Tag Archives: college

Are You In A Relationship With Your Phone?

Two of my classes this term focus on the dynamics between technology and culture: Science, Technology, and Society and Ethical Considerations in Technology. The other day I spotted an opinion piece in the student paper discussing the dating app Tinder (Click here to read it). Now, the usual academic set up of the courses involves discussing case studies such as The Challenger Disaster, the New Orleans Levee failure, and Genetic Engineering. In light of the interesting shift in our behavior regarding phone usage, and specifically the piece from the student paper, I decided to shelve the topic on the syllabus for a moment and ask students what they thought of the influx of dating apps.

My intention was to simply spend a brief time on this, but it unraveled into a spirited class discussion lasting for nearly an hour. Everyone had something to say!

I asked students what the advantages are to using an app for dating and put the list on the board. It looked something like this:

  1. It saves time.
  2. It’s efficient.
  3. You can plan your thoughts out in a text or have a friend double check what you text before hitting send.
  4. You don’t have to deal with face-to-face rejection.
  5. There is an ego boost to getting “hits” or “likes.”
  6. There is more control over first impression because you can choose the photo and the bio.
  7. There are so many possibilities.

Unlike reviewing case studies where students learn the information pertinent to the cases, memorize them, and then crank it back out on an exam, this discussion ignited their interest because they are smack in the middle of a cultural shift regarding personal interaction brought about by the fancy-gadget-does-everything-phone.

We then began to pick apart the list on the board. How much time is actually saved if one is on the phone for hours swiping away at photos of potential dates? Wouldn’t there be a similar amount of time spent on going out and being social in person?

For numbers 2-4 and 6 we talked about the very human element of being vulnerable in both friendships and relationships. Removing, or attempting to remove, that from the equation could rob one of an opportunity for growth. Stumbling, putting your foot in your mouth, blushing, awkwardness, and responding in real time with a facial expression are all elements of being human. Is efficiency meant to be applied in this realm? Would you ever want to date a person who had never experienced rejection or a heart break? Isn’t that what makes us humble, caring, and sensitive?

The ego boost is another intriguing aspect. In the normal course of a week, how many compliments does one receive? Without doubt, it feels nice to be on the receiving end of kind words. What the app has done (along with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) is create a potential for a deluge of “likes” within a brief time frame. No longer will a compliment from someone once a week suffice. It’s now needed within seconds of posting something and the desire to check has turned into something of an addiction.

With number 7, we discussed how the idea of “many fish in the sea” has radically changed to an infinite amount of fish in the ocean. Hmm…how has the idea that there could always be someone else impacted commitment? (Vanity Fair published an article on this over the summer much to the dismay of Tinder. Click here for the article.)

The conversation morphed into a more general dialogue about being on the phone. It’s a security blanket. One never needs to feel alone because one can always get online to see what people are up to. It is a companion.

In the spirit of bringing this dialogue into the subject of philosophy and specifically The Apology where Socrates gives his famous defense, I asked the students what Socrates would think of our addiction to the phone. Are we similar to Athens?

Socrates argued the soul inherently held more value than the body and other material goods. (If you do not subscribe to the idea of a soul then swap it out with the concept of character.) How, then, does one care for the soul? By asking questions, seeking knowledge, and developing virtues such as Justice, Courage, and Creativity to name a few. For Socrates, spending time on the soul through intellectual and moral pursuits allowed for the good life: “For I go around doing nothing but persuading both young and old among you not to care for your body or your wealth in preference to or as strongly as for the best possible state of your soul.  Wealth does not bring about excellence, but excellence makes wealth and everything else good for men, both individually and collectively.”

Are we subverting excellence by tending to the phone? Are happiness spikes from internet activity an excess? Are we losing sight of what it means to develop our souls/character by diverting too much attention to the impersonal “likes” of others? Are deep conversations eclipsed by quick messages or updates?

I don’t mean to sound as though I’m anti-technology. (I’m a fan of indoor plumbing, modern dentistry, my kindle, and travel by air.) Nor do I mean to negate the door that has been opened with respect to information sharing.  This reflection concerns the apparent restructuring of the building blocks of relationships.  To be clear, I did not treat this classroom time as a dispenser of wisdom and instruction but as a person also swept up by the phone. And, not totally dissimilar to my students, I’m frustrated by how the phone gradually altered from a device of convenience to one tethering me to its intrusions. I have three email accounts, this blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, an author account, a log for my Crossfit WODS, LinkedIn, a step counter, a calculator, a GPS…the list goes on! In order to take time out to read and write I disconnect the internet from my computer and I put my phone in airplane mode to force myself to focus.

