around the kitchen table for dinner and talked about their days.  We need to learn to put the devices away for half an hour or so and just talk, to reconnect on a one-to-one basis, to re-establish a sense of intimacy and togetherness.  We need to learn to not be so alone in a room full of people.

Human Connection and Technology

Twenty percent of 18-34 year-olds in the United States admit to having used a smartphone during sex, (http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/durex-ditches-hand-helds-to-hold-hands-this-earth-hour-250973671.html); in England, 62% of women have interrupted a sexual liaison with their partner to check their cell phone.  Only 48% of men have admitted to doing the same (http://nypost.com/2013/07/24/new-study-finds-that-62-of-women-check-phones-during-sex/).

I heard something on the radio the other day about break ups.  Apparently, the most commonly preferred way to end a relationship is by text message.  I think that’s a cowardly way to end a relationship, but I can understand why some people do it: it’s quick, easy, and you don’t have to look the other person in the eye when you break their heart.  You can also take your time and really think about what you want to say.

I recently watched Sherry Turkle’s TED presentation, Connected, but Alone.  I found it to be very informative and thought-provoking.

I agree with what she had to say about people’s growing dependence on technology and withdrawal from real communication.  I think people today are more comfortable with expressing their thoughts and feelings on social media or by text because they have a chance to think about what they are going to say.  They don’t have to worry about someone finding out the complete truth by observing their body language and hearing their tone of voice.  It also takes away the feelings of guilt if one person has to deliver bad news.

Person-to-person, face-to-face contact makes us feel vulnerable, which is a feeling that nobody enjoys.  Vulnerability makes us feel weak and as though we have no control over things in our lives.  Expressing how we feel via technology helps us to eliminate that sense of vulnerability.  We control how in depth we are going to get regarding our thoughts and feelings; we control how we say what we need to say and do not have to let anyone see our faces as we say it.  A sad conversation can take place without the other person seeing our tears.

I fear that we are eventually going to have a society where nobody can maintain a face-to-face conversation for longer than 30 seconds.  I have been in many a situation where two or more people are sitting together, having a meal, and instead of speaking aloud, they are texting one another.  I miss the times when families gathered around the table for a meal and talked about their days.  I know that probably makes me sound very old-fashioned, but it’s true.  I do not quite understand why people go to live sporting events just to spend the majority of their time on their Smartphones.  I understand the desire to use your phone as a camera (I am guilty of doing that myself) but to constantly be sitting there texting does not make sense to me.

Computers and the Internet have changed the way people meet and fall in love.  Online dating has become a more common way to find a partner.  It is slowly losing its stigma.  Sure, you have to weed out the “one-night stand” profiles from the “I want a commitment” ones, but you have to do that with offline dating too.  I met a wonderful man online nearly five years ago and we are very much in love.  I have a few friends who have met their spouses online and they have been married for over 10 years now.

Text messages do have their advantages, though. You can receive news and weather alerts in an emergency.  I personally love waking up in the morning to find a “Have a good day, I love you” text message from my boyfriend.  A text message before a doctor’s appointment or an “I am thinking about you” can be a welcome break in the day.  My pet peeve is when I am out with someone and they are constantly checking their text messages.  Sometimes I just want to scream, “Are you spending time with me or the person on your phone?”

I am not anti-technology.  I have a laptop, a digital camera, an iPod, and a Smartphone.  I just think we need to find a balance between using digital communication and face-to-face communication.

We need to go back to the time where people sat around the kitchen table for dinner and talked about their days.  We need to learn to put the devices away for half an hour or so and just talk, to reconnect on a one-to-one basis, to re-establish a sense of intimacy and togetherness.  We need to learn to not be so alone in a room full of people.

What Makes a Good Instructor?

When I decided to go back to school in October 2015 at the tender age of 38, I must admit I thought I was more than a little nuts.  Don’t get me wrong: I love to learn, but going back to school after you’ve been out of the education system for 20 years is more than a little terrifying!

I am currently enrolled at CTS – Canadian Career College in Barrie.  I am studying to be a Medical Office Administrator.  When all is said and done, when I have finished my course, I will have spent a total of 14 ½ years of my life in school.

