On the same day I had a meeting about the continuing expansion of our school’s wireless network I sat through a lengthy discussion among the faculty about a proposal to limit the use of cell phones on campus, among both students and employees, because there was a feeling that the excessive and inappropriate use of the phones ran contrary to the spirit of community on campus.
One meeting to figure out how to extend the use of various wireless devices on campus, and another meeting to figure out how to limit people’s use of those devices. Because we work in and around schools, we recognize the prevalence of the “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do” way of doing things and just how frustratingly common it is to have consecutive meetings with starkly contrasting agendas, so I wasn’t particularly bothered or surprised that these meetings took place. What did bother me, however, was the attitude I detected in the first meeting that suggested that when adults use smart phones, they are doing so with the noblest intentions, but when students use them, they’re up to no good.
I flashed back to our commencement a few days earlier. We webcast the ceremony, as we’ve done for the past few years, and this year, I decided to tweet the occasion as well. As I was tweeting from my position near the camera, and in full view of the rest of the faculty who were sweating in their black robes under the warm June sun, it occurred to me that it probably looked as though I was acting rudely and texting during the ceremony, when in fact I was doing my job. And then it hit me: not only are the mixed messages we send our students about the use of technology a potential barrier to technology’s fullest and best adoption on campus, but the attitudes we have about how other people use (or misuse) technology is a barrier as well. It goes something like this: I need to be in touch all time, that’s why I have my cell phone with me, because my phone is my life. But to you it’s just a toy.
Simply, there’s a disconnect between how we use technology and how we perceive others to use the same technology. In other words, it might be worth examining what messages to we send when we send messages.