Thursday, November 21, 2013

Somewhere between technophobe and technophile

          At the beginning of every school year, I hold up my apparently antiquated, seven year old slide phone for my students' parents at back-to-school night and explain, "This is my phone. No, it is not smart. No, just because I can't email you back immediately does not mean I am ignoring you. I have a life, just like you. And having a life makes me a better, happier teacher." They always chuckle good-naturedly, reassuring me that I can survive another school year without the expectation of instantaneous emails.
            I wouldn't classify myself as technophobic, but I pride myself on being able to genuinely thrive an increasingly technology-dependent world without being constantly tethered to an electronic device. At heart, I am a wilderness aficionado who can spend weeks at a time backpacking in the solitude of the mountains, connecting only with my immediate environs and a few other trekkers who share my passion for the secluded wild. Stripping down to the bare minimum is more than a mere choice, it's a necessity in backpacking; and finding supreme happiness while disconnecting from civilization is a strong persuader in favor of simple living.
            Even my more urban hobbies of city running and swing dancing rarely require the use of handheld technology.
            I live without the latest tech trends decorating my purse, my ear, or my house. Until recently, I sported that seven year old slide phone, a device that didn't even offer internet access. I rarely watch television, and I own an iPod because my best friend gave it to me as a birthday gift.
            In fact, the only reason I have any modicum of expertise in anything technology is because I work at a high performing school that is leading the way in digital learning. This year, we are expecting one-to-one digital devices for all students grades six to twelve, which means that we, the teachers, must become proficient in not only their use for teaching but also in educating students in how to use them for learning. Honestly, I had never even touched an iPad, much less used one, until last year, when all of teachers at my site were given one with the caveat of becoming tech masters within one year. No pressure.
            Lest I dwell too much on Apple products, let's turn to the purpose of this narrative. Early in 2013, one of my good friends from dancing arrived at our local venue wearing a curious, electronic contraption across his forehead. As he excitedly described his headwear as Google Glass, a small, just-above-eye-level computer that acts as both phone and computer, a litany of less than polite phrases dashed through my mind. Cyborg. Weirdo. Tech addict. Stalker. Self-absorbed. Oddball. Extreme geek. Mindless drone.
            Being proud of my tech aversion, I immediately disdained Glass for being, to me, a more efficient tool for gratifying the insatiable impulse to Google everything and for staying relentlessly connected. Plus, it just looked weird, some unsettling but miniaturized hybrid between Iron Man and Terminator. I also questioned the social implications of a device that would seem to perpetuate, even exacerbate, the rudeness that so many people exhibit when they can't seem to put down their phone to enjoy real human interaction or a genuine life experience. I thought to myself, is he filming me with Glass? Is he looking at emails while we're talking? Is this just some bizarre meeting of tech obsession and desperate attention seeking? Because with that contraction on, he stands out like a pee stain in a field of snow.
            Fortunately, I acclimatized to Glass. If he took a picture or video, he told me in advance; his interactions with the device were quick and generally nonintrusive; and, I inured to its physical appearance. I can't say I yearned for one myself, but it had some advantageous quirks, such as navigation, voice command texting and internet searching, and first person photographing.
            Needless to say, when that same friend extended one of his three invites to me to join the exclusive group of Glass Explorers and own a Glass device myself, I felt as shocked as I felt confused. I have never been shy about expressing my affinity for a relatively technology-free life, and with only three invites to give and an entire community of eager technophiles dying to receive such an invitation, I felt this offer to be ill-judged and, frankly, ridiculous. Would you give an airplane to someone who fears flying? Would you give a set of steak knives to a hemophiliac?
            I immediately demurred, breezing past the already expressed philosophical issues and reminding him that I didn't even own a smart phone, a necessity for Glass to function. Besides, the cost was too high for someone with only a vague curiosity. My friend shook his head and stated that he figured as much. It was a lovely thought to include me, but what a preposterous idea!
            I went to sleep without a second thought to the whole business. However, sleep and dreamland can do funny things to an unsuspecting mind, and I somehow woke up to thoughts about Glass. As with most mornings, my mind turned to teaching as well, and soon, the two trains of thoughts collided. I never even thought about how Glass could affect me outside my usual hobbies of backpacking, running, and dancing, and here I was, at six in the morning, already envisioning some amorphous ways to incorporate Glass into education. Education, more than anything else, is my passion, and in the midst of laughing at a waste of an invite on tech adverse me, I forgot that, for eight hours a day, I am immersed in a digitally-dependent world.
            Naturally, after ruminating over professional implications, I reverted back to how I, personally, could apply Glass to my own life. Somehow, in the light and freshness of a new day, I could somehow fathom the use of Glass in my social and personal spheres. They weren't revolutionary thoughts - navigation purposes, internet searching, emailing and messaging - standard fare for the average user. But I could imagine more, such as translating foreign languages and a check in app for hikers and trail runners.
            At this juncture, where I could feasibly imagine Glass's potential roles in my life, I began to understand my importance in the Explorer program, whose user base is slowly diluting from developers to average users. I thought, how can someone like me utilize a device such as this? Can this improve my quality of life? What do I need that this device does not yet provide?
            I couldn't name many specifics, but I started to realize that I may have given up on a golden opportunity. I spoke with my mom, a few friends, and several coworkers that morning and found that they each had great input for the use of Glass. There I was, surrounded by people with superior ideas for technology I did not yet understand, and while I may not be the innovator Google wants, it became clear that I could be a nexus for suggestions and improvements for to their latest device.
            To make a long story short, I called my friend and managed to reinstate my invite. Two weeks later, I sat at the Google campus in Venice Beach trying on my cotton Glass, scared of looking like a cyborg but excited to be an ambassador of this technology. At times, I wonder if I'll make a difference in the development of this historic product, but mostly, I am excited for the unknown and the novel. I have the support of my school site, my district, and the few family and friends that know I am taking on this opportunity. Those who know me best question how someone who is usually technology avoidant, whose hobbies are not conductive to the latest and greatest devices and gadgets, will utilize Glass in daily life. The honest answer is that I simply don't know. And that's kind of exciting.