At the end of class I offered the students this challenge (and please feel free to do this and share your experience in the comments): go out for a meal alone and without your phone. What is it like? How does it feel? Does the prospect of it cause anxiety?

Reading Suggestions on this topic:

Alone Together. Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other by Sherry Turkle

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr

The Circle, by Dave Eggers and/or my previous post on this novel.


Curious about Philosophy?

Hello, friends.  Care to dabble in the study of Philosophy?

I’ve listed four suggestions to add to your summer reading.  If you have read any of these please feel free to leave comments and reflections.  Enjoy!

  1. What Does It All Mean? by Thomas Nagel.  Recommended to accompany any Introduction to Philosophy course.  It is also a fantastic overview of basic philosophical questions.
  2. Existentia Africana by Lewis R. Gordon.  I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Gordon give a keynote address at a recent conference.  His goal is to broaden the discipline of Philosophy.
  3. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder.  This is a lovely “story” of philosophy.  It is charming and written in such a way to ease one into major philosophical concepts.
  4. Confessions of a Philosopher by Bryan Magee.  (I’m currently in the throes of reading this autobiography.)

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Don’t Bother With These Four Words

I never thought of myself as a picky sort of person. After all, I’ll eat anything, travel anywhere, and I once survived an outrageous perm in the 80s.   However, over the years of grading papers I’ve zeroed in on four words in particular that, scientifically speaking, are causing my hair to turn gray.  That won’t do.

I kindly suggest, dear students, you avoid these four words in assignments:

  1. Basically. No, I don’t want to know what Aristotle is basically saying.
  2. So. This is often unnecessary and could be replaced with “therefore” or “it follows.” And whatever you do, do not put “So basically” together lest you sound like a Kardashian.
  3. Very. Another unnecessary term sprinkled about too many papers.  Throw it out of your vocabulary now. Poof.  It’s officially dead to you. It’s very annoying. Oops.
  4. Goes. What a boring verb! “He then goes on to say…” Yikes! I can’t bear to read one more sentence like this. Are you in need of some verb alternatives? Here’s a quick exercise to spruce up your papers:

Grab a notebook and at the top of the page write “Sports.” Halfway down the page write “Cooking.” Now, list all of the verbs that come to mind regarding these two: Hits, swings, scores, tackles…peppers, boils, chops, seasons, dices… You get the point. Think of ten verbs to write under each category.

Return to a draft of your work and insert two or three of these verbs. Voila!

 

Click here to check out more tips.


The Book Divergent Got Me Thinking…

I’ve been wrestling with a way to address a nagging question regarding the reason for undergraduate general education (G.E.s) courses.  Upon finishing Divergent, a parallel between the dystopia described in the novel and the way in which we view education came to my mind.

What makes the society in the book dystopian?  What makes Tris an interesting protagonist?

For the book’s morale to work we must implicitly reject the society described in the novel and, in turn, cheer for Tris.  Unearthing the grounds for that reaction can lead us to a better understanding of our values, the byproduct of which is partly reflected in the structure of education.

I’ll tread lightly here so as to not give anything away in case you plan on reading it.  There will be no spoilers.

But read the book because it’s fun.

The fictional society organizes itself into five specific factions or groups.  Governing, education, military and so forth are all separate, and once one chooses to become a member of the faction they commit for life.  Moreover, the people of the factions limit communication to others within the faction. To determine which faction/group one is best suited for all youth undergo a psychological test.

When the test is administered to Tris, the protagonist, her results are inconclusive.  That poses a serious problem for the dynamics of society.  Why? Because Tris demonstrates the ability to fit into more than one faction and thus her very existence undermines the supposed governing of the society.  Tris’s capacity for thinking extends beyond their rigid notion.  She is unique.  One might consider her a Nietzschean “overman.”

Tris is warned to keep the inconclusive results to herself.  She must join a faction and pretend to be suited solely for that group.  A tension carries throughout the book about this need to suppress her authentic self.

