To the Upper Canada College Administration:
This correspondence is written in response to the laptop initiative that occurred within the Upper School a few years ago. As you know, every student and teacher in the Upper School receives a laptop to aid them in the classroom and to have the College’s pedagogy keep up with the Internet-invested milieu we live in. This initiative is both understandable and logical. The computer is a phenomenal and protean tool. Never before have we been so wired to information, so linked to multimedia, and so quick to learn!
The Internet accounts for a large portion of the computer’s relevancy. As a student, I love the Internet. It is a multipurpose platform. It promotes connectivity through efficiency. In two minutes, one could send an email to their teacher about a homework question, respond to a message on Facebook, and check the latest tweets on their Twitter feed, all while video chatting their friend from across the world. The Internet has also eased the process of gaining knowledge.
Sites like Wikipedia offer a myriad of cited information on a large variety of subjects. What might have been a whole day at a library or museum to learn about the legacy of an ancient culture is just a few clicks and keystrokes away. The Net also exposes and cultivates creativity. User-generated video sites such as Youtube and Vimeo are abundant with creative and inspiring shorts, skits, video logs, and documentaries. Google Images is also another example of a site that exposes and develops creativity. You no longer have to visit to the Vatican to see Michelangelo’s ancient, historic frescos. Just punch in his name into Google Images and his The Creation of Adam pops up right in front of you. This plethora of factors is what makes the Internet amazing and highly regarded by students worldwide.
The increasing importance and invasion of the Internet, however, is detrimental to students’ academic mindset and capabilities. This is the crux of the matter. In his book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr discusses our brain’s plasticity: how our mind and innate nature are constantly changing as a reaction to external stimuli, motor actions, and reward signals. This biological feature provides us with a “mental flexibility, an intellectual litheness, that allows us to adapt to new situations, learn new skills, and in general expand our horizons.” It is a product of ‘survival of the fittest.’ The brain replaces the mental skills that are no longer exercised with the newer skills that are. Replacing old, ponderous skills was necessary to survive in an evolving, dangerous prehistoric world. However, in the twenty-first century, this plasticity is disadvantageous.
The Internet, despite its amazing qualities, is littered with distractions, which then molds our brain and changes who we are. For instance, I start reading an article but, before I can finish, my attention is diverted to a Facebook notification that is blinking on my screen. This message links me to a Youtube video, which discusses the life of a shark but, before I can finish this video, I go to Wikipedia to read all about sharks and their behavioral patterns; this vicious cycle continues.
What originally was supposed to be five minutes of reading an article has suddenly become fifteen minutes of broken reading. This fragmentation of our chain of thought and attentiveness results in us not absorbing what we are reading or looking at. We are locomotive beings stuck in a perpetual motion of treading the surface water from website to website. There is no room for deep reading and critical thinking. I find it increasingly difficult to even read a page of an article without checking my email or twitter now–and I’m not the only one experiencing this phenomenon. Carr and countless other bloggers and authors have admitted to their diminished attention span. But this is only the beginning. With rapid advancements in computer technology, who knows how divided our attention span will one day be.
So, what does this all mean to the students of UCC? It means a failure in the mission of the College: a school that wants to cultivate the leaders of tomorrow, a school that wants its students to make a difference, a school that wants to ignite a passionate fire within its boys. The implementation of laptops in our studies and classrooms will make us distracted learners. You can see it already. Students are struggling to maintain their concentration. Rather than being focused on the teacher and chalkboard, we are focused on the cacophony of notifications and pop-ups bubbling up on our computer screens. And when we do try to work, we’re quickly sidetracked into the depths of the Internet. It is your responsibility to make sure that the ability to think critically and the ability to maintain attention is retained. If this does not happen, our future will lack fecundity. Rather than progressing forward, our progression as a society will be retrograde.
Through this letter, I hope that you will thoroughly consider the laptop initiative and its serious implications on students.
Matthew Bu is a grade 11 student at Upper Canada College, Toronto, Canada. He is active in his community and writes for his school paper.