Sunday, October 13, 2013

Is the Exotic, Far Away Place a Goner Today?


Looking at a travel poster of the South Pacific hanging over my desk, it struck me that today's student differ from older generations in that the far away and exotic appealed and took us away from "here" in previous times. But today the close by is the focus of excitement given the communities of the smart phone age. Prior to starting, I should point out I am high tech. have a smart phone. have had computers for decades now. and can text, tweet, and that old email thing.SouthPacific Poster 1

"High tech-High Touch" was a phrase I recall hearing more than a decade sgo to remind those getting into the computer world of the time to spend some time in that real world. The computer world was not real, it could not fulfill the needs of people for touching real things--whether that be working with your hands, being active outdoors, or just being with people. Those of Baby Boom age understood this concept as they were raised with less high tech to draw them away from high touch. They went to the park. They had limitations on how much television was a part of a day. Stations actually went off the air at night and you only had a handful or less choices. You did other things. Even a long conversation with a friend on the phone was not to happen given party lines and the presence of only one phone for all to use.

Mentally you joined the generation that preceded you and its tradition to get out of this place (epitomized by Eric Burdon and the Animals "We've Got to Get Out of This Place". To do this you had to become familiar with other places and what they offered you. These messages could come from books, movies, school lessons; but you identified with favorite places someplace else. Hence much tourism was to get away to those places and not theme parks.

I, myself, got caught on the South Pacific by the music of the musical on that first album my parents owned on that first stereo they bought. That led to James Michener and his stories of the South Pacific, being in South Pacific twice in high school and college, and purchasing two record albums, one audio cassette, two video tapes, and two DVDs of it to keep the music going over the years. "Bali Hai" called me. "Some Enchanted Evening" was a hope and dream.

While all this is available on the smart phone and computer/tablet, it is that personal communication that drives these. I have witnessed class after class of people ignoring what is in their best interest to answer a text. To ignore the person in front of you talking to you at your cost in favor of a text message is answered by the statement it is rude not to text back right away. The importance attached to these communications is understandable in young people, but the real world is slowly shifted to a secondary status in life. The implications of that could be staggering. Just in depression medications and other costs. If I had a nickel for every student who used depression as an excuse over my career, I could own one of those South Pacific islands. They isolate themselves then wonder why they are depressed.

If you couple all this with a general isolation of so many from the larger national life of the country, and a growing disrespect for that life, you begin to pile factors deeper and deeper in a heap that marks alienation from the real world, isolation from it, disrespect for it, and a collapsing civic community. If that text is more important than me, why should I care about you? You bought isolation from those around you for the engagement of the text message.

In terms of geography, the world of these folk is on the screen. While you can watch the whole nature and history of the world on a screen, that is hardly what is being watched. Geography in your life is a disjointed map of online contacts, without the benefit of personal touch. The touch is to be dissed, while the tech is god.

We should engage in a field wide discussion of how to romanticize places to where they were. How to make those places relevant parts of the student's life. This is an uphill trek because those concepts have to break into the socially enforced world of isolation from such things the smart phone brings. Another problem is that this interest is so personalized. In a room of 30 there are 30 times, places, events, feelings, needs that must come together to spark that interest. The world geography course can search for that combination, but does the work of a course get in the way. If memorizing those countries or mountains is required for various reasons, does this inhibit the generation of interest in a place or places?