“But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talents, new creations. The new needs friends.” (Ratatouille, Anton Ego)

In the vaudevillian Monte Python lion tamer skit a timid accountant named Mr. Anchovy enters a career placement office to talk to a dismissive job counselor about changing careers. The counselor informs him that his evaluators found him “tedious company and irrepressibly drab and awful” and advises him to take up banking where these are actually desired traits. Mr. Anchovy explains that what he really wants is to be a lion tamer. Puzzled the counselor inquires about Mr. Anchovy’s experience with lion taming to which the little man replies that he has seen them at the zoo. He has even purchased a pith helmet. The counselor rolls film showing a menacing lion pouncing towards its prey with fangs agape and claws splayed to which the Mr. Anchovy shrieks in fright and begins to babble about a possible career in banking. The bit is a send up on people who have wild aspirations but little idea of what is involved and no experience in the trade. Mr. Anchovy reminds us we are just a “you can do it” away from being consumed by ravenous beasts or our hungry fantasies. (more…)

Social media has made it incredibly easy to maintain a large social network. Facebook tells you what friends are doing. You get alerts about birthdays and the relationship status of someone you might not have talked to in months. Twitter lets you follow the thoughts and even hunger pangs of people you met at a conference last summer. These engines provide points of reference for maintaining relationships and simple talking points for chance encounters. But has it also devalued relationships?

There is an argument that relationship maintenance, which was once predicated on writing letters, face-to-face interactions or making phone calls, has degenerated into a string of text messages or Facebook pokes because of communication innovations. It begs the question, is the humanity in connecting with others being lost to the convenience of machines and Internet connectivity?

It would depend on the relationship. MIT’s Sloan review carried an article called “The Power of Reconnection – How Dormant Ties Can Surprise You” that discusses the benefits of reconnecting with long lost colleagues and friends.

Before the Internet, the average individual maintained between 100-200 relationships. There just wasn’t time to do more than that. Now people have hundreds, if not thousands, of social connections on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, are forums conducive to maintaining distant acquaintances. Sending an acquaintance a message or note once or twice a year that conveys well wishes with something that made you think of them is easy to do. More, this consistent contact provides a premise for reconnecting with this contact if the need or interest arises at later time.

Despite the benefits of social media, personal relationships, with close family and friends, can be negatively affected if allowed. The evolution of communication has favored efficiency and brevity, which are probably not the desired lynchpins for communication with loved ones. The standard for business communication is a phone call or an email, which includes small talk and then conveying information. Sending a text to a client would be inappropriate because it is too informal. Yet we know our close friends won’t mind if they get a text or message with information, because they understand we just don’t have time right now to chat. But this can easily become the norm for communication, and that’s when personal relationships are negatively impacted. The people closest to you are the ones who want to have the small talk, chitchat and discussions about deeper issues. How do you do that through texting or emails? You can’t. Rather than letting the relationships atrophy through ambivalence and behavioral inertia, it’s important to have the involved communication with those you care about.

Technology’s evolution is often a two-sided sword, and not just for relationship management. Hand held devices make it easy to communicate from everywhere, but doing so while driving is shockingly common and dangerous. The ability to consistently multi-task has shortened our attention spans and led to thirty-second news stories that are all headlines, because people don’t have time to read, watch or listen to a five-minute explanation of each story. The much of the current budget crisis communication is being done through in headlines rather than in meetings, because popular opinion has a large effect on Washington’s political landscape and can be instantly affected through online publications.

Societal innovations are a result of the popular demands of the market, but it is important to pay attention to the effects of these innovations and the externalities on other aspects of life. Yes, technology makes it incredibly easy to stay connected with many more people, but it is the effort in doing time-consuming communication that lets others know you care. Sometimes, as the saying goes, you just need to pick up the phone and call your mother.

Many high schools, colleges and universities are taking stance on the technology revolution when it comes to their classrooms. They are fighting it tooth and nail. Classes typically begin with the professor saying, “Please close your laptops, and turn off your cell phones until class is finished. Thank you.” Students comply without complaint because it’s the norm. But why are they asked to do this? Is this class being taught on an airplane?

Educators have many good reasons for asking students to check the tech at the door. Students won’t pay attention. Online surfing distracts others. Some students don’t have laptops. Technology is expensive, complicated, and keeps changing. The lessons are fine the way they are.

In yesterday’s Nausha Telegraph, Michael Brindley examined the teaching methods of Nick Audley, a high school teacher, who has adapted his teaching methods to embrace the technology revolution.

Mr. Audley encourages tech in his class, asks students to text in answers and gets immediate feedback and full class participation on every question. He uses iPads, laptops, and web based resources in his lesson plans. It might seem like a pretty wild idea, but Mr. Audley merely looked at his students’ behavior, needs, and capabilities and created an innovative, enthralling curriculum that caters to his students. It is paying off in spades.

Many students feel that class policies that ban use of cell phones, computers or other wireless technology are fighting a losing battle. Tech is here to stay, and is only going to become more integral in people’s lives as devices become smaller and more powerful. Why limit tech’s presence when it can make classes faster, cheaper, and more interesting?

Some teachers are concerned that nobody will pay attention to their lesson. If students become disinterested and can afford to zone out or ignore the lecture, what’s that say about the method of instruction? Perhaps the answer is to make classes more interesting, involved, and interactive. Classes that require participation keep students attentive, and technology makes it easy for every student to be involved in every question. The answer shouldn’t be to refuse to adapt to the times. Instead, use the tools the times provide to improve, stay relevant and stay interesting.

People argue that laptops or cell phones distract the people around the user. But this doesn’t quite equate. We are speaking of a generation of students that are masters at filtering out distractions. Popup ads, tv commercials, banner ads, spam mail. Advertisers are pounding their heads against their desk trying to find a way to get this generation’s attention. It isn’t unusual to see kids listening to an iPod with the TV on while surfing the Internet and texting. Yet schools are worried that students that really want to pay attention will be helpless to the allure of their neighbor’s Facebook surfing? That seems a bit out of touch.

Educators also want to be sensitive to the financial means of all students. While asking students to bring a laptop to class isn’t necessarily reasonable, nearly everybody has cell phones and access to a computer with Internet. So why not use it? Audley points out that it’s important to connect with students on their level. It isn’t about what the teacher finds convenient or comfortable, it’s about conveying the lesson in its most efficacious form. And that means telling it to students in a way they understand, through a medium they understand and engage with.

There is also the point that technology is expensive, changes rapidly, and is burdensomely complicated. Even Audley’s school received a $200,000 grant to upgrade technologies, and most schools are strapped for cash as it is. The reality is that most classes don’t need a tech upgrade. Teachers have cell phones and computers with access to hundreds of free online resources that can supplement and transform their curriculum. Having students submit their work electronically could save schools in paper costs, and can save teachers time grading homework, quizzes or tests. Some colleges use expensive clickers in classrooms to allow for student participation and get instantaneous feed back. Why not let them use their cell phone and keep $50 in their pockets?

There are huge opportunities for innovation in classrooms through embracing technology rather than stifling its presence. High schools can see a greater return in participation at a lower cost. Colleges and universities that look for ways to incorporate innovative, interactive tools into their classrooms will see students more engaged, knowledgeable and a technologically innovative curriculum can cause a school’s national ranking will go up. Students want to engage with their classes, it’s just a question whether the classes want to innovate and engage with them.