Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Teens, Technology and KISS (Not the Rock Band)

Simple minds, simple pleasures. That is the theory that has explained many situations in my career. it seems that the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) rule does apply in just about everywhere I look. Except one area of working in the library: Teens. Need I say more? Don't get me wrong, I love working with the teens. They are a fascinating group that views the world in ways I would have never dreamed. In other words, they keep me young. Except, when it comes to technology. I'm not a dinosaur by any stretch of the imagination. I'm hip. I can use an iPod or iPad. Cell phone with texting, yeah it's fun but I like human voices. I tweet, blog and catch up with friends on Facebook. Email, is so yesterday! So why does KISS rule not apply with teens? They take technology and multitasking to a whole new level.

On any given Saturday, when most teens come into the library to do homework, it is an amazing site to see how things get done in the realm we call Teens. A snapshot of what I typically see is this: teen sitting at table with homework. Between the books and laptops is the cell phone. Mighty important because it is ready to receive the next important text from friends. In the ears are earbuds attached to the MP3 player of choice. When walking pass the table, a glimpse at the laptop reveals that three screens are open, one for Facebook, one for their email account and finally Google page for quick searches. I get exhausted just thinking about doing all these tasks. Yet, there they are reading, texting, listening, updating, and researching all in a single bound. My concern: With so much distraction while they are working, how are they analyzing information? Are they absorbing the information or are they going through the motion of completing homework without thought to what they are learning?

This is a question that all educators, librarians and parents should be asking themselves. It is after all our duty to ensure that teens will be ready for the challenges they will face in the future. Our challenge is how to teach teens to KISS without sounding like we are technophobic. I'd like to suggest that the first step begins with teaching them the art of communication. Now, I know that teens can communicate with their friends quite well, but let's face it when they get into the workforce they will have to know how to communicate with people of all ages. In a world of abbreviated words such as ttyl, btw or lol, there seems to be little time to have a meaningful conversation. Challenge your teens at home or in the library to join you for chat time at least once a week. Make it an appointed time and place where they know they are welcome to drop in anytime. The stipulation to joining this chat: no cell phone allowed. Once you've got their attention, let the conversation flow naturally, allowing them to talk about their world. What could be a more interesting topic to them?

Once teens begin to learn the art of communicating the next step of keeping it simple stupid should be easy to take. Honing their concentration skills. Teens often tell me they concentrate just fine even with a million other things going on around them. My response has been that I am glad they feel that way because the next time they need major surgery (knock on wood that does not happen anytime soon) I hope that they are okay with the surgeon receiving sending texts during the operation. Better yet, listening to hard rock music, singing along, catching up on the Tigers baseball game via Google and updating his FB status with "Hey, dude just closing up the guy I'm working on. I hope I didn't forget to take out the appendix. lol" . Yes. I get the look that tells me I'm nuts. They don't tell me that directly, but they will say, "Mrs.Nowc that will never happen." Maybe, but wouldn't you want to have your surgeons' full attention? Shouldn't your homework get your full attention? The reality is, they don't want to admit I'm right. To prove the point about concentration, challenge teens to complete two simple puzzles. Both 48 piece puzzle that is easy enough for a 5 year old and they will be timed to compare how "quickly" they complete each puzzle. The first puzzle must be done with all the distractions they like, including texting, ipods, anything goes in this game. The second puzzle should be done without any distractions at all. No phones, no ipods, nothing. The objective here is to prove how much quicker things get done when teens are concentrating on one task.

Most importantly when teaching teens the KISS rule, it's wonderful that they have the ability to do everything at once. However, remember that its not only important to find information, its equally important to be able to understand, use it and apply it in the right way. it is one of my greatest fears concerning teens and their use of the internet. The can understand how to find information, but what to do with it or how to evaluate it is another story all together. In essence, they are skipping over the most important part of research. As educators, if we allow this to happen we are sabotaging the teens' future. We are sabotaging our future. Teens must be given the knowledge on how to properly use and apply the tools given to them. The Internet made research a wee bit easier and made this generation a wee bit lazier. Using KISS should make it easier to teach teens on the awesome capabilities of technology and using it wisely.
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