College Without Technology

Wyoming Catholic College limits students’ use of cell phones and computers, and the students seem to be doing just fine.  From the Casper Star-Tribune:

In an era when technology is king,
Wyoming Catholic College is positing an against-the-grain conviction:
that great advances in technological achievement, while widely
celebrated, might not in fact be good for people. And they might
actually get in the way of education.

Here, students are
encouraged, and in many ways required, to forgo the world of virtual
connectivity, and engage with the actual world — to go out into the
woods, the mountains and the horse stables and experience what college
officials refer to as "God’s first book."

Student Hannah Gaddis of Casper said the school’s
curriculum kept her so busy and engaged that she never had time to give
the school’s strict technology policy a second thought.

"You kind of realize how much you don’t need these things," she said.

Link: An Audacious Experiment.

I learned about this first from an NPR story (No Tech U) in which they interview a student who clearly gets that technology skills are not that big a deal and not hard to learn when you need them. 

Of course there are other aspects of this school that may not be everyone’s cup of tea — like the exclusively religious and "great (Western) books" curriculum and the apparent endorsement by Bill Bennett.  In America those don’t raise eyebrows (not that they should, necessarily) — but banning iPods sure does.

Cellphone use while pregnant linked to health problems in children

From The Independent:

Women who use mobile phones when pregnant are more likely to give
birth to children with behavioural problems, according to authoritative
research.

            

A
giant study, which surveyed more than 13,000 children, found that using
the handsets just two or three times a day was enough to raise the risk
of their babies developing hyperactivity and difficulties with conduct,
emotions and relationships by the time they reached school age. And it
adds that the likelihood is even greater if the children themselves
used the phones before the age of seven.

The results of the
study, the first of its kind, have taken the top scientists who
conducted it by surprise. But they follow warnings against both
pregnant women and children using mobiles by the official Russian
radiation watchdog body, which believes that the peril they pose "is
not much lower than the risk to children’s health from tobacco or
alcohol".

The research – at the universities of California, Los
Angeles (UCLA) and Aarhus, Denmark – is to be published in the July
issue of the journal Epidemiology and will carry particular weight
because one of its authors has been sceptical that mobile phones pose a
risk to health.

[…]

The scientists say that the results were "unexpected",
and that they knew of no biological mechanisms that could cause them.
But when they tried to explain them by accounting for other possible
causes – such as smoking during pregnancy, family psychiatric history
or socio-economic status – they found that, far from disappearing, the
association with mobile phone use got even stronger.

They add
that there might be other possible explanations that they did not
examine – such as that mothers who used the phones frequently might pay
less attention to their children – and stress that the results "should
be interpreted with caution" and checked by further studies. But they
conclude that "if they are real they would have major public health
implications".

Link: Warning: Using a mobile phone while pregnant can seriously damage your baby,

via Textually.

Negroponte’s $100 laptop is no longer about learning, if it ever was

Ivan Krstic, formerly the director of security architecture for the (now failing rather spectacularly) One Laptop Per Child project, has some strong words about the project’s philosophies, its leader, and the free-software gurus who hijacked the project to push their own agendas.  From his blog:

I quit when Nicholas told me — and not just me — that learning was
never part of the mission. The mission was, in his mind, always getting
as many laptops as possible out there; to say anything about learning
would be presumptuous, and so he doesn’t want OLPC to have a software
team, a hardware team, or a deployment team going forward.

Yeah, I’m not sure what that leaves either.

There are three key problems in one-to-one computer programs:
choosing a suitable device, getting it to children, and using it to
create sustainable learning and teaching experiences. They’re listed in
order of exponentially increasing difficulty.

[…]

That OLPC was never serious about solving deployment, and that it
seems to no longer be interested in even trying, is criminal. Left
uncorrected, it will turn the project into a historical information
technology fuckup unparalleled in scale.

As for the last key problem, transforming laptops into learning is a
non-trivial leap of logic, and one that remains inadequately explained.
No, we don’t know that it’ll work, especially not without teachers. And
that’s okay — the way to find out whether it works might well be by
trying. Sometimes you have to run before you can walk, yeah? But most
of us who joined OLPC believed that the educational ideology
behind the project is what actually set it apart from similar endeavors
in the past. Learning which is open, collaborative, shared, and
exploratory — we thought that’s what could make OLPC work. Because
people have tried plain laptop learning projects in the past, and as the New York Times noted on its front page not so long ago, they crashed and burned.

Nicholas’ new OLPC is dropping those pesky education goals from the
mission and turning itself into a 50-person nonprofit laptop
manufacturer, competing with Lenovo, Dell, Apple, Asus, HP and Intel on their home turf, and by using the one strategy we know doesn’t work. But hey, I guess they’ll sell more laptops that way.

Link: Sic Transit Gloria Laptopi,

via Fake Steve Jobs.

Carr on Shirky and Gilligan’s Web

Nicholas Carr has posted a fine critique of Clay Shirky’s "Gin, Television and the Social Surplus" talk/theory (see earlier post for context) on his blog.  Excerpt:

Did my friends and I watch Gilligan’s Island? You bet your ass we did –
and thoroughly enjoyed it (though with a bit more ironic distance than
Shirky allows). Watching sitcoms and the other drek served up by the
boob tube was certainly part of our lives. But it was not the center of
our lives. Most of the people I knew were doing a whole lot of
"participating," "producing," and "sharing," and, to boot, they were
doing it not only in the symbolic sphere of the media but in the actual
physical world as well. They were making 8-millimeter films, playing
drums and guitars and saxophones in bands, composing songs, writing
poems and stories, painting pictures, making woodblock prints, taking
and developing photographs, drawing comics, souping up cars,
constructing elaborate model railroads, reading great books and
watching great movies and discussing them passionately well into the
night, volunteering in political campaigns, protesting for various
causes, and on and on and on. I’m sorry, but nobody was stuck, like
some pathetic shred of waterborne trash, in a single media-regulated
channel.

