Now I’ve been happily connected on-line for almost two decades now. I love being able to write emails, posts, tweets, and status updates and love to read everyone else’s. Yesterday, as usual, I was up early. Someone on facebook wondered about this and we had a friendly little thread of comments before moving off to our days. So there is Virginia Heffernan in today’s NYTimes considering the art of the status update — the clever one versus the lame one. Those elegant little tidbits we have to couch in 140 characters (that is the twitter limit) or less. And it is all about connection, about social networking, about others.
What I think is less considered, especially among educators who are excited about these new technology tools, is the importance of solitude. Being someone who needs a lot of it (a quirk of the introvert), I feel strongly that I need to train my students in the art of being alone even as I train them in the art of being together. And so I appreciated Neil Swidey’s Boston Globe article, “The End of Alone.” While that title sounds a bit emphatic I think he has some good points in the piece, points that reinforce things I’ve been thinking about already.
For example, I constantly wonder what being a Peace Corps volunteer today is like. When I was in Sierra Leone in the md-70s our only contacts with home were with bi-weekly letters (and since they saved them, I’ve still got the ones I wrote my parents and grandmother). No phone so I did not make a single phone call in two years. Now I’m guessing calls are constant, email and twitter and facebook — all going on to keep you connected.
And because I think it is so important I do what I can to train my students to be alone. Of course they can’t be literally alone in our overcrowded school, but I can insist on an intellectual solitude. I do this by requiring them to spend whole periods writing or reading without any interaction with anyone else. I don’t talk to them while this is happening and they aren’t allowed to talk to each other either. If they are writing, I might wander around the room peeking at what they are doing, but usually I don’t because I don’t want to distract them, I want them to live alone with their work. To tolerate the lack of instant feedback. To consider the work, the book they are reading, the story they are writing, on their own.
I suspect that I’d be a lonely girl if there was no online world for me. Being able to connect intellectually with other likeminded folk has been fantastic for me. But I still need my solitude — time when I’m off line, ruminating, mulling things over. (Right now I’m lame and can’t run or walk which is driving me crazy — those are my favorite times of solitude and I hope to get them back soon. Soon.) In education, especially those who are eager to use new technologies, it seems to be so much about social networking, about connecting. Where, I sometimes wonder, is the purposeful disconnect?