There are other interesting themes to this book, but I’d like to isolate this depiction of the hero.  She could represent the human spirit, one that refuses to be narrowed by an imposed definition.  Why choose just one way to exist when we are capable of so much more?

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And this brings me to the aforementioned parallel: Why do classes outside of one’s university major matter?  What are those pesky G.E.s for?

In a word: Thinking.

Our concept of “useful” knowledge needs to be broader.  The assumption is that education and training are one and the same.    When students ask “Why do I need to know this? It will have nothing to do with my job” I don’t begrudge them for their questioning, but I am curious as to where the momentum of this line of inquiry springs.  Not stepping outside one’s major seems akin to tethering one’s life to a specific skill, a not too distant step from the fictional factions of Divergent.  However, the idea that learning an array of subjects and career-life are discrete from each other is an illusion.  Writing, communicating, knowledge of research, how to discern arguments all contribute to one’s overall being.  Thinking is a skill.  Indeed, thinking is the skill.

Forgive me for this shocking claim: A university education is not strictly for getting a job.  The hiring potential of the graduate is the byproduct but not necessarily the only function of studying.  Taking courses in the sciences and the humanities increases one’s capacity for examining the world from different angles.

Again, thinking is a skill.  It is a discipline.  Most “skills” will be obsolete within ten years with the exception of thinking; therefore the ability to adapt, re-evaluate, and meet a changing world head on is extremely important.

It is true that one of my G.E. students in Philosophy will not breeze through a job interview by re-telling Pascal’s Wager or Aristotle’s Virtue Theory.  But what the students do gain in the class is the practice of analyzing premises and conclusions argued by brilliant philosophers.  (I only use the subject as an example and do not mean to exclude the importance of other studies.) Engaging in studies other than one’s major does not create a deficit but enhances thinking.  As with an athlete who sometimes practices yoga to strengthen their overall physical self, a student enrolled in G.E.s becomes intellectually stronger.

The counter position of studying only one subject because it is assumed that said subject will be practiced for the rest of one’s life actually resembles the organization of Divergent.  To be trained to think one particular way for one particular job is unrealistic, boring, and the plot of a dystopia.

Aristotle wrote that the life of contemplation was the means to excellence and happiness.  Learning is so much more than facilitating the capacity for a singular function.  It should be part of growing and enjoying life.  It is human.  Recall a moment when someone told you an interesting fact or you read something that caught your attention.  “Oh.  I didn’t know that,” you respond.  Suddenly you light up at the new knowledge.  What you really mean is “Oh. I didn’t know that I didn’t know that.”  It’s delightful. Your experience of the world opens up.

Besides, contemplation outside of one field allows for people to connect with others.  What will you chat about at dinner parties?  How will you be involved in your community?  How will you vote?  What will you do when you retire? Unlike the factions of Divergent that disengage with other groups, the professions of the real world overlap on several levels.

The character Tris embodies that beautiful non-defining aspect of being human.  By resisting definition she exemplifies a core value, namely, we carry the potential to transcend, to change, to be curious, to be in constant flux.  The “usefulness” of curiosity is without limit.  It is because Tris does not desire to fit into a category despite the society’s rules that we root for her.  In short, she is a badass.


Call for Papers, Undergraduate Philosophy Conference

GSU Phi Sigma Tau

Philosophical Society

Undergraduate Philosophy Conference

Georgia Southern University

Statesboro, Georgia

April 11-12, 2014

Conference Topic: Philosophy in Literature and Film

Papers that focus on analyzing the philosophical consequences and implications of film and literature are especially encouraged.  Participation in the conference is open to all undergraduate students regardless of major.  The top papers will be published in Georgia Southern’s undergraduate philosophy journal, The Indefinite Dyad.

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Guidelines:

  • Only full papers will be accepted.
  • Student submissions should be no more than 4,000 words.
  • Group presentations will be accepted.
  • Submissions should contain student’s full name, institution, and contact information (including email).
  • Deadline: March 1, 2014
  • Submit proposals to Geneva Hendrix gsuphisigmatau@gmail.com
  • Questions? Contact Danielle Layne dlayne@georgiasouthern.edu

5 Resolutions for College Students

Resolutions are notoriously grandiose and often unrealistic, yet we keep coming back to them at the start of the year.  Why are resolutions a “thing” if they are also known to be discarded by February?