Link: Gilligan’s Web.

Dispatches – New Magazine Embraces Print

From Reuters/Washington Post:

A pall hangs over the word "print" these days, but the editors of a new
magazine bet that discerning readers want news analysis on paper and
don’t mind getting it just four times a year.

Dispatches, which debuts on Monday, is taking a contrarian stance at a
time when most news outlets are trying to stem the losses they’re
incurring in printed media by following readers and advertisers to the
Internet.

The magazine, edited by journalist and author Mort Rosenblum and
photographer Gary Knight, is a quarterly compilation of analyses of
world events, with each issue grouped around a theme and featuring the
work of well known journalists and authors.

While newspapers and news magazines have been adopting ever-faster
schedules to keep up with the 24-hour news cycle prompted by the
always-on nature of the Internet, Dispatches is slowing down the
breathless delivery of "what" and downplaying instant analysis. […]

While the magazine features a website (http://www.rethink-dispatches.com), it will not be the heart of the matter, Rosenblum said in an interview last week.

"We’re somewhere between Google and Gutenberg," he said. "We really believe there’s a place for the printed word."

The press release announcing Dispatches’s debut takes an even harder
line, saying the magazine "is meant for those who savor the printed
word and the timeless photo, from foreign-affairs specialists to
students who want more than fleeting images on a computer screen."

Link: Dispatches magazine prefers print over internet.

Machinated Leisure

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That’s the name of this Doodle 4 Google finalist by Mariam Hovhannisyan, who writes:

"What if our reliance on machinery to carry out simple tasks crossed the
boundaries of technological advancement and we distorted our flesh to
the extent that so little remained of what made us human that we became
but a twisted, robotic caricature of our former selves."

Nicely put.  Go vote for it here (Grade 10-12 category).  (Via Valleywag: Highscooler warns of transhuman dystopia.)

See also: Official Google blog: Your vote matters.  The winning doodle will appear on Google’s front page on May 22.

Here comes everybody… to destroy your town’s award-winning garden

From the Daily Mail:

More than 300 people ran riot and destroyed an award-winning garden
after they responded to a campaign for a mass water fight on social
networking website Facebook.[…]

Leeds City Council claim around 350 people armed with water
pistols and buckets trashed the garden, which scooped a bronze medal at
the 2004 Chelsea Flower Show and is a symbol of the city’s enduring
partnership with Nelson Mandela and his hometown of Durban.[…]

Videos and pictures of people destroying the garden have been posted on
the Facebook site and footage has also featured on YouTube [link]. Organisers
even boast of the "success" of their "event", the council said.

Plants were trampled, turf ripped up, water features emptied
and filled with foam and the mechanism for the fountains is thought to
have been damaged during the rampage.

Link: The moment award-winning garden is destroyed after hundreds respond to Facebook water fight,

via Smart Mobs, The Register.

New Book: The Dumbest Generation

Dumbestgeneration
The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30) by Mark Bauerlein is released next week.

From the book’s website:

The dawn of the digital age once aroused our hopes: the Internet,
e-mail, blogs, and interactive and ultra-realistic video games promised
to yield a generation of sharper, more aware, and intellectually
sophisticated children. The terms “information superhighway” and
“knowledge economy” entered the lexicon, and we assumed that teens
would use their know-how and understanding of technology to form the
vanguard of this new, hyper-informed era.

That was the promise. But the enlightenment didn’t happen.

The
technology that was supposed to make young adults more astute,
diversify their tastes, and improve their minds had the opposite effect.

According to recent reports from government agencies, foundations,
survey firms, and scholarly institutions, most young people in the
United States neither read literature (or fully know how), work
reliably (just ask employers), visit cultural institutions (of any
sort), nor vote (most can’t even understand a simple ballot). They
cannot explain basic scientific methods, recount foundations of
American history, or name any of their local political representatives.
What do they happen to excel at is – each other. They spend
unbelievable amounts of time electronically passing stories, pictures,
tunes, and texts back and forth, savoring the thrill of peer attention
and dwelling in a world of puerile banter and coarse images.

Anyone
who thinks this is mere intergenerational grousing, the time-worn
tradition of an older generation wagging its finger at a younger one,
should think again.

Drawing upon exhaustive research, detailed portraits, and historical and social analysis, The Dumbest Generation presents an uncompromisingly realistic study of the young American mind
at this critical juncture. The book also lays out a compelling vision
of how we might address its deficiencies.

To fail to do so may well mean sacrificing our future to the least curious and intellectual generation in national history.

Interested in a print version of the radio series “How to think about science”?

If you’ve checked out the CBC Ideas radio series (and podcast) called "How to think about science" I’d appreciate your thoughts on this question.

The show’s host David Cayley sent out some email asking people if they think the CBC should produce printed transcripts and/or a book version of the series.  I think it’s a great idea but I’m just one listener.  (See this earlier post for my thoughts on the show.)

If you have an opinion, please cast your vote in the newfangled widget thingy below and/or in the comments to this post.  (If you’re reading this on a feed reader I doubt that the widget will work properly there, so please click through to the original page to vote.)  Thanks.