Over those fourteen-and-a-half years, I have had many instructors.  Some have been good, some have been awful, and some have been downright amazing.  I was thinking about all of the instructors I have had over the years and I can remember just about all of their names.  It also got me thinking: What makes a good instructor?

I know some students would say that a good instructor is any teacher who doesn’t give a lot of homework.  Others would say it’s someone who isn’t too strict.  Still others would say that it’s a teacher who gives them freedom to do what they want, when they want.

I think a good instructor is someone who is personable and approachable.  They are someone who maintains control over their classroom, yet still allows their students some freedom.  They encourage their students to be independent and free-thinkers.

A good instructor is a person who educates not just from a textbook but from real-life experience.  They have a good sense of balance between seriousness and light-heartedness.  They make learning fun and enjoyable; students want to come back to class the next day because they can’t wait to see what they are going to learn next.

Some of the worst instructors are those who read straight from a textbook in a monotone voice; they don’t use props or slides or real-life examples to help students understand the subject matter.  It helps students to learn when they can relate what they are learning to something in everyday life.

A great instructor is someone who has a good sense of humour but also is serious when the situation call for it.  They are someone who is approachable and available, whether it be after school (if you’re an elementary or high school student) or by e-mail (if you’re a post-secondary student).  They know their subject matter and can make it easy to understand and fun to learn.  They aren’t afraid to admit when they don’t know something or if they’ve made a mistake.  They encourage students to be independent, yet to be able to work with others in a cohesive, collaborative fashion.  The best instructors take the time to work with their students one-on-one, even if it’s just to stop by their desk to say, ‘Hi, how’s it going?  How was your weekend?”  They care about their students and see them as people, not just pupils.

The best learning environment is one that is free of judgement; everyone’s opinion is welcome and nobody is ridiculed.  People are encouraged to share their opinions and experiences and nobody is looked down upon.

I have been really fortunate in my academic career; I haven’t had a lot of horrible instructors.  My instructors at CTS – Canadian Career College have been fantastic.  There is one in particular who I would have to say has been my favourite.  They make learning the subject matter a lot of fun and I can’t wait to get to class the next day to learn some more.  They are extremely encouraging and they take the time to get to know their students, in order to help them maximize their potential and help them to see outside the box.

A good instructor respects their students and garners the respect of their students in return.

A Lesson Learned

I have tutored on and off for the last 25 years.  I have worked with many students, in various grades.  I love helping students improve their knowledge and I always get something out of it too.

I spent many years working with the son and daughter of a good friend of mine.  I worked with Jack* from the time he was in grade 6 or 7 until he graduated from grade 12.  Jack was a good student who needed some help with English.

I remember one Monday evening in particular.  Jack was in grade 11 and I was helping him with an English essay that was due in a couple of days.  Jack needed a bit of a push to think outside of the box but once he found a subject that he was interested in, he really took off.  When Jack was finished, he handed me the essay to proofread.  I made some spelling and grammar corrections, then handed it back to him.

Sarah: It’s a very good essay.  There are just a few changes to make.

Jack: Why do I need to correct it? (This was not said in a defiant, belligerent way.  It was a genuine question).

Sarah: Because there are some spelling and grammar errors.

Jack: Why should I care about correcting it?  The teacher isn’t going to care.  (Again, not said with any sort of attitude, just a simple statement of fact).

Sarah: Your teacher may not care now but your university professor is going to care.  Your future boss will care if there are errors in your work.  Besides, would you be happy sending it in like this, uncorrected?

(Jack paused for a moment before responding).

Jack: No, not really.

Sarah: That’s why you need to make the corrections.

Jack: Spell check will fix them when I type it up.

Sarah: It won’t catch all of them.

Jack: Yes, it will.

Sarah: Ok, here’s a challenge for you.  Type it up the way you have it and let spell check and grammar check do its thing.  Print it out.  Then, type it up with my corrections, print it out, and see if the two match up.  Then bring it back to me next week and we’ll see who is right.

Jack: And if I am right?

