Chris Margolin

Thumbing Their Way: How Tech-Savvy Students Ruin Real Relationships

“Confessions of an Educator” columnist Chris Margolin wonders where the art of typing went. Or interpersonal, face-to-face communication, for that matter.

 

Yesterday, I watched a student type an essay with his thumbs. Not on a phone, but on the computer. He has never learned the proper way to type. No Home Row knowledge, no Mavis Beacon, no Word Blaster, no typing classes, and only a cell phone to text and email (do teenagers send emails?). It’s embarrassing to watch a new generation of text-savvy screenagers attempt to thumb their way through a full-size keyboard.

What happened to required typing classes? What happened to teaching basic computer skills? I understand that we are living in a new world where technology reigns supreme and students stand in front of each other having text message conversations with their friends that are standing right in front of them. Everything is backwards and we are losing touch with so many educational tools—or life tools for that matter.

I’m not lost on the fact that times change and technology changes and handwriting is becoming more and more a thing of the past. While cursive had been an important part of the world for generations, it’s no longer a real necessity and, frankly, most people can’t read it anyway. I hate looking at a paper in cursive, but then again, I hate looking at a paper that is not in 12-font Times New Roman, double-spaced, with a 1” margin. I want uniformity in the page setup process and MLA format as far as the eye can see. I know the difference between a 1.25” margin and a 1” margin from across a classroom. But if I want everything typed, I also want them to know how to type.

In order for students to be able to type properly, however, they need the practice and there are a lot of teachers who simply don’t take out the Chromebooks enough or don’t take them to a computer lab or don’t know enough about technology to even use the Chromebooks. A portion of the 30-year veteran teachers just hasn’t caught up with what the students know, and that’s okay. For a moment.

And what happened to general typing classes? It was a required course in both middle school and high school. In order to get our school email account—and this was in 1995—we had to pass typing. I sat at home for hours on Mavis Beacon in order to get more comfortable with it and try to keep up with the rate the words were pouring out of my brain. At my friends’ houses, there were the original AOL diskettes. My parents wouldn’t let me log on at home, because they were a little worried that I’d be lured in by the evil people of the world or give out my address or do something that would ruin the computer. And how dare I do anything that might possibly damage the computer—I wasn’t allowed to play video games for fear that they might freeze on the television.

My friend, Henry, and I used to log into chat rooms when his dad wasn’t home to monitor us. We would steal the disks from the mailboxes around the neighborhood and spend a few hours each day after school attempting to poke fun at the random people online. I think there were a few 7th grade attempts at cybersex, though we had absolutely no idea what that was. I wish I could remember those conversations. I’m sure they’d be immediate classics.

By the time we hit college, AOL Instant Messenger was all the rage; and since we didn’t have money for phone cards, my friends and I would head to the computer and spend some time talking each night—well, at least talking. And there went the personal connections. There went hearing any inflections in anyone’s voice. There we learned how to start turning punctuation into smiley faces and winky faces and roses, lots and lots of roses—and probably some inappropriate things along the way. But we were better at typing. Faster at typing.

And then came the cell phone. Which started as just a phone. And then came the text message. And then they came for the intimate connections. And then they came for the voices. And then they came for the language. And then they shortened words, and created emojis. And then they came with Facetime and Skype and GoToMeeting.

We date online. We live in our apps. We walk the sidewalks with our heads down, staring at screens, and hoping to not run into anyone or the street. And then we lost all will to write letters and pick up the phone and walk to a friend’s house. We break up and make up over text. We email resumes and cover letters and applications are done online. Employers look at words on a screen instead of a face-to-face interview. And now we are here.

And students are typing with their thumbs, because that’s all they know.

 

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Chris Margolin

Chris Margolin spent more than a decade in Education as a high school English teacher, and is now an Instructional Coach for the Longview School District. He is the founder of The Poetry Question, an online journal which focuses on reviews of small press poetry publications, and runs a regular series called "The Power of Poetry," where notable poets share their personal stories of how poetry has affected their lives. Margolin resides in Vancouver, Washington with his wife, and daughter. 

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