I spend a lot of my time extolling the wonders of the internet and how it is transforming learning. I firmly believe this and will continue to enjoy the many new ideas, images and information that I am able to access because I have my laptop and a broadband connection.
However, I am also aware that I spend too much time on the computer these days. When keeping in touch with my many Twitter friends I am surprised at the amount of time that they seem to be “online” or maybe they are accessing the net through their iphones or other mobile technology.
In the recent snowy period here in Britain I am sure that there were many people who spent many hours catching up on their e-mails, writing Tweets, checking Facebook and maybe reading those blog posts that they’ve added to their growing collection of things to read. My wife had recently become even more fanatical about the computer than me. She has a growing social network of Twitter friends, writes her own blog and is addicted to games (through Facebook) and spends ages trying to best her friends.
But, in a conversation , by phone (not Skype) with my cousin in Winnipeg, Manitoba last night, I was reminded by someone who is highly computer literate (he used to attend conferences all over North America about computers in education) that we may have gone too far in our obsession with the use of computers.
“Children need to experience the outdoors,” he said, “they need to play in the real world, to touch, feel, fall over occasionally, understand rules of social interaction with real fellow humans who are in their company and not on a screen a distance away.”
It made me think about this situation and I feel that he is so right. We want our children to experience the power of the net. We want them to communicate and interact. But there are downsides to it all. We want them to be safe from predators. We want them to understand how to fish properly in the sea of knowledge.
We should also want them to experience fresh air. They should be out, as many of the children in my neighbourhood were during this very snowy week, making snowballs and riding sleds down whatever slopes they could usefully find in flat Essex where I live. They should be creating their snowman and maybe making up a story about him (or her). When the weather is better they should have the chance to experience parks and (because we are not too far from the coast where I live) see the sea in all its different moods and shapes.
We really do our children a disservice if we expect that the answer to everything is the computer. There is a need to balance up their use of the laptop, or the X-Box or the Wii with real life experiences. We live in the real world, we have not yet gone fully down the path into a virtual existence.
As in everything in life… it is about balance. Let them paint and draw, make cakes, play in the fields, spend the night in a tent in their garden, let them listen to stories, visit a museum (in fact let them visit as many museums as they can), let them have their “sleepovers”, let them visit McDonalds (even though you hate it!). Then, let them access the net safely and get the really good things they can from it… which can be endless and helpful to their growth… but alongside all the other wonderful things in their life … not instead of.