Ten Myths About Technology

some of the best moments are low-tech

Sometimes my view on technology seems paradoxical and messy. Sometimes it feels like cognitive dissonance. I hang with Luddites and Technophiles. I join #chats and write blogs and yet I frequently criticize technology. So, this list might seem conflicting. Or nuanced. You can make up your mind.

The following are ten myths I have found myself believing over the years:

Myth #1: Technology Dehumanizes
This is an oversimplification of Luddites. Yes, technology dehumanizes. However, technology is also a deeply human endeavor. Creativity requires destruction. The technology we use to save lives also helps destroy the environment.

Myth #2: Technology is Neutral
Technology is never neutral. It always reshapes humanity and how we live. It changes communication. It reshapes community. This applies to every medium, no matter how "obsolete" or vintage it may be. We lost something with the printing press and with the steel plough and with the railroad. And yet, each of these technological advancements enabled us to reach a level of comfort that was once unimaginable.

Myth #3: Technology Makes Us Relevant
On some level, this is true. There is a deep social cost in rejecting a medium. If I choose to avoid Facebook, I don't find out about births and deaths and social events. Yet, there is a also a certain relevance in rejecting a medium. Sometimes the most relevant voice is the one outside the echo chamber.

Myth #4: We Can Use It Wisely
We need to think about the pros and cons of the tools. However, often the benefits and drawbacks of a medium cannot be predicted in advance. We rarely know in advance just what we'll unleash when we split an atom or hand a four year old an iPad. We need to use technology appropriately, choosing where it fits best into our lives. However, we also need to see the hubris in assuming we can have all the pros without any of the cons.

Myth #5: Technology Saves Time
Technology cannot save time. Time moves regardless. We're tied to the earth, whether we believe this or not. No amount of satellites can pull us into space. Our devices and connections and apps allow us to do things more quickly, but they also push us toward a more frantic pace. Technology is about compression. Time, space, audio, visual - these have all been compressed. But time moves on. Always.

Myth #6: Technology Is Just a Tool
Seeing technology as merely a tool is a dangerous mindset. Often, it leads to a cluttered mindset, where we pack the belt with as many "tools" as possible, using each at only a surface level. But there is a deeper danger here in seeing all tech as a tool. Technology is often a medium changing the way we relate, communicate and define ourselves as humans. Technology is often a space (think social media) and these spaces come with their own set of social norms.

Myth #7: Technology Happens in a Vacuum
People rarely say this. This myth is more an embedded element to how we use it in schools. We use terms like "device agnostic" without asking about the social, cultural, economic and political elements influencing our devices. Every operating system is a cultural system. Every app has a social and cultural element. Every company that sells technology has an economic (and sometimes political) agenda.

Myth #8: Technology Equals Innovation
Technology can lead to new developments. However, people often point to new tech as "groundbreaking" and "game-changing" when it's more about novelty. Remember when people labelled Wordle as innovative? Deep innovation has to have an element of sustainability. A mindset focussed on constant change has less to do with innovation and more to do with novelty.

Myth #9: "It's Not About the Tech"
I've found myself making this point before, when I want to point out that it's more about the instruction than the tech. And yet, when I stop and think about it, even the "little" tech changes are pretty amazing. Writers Workshops are vastly different with Google Drive. The instant access to information is pretty amazing. The ability to capture one's world, edit it and send it back out to the world in digital journalism can be mind-boggling. There's nothing wrong in being a little excited about all the things technology can do.

Myth #10: Technology Makes Us More Creative
Sometimes the most creative thing is paper, pencils, paints, boxes and duct tape. There is a tendency to look at pre-formatted tech and say, "this is creative" when the tech often does too much of the work for a student. A Prezi, for example, is typically not any more creative than a poster board. We need to be careful that students aren't simply doing digital worksheets and calling it creative as a result.

The bottom line: Technology has its place. Simply rejecting it outright is as dangerous as accepting it blindly. The point is to think critically about it and to do so with a sense of humility.
John Spencer

Professor. Maker. Speaker.
My goal is simple. I want to make something every day. Some days I make things. Other days I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both. Read more →
Email me at john@educationrethink.com

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