A generation’s struggle with technology

Last modified: 3/24/2015 9:12:35 AM
Slow down. Be wary of it. Embrace it. Put it away. This was the advice five Conant and ConVal high school students offered about social media and cell phones Wednesday, when they were asked how to prevent technology from affecting how their generation engages in civil discourse.

At the Monadnock Center for History and Culture’s Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse, Conant senior Trey Horne cautioned against having a “knee-jerk” reaction to Facebook or news online. Instead, he said, slow down and learn more about a subject before you voice your opinion.

“Information is flowing rapidly all the time. It’s easy to see how you can have a reaction,” Horne said. “It’s really, really hard to subconsciously break down and gather more data.”

Horne was replying to a question by Conant Social Studies teacher Seth Farmer. Farmer asked Horne and the four other students on the panel if they viewed technology as beneficial or obstructive to civil discourse. Farmer juxtaposed author David Foster Wallace’s advice in a 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College — to live in the moment — with Farmer’s students playing on their cell phones instead of listening to a lecture.

“Your generation is being dealt a challenge with technology. The five of you, going forward — can technology help you? Or is it a real hindrance to discourse?” Farmer asked.

Patrick Groleau, a ConVal senior, said it is difficult to expose yourself to other viewpoints on Facebook. Facebook promotes your own opinion, or “self-image,” more than it exposes you to differing views, Groleau said.

Trey’s brother, Drew, piggybacked off Trey and Groleau’s remarks.

Drew said Facebook and other social media intensifies how we would like others to see us, which he said is a problem in politics too. Drew also brought up Groleau’s term, “bumper-sticker discourse,” or short phrases that express a political opinion and the disparage the other opinion in a snide way.

“We have to be wary of that, and not put too much emphasis on it,” Drew said.

Conant senior Kimberley Stanway looked more optimistically at how technology is affecting her generation.

“I personally believe we’re in a transition period,” Stanway said. She said technology is enabling children and young people to learn about the world that extends beyond their daily lives. She said they can gather information and connect themselves more to different modes of understanding.

ConVal junior River Marmorstein’s message was straightforward. “Cellphones, specifically in the classroom, I’m pretty opinionated about that,” Marmorstein said. “Put it away!”

Justice L. Phillips Runyon III of Peterborough asked why civil discourse doesn’t work the way we say it should work.

To frame his question, Runyon spoke about his friendship with former governor, Walter Peterson.

“He always respected the views of other people he may have disagreed with,” Runyon said. ”Why don’t we have more people like Walter in public office these days who are willing to conduct themselves these ways?”

Stanway replied that those who are entrenched in their views are afraid to acknowledge the other side. “They’re afraid of being wrong or being misinterpreted,” she said.

Trey said our world is moving so fast now that people don’t take the time to process new information. To promote this new kind of discourse, Trey said, listen to new facts as they arise.

Groleau acknowledged stepping outside your own opinions is incredibly hard. He referred to Wallace’s commencement speech, saying, “It is unimaginably hard to do this, to be conscious and alive, day in and day out.” Groleau said this is new territory, to step outside your own perspective. It’s safer to stay within your own opinion, he said.

Benji Rosen can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228, or brosen@ledgertranscript.com. Follow him on Twitter @Benji_Rosen.


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