Sarah: You get an extra half-hour of TV time. (Jack and his sister, Eve*, usually got to watch at least 30 minutes of TV after they had finished their homework).

Jack: And if you are right?

Sarah: I will think of something.

The next week Jack arrived with some homework.  After we finished with his homework, we started discussing his essay from the previous week.

Jack: You were right.  Spell check and grammar check didn’t catch all of your changes.

Sarah: Which essay did you hand in?

Jack: The one with your changes.  So, what do I have to do now, since you were right?

Sarah: Did you learn anything from it?

Jack: Yes, that spell check and grammar check don’t pick up everything.

Sarah: Then that’s all you needed to do.

A couple of weeks later, Jack was doing his homework and I asked about his essay.

Sarah: How’d you do on your essay from a couple of weeks ago?

Jack: Ok, I guess.  (Jack said this with disappointment in his voice).

Sarah: What did you get?

Jack: I got 72% (Note: I don’t remember the exact grade, but I know it was in the 70s).

(I was shocked by what I perceived to be a lower grade than what he deserved).

Sarah: Maybe your teacher didn’t relate well to the essay.  (It was about the Toronto Maple Leafs, Jack’s favourite hockey team).

Jack: Maybe.  I know she found a few spelling and grammar errors.

Sarah: That’s to be expected.

Jack: I know

Sarah: How long have I been tutoring you, Jack?

Jack: I don’t know.  Four or five years now.

Sarah: How many essays and short stories of yours have I read in that time?

Jack: A lot.

Sarah: This was the best essay of yours that I have ever read.

Jack: Really? (Jack looked at me as though he hadn’t heard me correctly).

Sarah: Yes, really.  It was easy to follow and it was very informative.  I learned a lot from reading it.

(Jack’s face lit up like a kid on Christmas who had just received a brand new bike).

Sarah: Let me ask you something: What do you think of your essay?

Jack: I thought it was good.  I know I worked hard on it.

Sarah: Are you proud of what you wrote?

Jack: Yes.

Sarah: Then that is all that matters.  As long as you know that you’ve done your very best and are proud of what you turn in, then that is all that matters.  Who cares what other people think?  If you’re proud of what you do, nobody else’s opinion counts.

I remember Jack seemed to take on a little more confidence after that.  He still needed to be pushed to think outside of the box, but he took more pride in his work.

High marks are really good, don’t get me wrong, but I think what is most important is to do the very best you can and take pride in your work.  When you’re working with students (all people, for that matter), remember to encourage them.  Offer positive, creative criticism.  Be their cheerleader but also their coach.

*Names have been changed for privacy reasons.

Birthday Tradition

It’s very hard to buy a birthday present these days for pre-teens, especially boys.  In 2014, I started a tradition with my youngest nephew, Gavin, for his birthday.  All year, he had been asking to go to a Barrie Colts hockey game.  I thought, “Hey, what a perfect gift!”  So, I asked Gavin if he wanted to go to a game for his 10th birthday.  He said yes.

So began a birthday tradition.

The game that I took him to in 2014 was his first-ever live hockey game.  The look of wonder and amazement that crossed his face when the game started was priceless.  He loved every single minute of the game.  The Barrie Colts trounced the London Knights 10-3 that night.  For me, the best part of the game was watching Gavin enjoy it so much.  He practically begged me to go again for all of his subsequent birthdays!

I took him again for his 11th birthday.  He was just as excited this year as he was last year.  Unfortunately, the Colts lost 6-5 to the Kingston Frontenacs.  We started out our evening by having dinner at the Horsepower Grill, which is attached to the Barrie Molson Centre.  After dinner, we found our seats and got to watch the warm-ups on the ice.  The Colts scored first on a power play.  Kingston soon took a 2-1 lead.  The Colts would tie it up and then Kingston would take the lead again.  The Colts finally took the lead again in the third period.  Sadly, the lead did not last long.  The game was tied 5-5 when Gavin and I had to leave on the bus.  I learned on our way home that Kingston won the game 6-5.

I love going to the Barrie Colts games with Gavin.  We get to spend time together and I get to teach him what I know about hockey.  (Which I admit, is not much).