It is, I suppose, the nature of things. The more you stretch something, the thinner and more fragile it becomes. Over the last week or two I have noticed my technology stretching and cracking around me. Right now the cracks are minor irritations. I can cover the flaws, work around the errors — but I wonder when they — like the car windshield in the TV commercial — will shatter before my eyes? It is akin to being nibbled to death by ducks:
First, our tech support people failed to burn a DVD for my class because "the machine was down." Nibble.
No problem, I can use the ancient VCR in the classroom, except, no, I can't because "Gosh. Never saw that before. The console software that controls the projector couldn't 'see' the VCR., sorry." Nibble.
And then the online students couldn't see the video because the library "had a server meltdown." Nibble.
And my wife's iPad "doesn't work anywhere in Europe" so I only get emails when the hotels have computers in the lobby for the guests. Nibble, nibble, nibble.
What concerns me is that subtly, without my really noticing it, the tools that had always been digital "enhancements" in my classroom and my life have become the primary platforms upon which I depend. And with our increasing expectations and digital "solutions," the simple tools which technology used to enhance have faded into the mist with the dinosaurs and the giant sloth. You cannot draw on the board if there are no markers, and if there is no whiteboard, they frown upon your drawing on the screen that has replaced it. When your systems crash, there is no backup, and a hundred kids are staring at you.
I wonder, as they gaze at me, if we have found too much comfort in the size of the digital world. I could pull out my phone and instantly tell hundreds of people of my misery. If I allowed my students to do same, we could report our plight to thousands. Perhaps there would be some comfort in a public rant. It does seem quite the thing for celebrities, sports figures and politicians these days. But, practically speaking, no one can provide me remedy before our class time slips away, leaving my students to mutter, "How lame was that?"
I wonder how many of us are out here working without a net? We see the TV ads where the sleeping guy is roused by a phone call from his colleagues announcing "We're at the gate. Where are you? Do you have the presentation?" And before the end of the 15 second spot, our protagonist rolls out of bed, downloads the presentation to his mobile device, slips into business clothes, and is out the door — road warrior of the new millennium! I wonder if that has ever happened in "the real world?"
But wait! There is a phone on the desk here in the classroom. Furthermore, if I am teaching between nine and five — it will connect me immediately to the "Help Desk." It is five 'til three! I call. They are concerned. They are chagrined. They can do nothing. And that, of course, is the problem. We are connected — digitally speaking — but they are functionally impotent here in the world beyond the TV commercial.
I hang up and push more "touch sensitive" screen buttons on the classroom control console. Nothing happens. I call the Help Desk again.
"Hello," growls a Slavic male. "My name is Peggy."