Technology vs Creativity

I am stumped.  We have shopped over most of this city and it has been impossible to find a simple xylophone for our daughter.  Shopping for toys for her, I’ve noticed a troubling trend:  the vast majority of toys for young kids really don’t challenge them to do anything.  Most of what we have seen in the chain stores, like Toys ‘R Us, have a terrible thing in common.  You push a button and a million things happen, songs play, lights go off, etc.  She loves hearing the music and seeing the flashing lights, moving objects.  The technology is astounding compared to what I grew up with but a big, troubling question comes to mind:  what has she actually done to achieve all of this?

As I mentioned about in the previous post, in the last few years I’ve noticed two things about the students I teach:

1/ They are more comfortable with and better understand the technology I teach than students five years ago.  Doing some quick math, that doesn’t surprise me because in the last few years we have finally been seeing this “computer generation” that everyone has been talking about.  These kids are the first ones to truly grow up not knowing anything but this technology.  They seem to be so much more intuitive and understand the software so much faster than before.  What they accomplished with a completely unknown 3D modelling software in two weeks was incredible.  And it was done without me giving them any kind of a lesson on what to do.  They learned and taught themselves as individuals and as a group.  I was merely there to help them over a rough spot or challenge them to challenge themselves.

2/  Students do not have the same kind of creative spark that students did five or so years ago.  They can learn the software by themselves incredibly fast but really have no idea what to do with it.  What I see is a lot of mimicry and imitation, and very little individuality or risk taking.  With the 3D modelling, until they saw what I was creating (spaceships, a motorcycle with moving parts, a crazy-ass submersible vehicle), what I was getting was almost the exact, same, identical car.  There was maybe one out of the twenty students who was even trying anything that involved effort, thought or creativity.  Most, after making the car, would hit a wall essentially because they were required to think and do something themselves.  Merely pushing a button or assembling/repeating what someone else had already done would not be enough and it tremendously frustrated them.

This is something I have noticed over the last three years or so.  It kind of stumped me until we shopped for toys.  Some much of the “learning” young children do seems to be push a button and everything will be done for you.  As I tell my students, it’s the equivalent of a monkey in a cage pushing a button and getting a banana.  The monkey probably thinks it has actually done something to produce the banana and thus it is his work.  But what has he really done?  He didn’t build the machine, grow the banana, transport it, etc. but he thinks that the banana is there because of his work and thus it is his accomplishment when it is not.

Technology is a great tool but it seems to have become a cage.  Much is accomplished  with so little work by pushing a button but they think that the result is all because of and done solely by them.  And it is becoming more of a fight to make them understand that they have accomplished very little, that they are taking credit for the work of many other people.  No individual thought or effort is required and the results reflect this.  At a time when so much emphasis is placed on the individual we seem to be creating fewer of them.  When critical and creative thinking is what we want it is the last thing being required or encouraged.

Thus the xylophone for our daughter: if she wants to make music, she should be the one who actually makes it.

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