The idea of starting “fresh” is appealing.  This implies something worth noting, namely, we are aware of our capacity for improvement.  Resolutions inherently point to the notion that we can be better.  We are not static.  We are not defined.  We can imagine doing and being better.  The new year prompts us to this realization and makes us conscious of possibility.

Resolutions must be cemented in habit.  Start with manageable baby steps.  Don’t try to be a different person; rather, focus on becoming the best version of yourself. Simply dabbling with the idea of being better is not enough to actually be better.  To achieve staying power resolutions should be broken down into actionable steps.

Here are some actionable steps for the college bound:

  • Wake up at least 1 hour before your first class.  I recommend 2 hours, but I know some of you are staying up quite late.  Do not roll out of bed and stumble into your morning classes.  Set the alarm earlier and use the extra time to grab a coffee and review your notes before the lecture.  This will only be difficult for the first few days, but by day 5 you’ll automatically be waking up earlier.
  • Join a club on campus.  This step brings you closer to the university community and, studies have shown, will increase your chances of graduating and graduating on time.  Look for a club that centers on your major.  Information will be posted in your major’s department.  This is also a nice opportunity to get the scoop on classes to take (or not take) from other students.
  • Visit the office hours of each of your professors at least once.  This will only take 30 minutes of your time, but the returns on this investment will last throughout the term.  You’ll instantly become more involved in the class.  Making the time to visit in person is also a small habit that translates nicely into “real world” action.  Connect with people face-to-face as opposed to reducing communication solely through email.
  • Read one book outside of class.   I know you are inundated with course work so you needn’t pick something that’ll weigh you down.  I don’t recommend taking a stab at Tolstoy’s War and Peace, for instance.  However, the habit of reading in addition to your workload will be just as important in your life after college in the “real world.”  The most successful people read or listen to audiobooks because advancing one’s knowledge is simply healthy and good for one’s business.  Ask three of the most successful people you know and see what they are reading and how often.  Stay curious.  (I’ve listed three book suggestions below.)
  • Buy a Journal.  Keep it in a place where you’ll remember to write in it and look it over: nightstand, desk, school bag, or the loo.  Set aside a day (or two) when you will add to the journal.  On this day write what you are thankful for, one thing you learned from each of your classes, and a new word you learned.  Increase your gratitude, awareness of your new knowledge and your vocabulary.  (I had a journal devoted only to new words.  Before a paper I’d turn to my journal and pick 2 words to use.  It became something of a game.)
Snapshot of yours truly enjoying "Off The Road" by Carolyn Cassady.

Snapshot of yours truly enjoying “Off The Road” by Carolyn Cassady.

Book Suggestions:

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.  I’ve recommended this over and over again.  This book is about climbing Mount Everest in the throes of one of the worst storms/disasters.  Krakauer’s writing is incredibly absorbing and entertaining. One of my students recently emailed that he read this book based on my recommendation and it came up during a job interview.  He thinks he got the job because he was able to chat about it with his prospective employer.  Bravo, I say!

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.  Anyone interested in business, marketing, advertising, and/or sociology should check this out.  Gladwell examines points at which a momentum shifts and trends take off.

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin.  I loved loved loved this memoir.  Steve Martin brings the reader on his journey to becoming one of the most successful stand-up comedians.  He is honest, witty, and insightful.  While the book does, of course, focus on life as a comic, its real value is in the underscoring theme of commitment and dedication.  Steve Martin believed in himself, in entertaining, and in re-creating and revising his act.  Anyone needing a bit of motivation to kick start their year and follow through with their goals should read this book.

Click here to visit Gwendolyn’s Author Page.

Best of luck, dear students!  Have a wonderful year!


Student Drawings on Exams Part II

Here are more doodles discovered while grading.  Enjoy!   (For Part I click here.)

Aristotle

Aristotle

From Tolstoy's My Confession, a depiction of an Eastern Tale.

From Tolstoy’s My Confession, a depiction of an Eastern Tale.

Kant's Theory

Kant’s Theory

Just because...

Android “fixing” Apple!

Thinking face?

Thinking face?

photo 2

Just because.

photo 4

“I’m 50 Shades of done with this midterm.”

photo 1

Not a doodle, but still funny.  A power point slide for a presentation.

Not a doodle, but still funny. A power point slide for a presentation.


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