Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.


OMG! I luv this stuff!

Q: We've got Blackberries. And iPhones and Droids and notebook computers and Google. They help make us more successful! Don't they?? The new book "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains" says the Internet impairs our ability to think long and hard. Do you agree? And if so, does the added productivity justify a little Internet-inspired attention-deficit disorder?

OMG internet destroying my brain? LOL! BTW Lindsay Lohan got 47 million hits on Google just now compared to 17 million for Hillary Clinton but did u see the Wikileaks guy on TED? No bcuz Hulu had Glee clips I missed and am still trying to figure out why Justin Bieber has 3.8 million (!!) followers on Twitter and people keep bugging me to do friends on Facebook...

Whew. I'm exhausted. Just trying to be sure I've posted, tweeted, followed, linkedin, youtubed, commented, uploaded and downloaded everything I'm supposed to pay attention to on my blinking screens. (Follow me on Twitter @TrinityPrez...)

I confess: I love my tech toys! My office sometimes looks like Gadget Central with multiple laptops and printers going all at once while my cell phone, Blackberry and digital cameras are my constant companions. Glowing screens call out to me: read me! text me! answer me!

Even in the dark of night, that little red blinking light on my Blackberry tells me that I am, if not loved, at least wanted and needed by the correspondents who send me email all through the night.

Back in the Dark Ages, when a productive day at the office included dictating letters that my secretary transcribed as drafts -- then I proofed and rewrote them, then reviewed the final letters carefully before finally signing and sending -- a business correspondence loop might take a week or two.

Surely, while slower, my weekly production of several dozen letters was more careful and more thoughtful than the hundreds of messages I now send each week in response to more than a thousand weekly emails. (Back then I also used to look stuff up in books in the library. So last century!)

While my communication is now more immediately responsive, and I am far more accessible to students and others at all hours of the day and night, sometimes I find myself stepping back and just letting some messages sit for a while in order to reclaim the quality of deliberativeness that paper letters once had. But woe to the president who lets a message sit for a day -- I am likely to get a phone call and even a personal visit from the correspondent who wants to know why I am ignoring her!

For the last few weeks, as has been my habit every summer, I've been in the Adirondacks, a beautiful and vast wilderness in upstate New York. Connectivity is very limited up there -- the cabin where I stay gets no cell phone reception at all, no TV, no broadband, no blinking red light in the middle of the night. I actually read books! I listen to the call of loons and breezes through the forest.

(Okay, so I even blogged from the woods, but to get to the Internet, I had to drive miles to find a hot spot.)

Unplugging from the intensity of the 24/7 communication universe helps me to get reconnected with the importance of sustained concentration on just one idea, the value of silence to think through complexity, the real pleasure of spending a whole day without worrying about the next demanding message. I even manage to write a few letters by hand while I'm sitting around doing not much more than learning how to live the "simple life" again.

All too soon, however, I'm back at Gadget Central, plugged-in, turned on, amped-up, fully connected and communicating constantly. Modern universities are hubs for the flow of information and communications that make the Internet indispensable for research and business today.

While we model the use of technology in all of our work -- not only teaching and learning, but also administration -- we have a long way to go in demonstrating the right balance between using technology well and being overwhelmed by the constant stream of information.

Universities today also face a greater challenge than ever before in helping students to understand the difference between possessing huge amounts of information and genuine knowledge. Too many students today are confounded when a faculty member rejects a paper that is full of unanalyzed material. The rising epidemic of plagiarism is a direct result of the ready availablilty of too much information on the Internet and not enough critical reasoning on the student's part.

The whole idea of the traditional term paper is at risk because students do not understand the difference between presenting reams of material (often obtained quickly via Google) and writing a thoughtful original analysis of the issues at stake in the information. Faculty members have a great challenge in designing new kinds of research and writing assignments to promote the development of the student's reasoning abilities, not just her ability to use a search engine.

We all love our tech toys, but in the wrong hands, they remain toys. Learning how to use these tools well, without letting them overwhelm our lives or substitute their algorithms for human judgment, is one of the ongoing educational challenges of our time.

By Patricia McGuire  |  July 21, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Technology and success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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All atheists use that excuse to stay out of foxholes.

Posted by: gannon_dick | July 21, 2010 4:04 PM
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Dear President McGuire,

Isn't the whole point that our little toys and gadgets have ALREADY fallen into the wrong hands (i.e., us?) Every day, I see hundreds of people who walk down the street, oblivious to the day, other passers-by, anything else other than their little glowing friends whom they caress--gently and tenderly--with every phony sense of intimacy they can muster.

The enemy has already arrived and overcome us - we are already lost. How many still go to the Adirondacks to find nature, a Trappist Monastery to find God, or even meditate any longer? The Buddhist teacher would ask - who are you who wants so desperately to be cared for by an inanimate object? Who is the person who mistakes "connectedness" for satori, or for God's grace? Who is that person? Find the answer to that and you will indeed be connected to something far more valuable than your little glowing friend!

We are all at so much greater risk than we even realize.

Posted by: cbl55 | July 21, 2010 12:04 PM
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