Hang on to your values, the technology is changing (again)

As I talk with colleagues around the country, it seems we are experiencing something of a rush of ‘situations’ arising from the use of mobile phones and social networking sites.

A school bus breaks down and children are quick to text friends and family. This may lead to a flood of enquiries at the school, taking up the time of the very people trying to manage the situation according to the contingency plan. Sometimes the enquirers are in a panic, having been given inaccurate or incomplete information. The result? More confusion, poorer communication and a harder time for the school in responding to something that is normally quite a simple job to sort out.

A minor accident happens on a school trip, say someone getting a cut whilst out walking. A friend uses a mobile phone to post the news on Facebook, perhaps with suitable embellishment. By a process of chinese and electronic whispers, the news is received by the parents of the injured child, by this time third hand, before the school is able to make direct contact. Frantic calls ensue over something quite minor.

The difficulty with both these scenarios is not the speed of the communication, but the quality and accuracy of the communication. In both cases, processes put in place to make sure parents get timely and accurate information are undermined, potentially causing unnecessary stress and confusion.

Other examples of problems ’caused’ by new technologies include images of children and teachers being posted on the internet without permission and children and adults talking about other people by name, or about sensitive issues in public social networking sites.

Of course some people blame the technology and use this as an excuse to become further entrenched as non-adopters. This is counter-productive and misses the point. Take our beloved capacity to chat: First we gossiped over the back fence, then we gossiped over the phone and now we gossip on Facebook. The problem is actually the gossip, not the technology. Whatever kind of people we are, and whatever values we hold, technology gives us more power for good or ill – that is all.

And so we need to take an urgent look at the values underpinning these difficult behaviours and perhaps a self-critical look at our collective responsibility to embed positive values which relate to on-line and mobile phone activities. Often, problems like those mentioned occur through thoughtlessness rather than ill-will. Children may not realise that Twittering over an emergency situation is unhelpful to say the least and can cause real and unnecessary distress. But in a world when even public service broadcasters are perceived to encourage the submission of such material, who can blame them?

So whilst the technologies keep changing, our core values such as consideration and respect for others do not. The challenge for us is to reinterpret these values for young people and often their parents in the context of new technologies, and to do clearly, consistently and early on. It is therefore critical that we embrace these technologies in our schools and help children understand from the earliest age that it IS what you do AND the way that you do it that gets (the right or the wrong) results.