Don’t try to make someone think.
The beauty of ideas are meant to be shared.
Don’t try to make someone think.
The beauty of ideas are meant to be shared.
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:
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:
In the spirit of preparing my syllabi for upcoming philosophy courses, I’ve decided to tip my hat to the Greek master of backhanded compliments: Socrates.
1. Socrates to the young lawyer Euthyphro:
“Dear friend, that is the reason why I desire to be your disciple. For I observe that no one, not even Meletus, appears to notice you; but his sharp eyes have found me out at once, and he has indicted me for piety. And therefore, I adjure you to tell me the nature of piety and impiety….I cannot do better than to assent to your superior wisdom.”
Translation: The more you nod your head yes to being called “wise,” the more foolish you look. I see it. Everyone sees it. Will you see it? I’m actually the teacher in this scenario.
2. After the prosecution has rested their case:
“How you have felt, O men of Athens, at hearing the speeches of my accusers, I cannot tell; but I know that their persuasive words almost made me forget who I was—such was the effect of them…”
Translation: My, what an active imagination you have, dear lawyers! Your ability to weave a fiction is uncanny! You clearly don’t have a case.
3. Regarding poets:
“I further observed that upon the strength of their poetry they believed themselves to be the wisest of men in other things in which they were not wise.”
Translation: Please stick to what you know.
4. Socratic Method is good for you:
“While I have strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy, exhorting any one whom I meet after my manner, and convincing him, saying: O my friend, why do you, who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all?”
Translation: You’re quite shallow for having come from such a magnificent city and tradition.
5. Final Request Before Dying:
“When my sons are grown up, I would ask you, O my friends, to punish them; and I would have you trouble them, as I have troubled you, if they seem to care about riches, or anything more than about virtue; or if they pretend to be something when they are really nothing—then reprove them, as I have reproved you, for not caring about that for which they ought to care, and thinking that they are something when really they are nothing. And if you do this, I and my sons will have received justice at your hands.”
Translation: Act justly by preventing my sons from becoming morons, like you. Cheers.
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:
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.
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:
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.
Best of luck, dear students! Have a wonderful year!