More Tech is Better, Right Kid?

If you watch any American TV without the benefit of a DVR, by now you’ve seen those AT&T ads featuring a group of cute kids being asked by an adult whether more is better than less, faster better than slower or [insert other quantitative contrasts here].

They grab your attention but I also found something slightly off about them. Larry Cuban is also irritated by the ads and does a good job of articulating why.

I have watched these ads many times and I finally put my finger on what bothered me about them. What got to me was not that the values of speed and quantity were being reinforced with kids — hey, the first-graders’ responses are cute and you gotta smile when you see a gap-toothed little kid jump up and down in excitement. What bothered me was the degree to which the pervasiveness of beliefs in technology and its generous fruits are held in America and is now peddled to all of us explicitly without a blink or doubt… by first graders.

There’s really nothing new in that attitude. Many people (although certainly not all) have always accepted the idea that simply incorporating the latest technology can somehow improve our lives and society. More is better than less, newer is better than old, high tech is better than low.

Certainly that has been true about education in my lifetime as schools enthusiastically bought into film, television, computers, the internet, and now tablets and online courses, based on loud claims from advocates (and corporations) that doing so would revolutionize both teaching and learning.

It hasn’t happened, of course, but not because each of the new mediums didn’t bring important changes. Unlike society in general, which is usually forced to change in some way as a result of the impact of new technologies (sometimes in painful ways), our educational system is very good at blocking alterations to the “normal” classroom structure, regardless of the impact being made in the real world.

By the way, have you wondered whether those ads are really unscripted? Yeah, me too.