Reading dystopian novels is almost a rite of passage, made easier today with technology. There’s irony there. How many of the classic dystopian novels you read explored how the seemingly perfect society is maintained through oppressive societal control usually through a combination of corporate or totalitarian state using some form of all powerful technology?
My favourite was Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953. Bradbury’s main character, Guy Montag is a fireman. Working in a futuristic American city, Montag’s job is to light fires, not put them out. In this dystopian society people don’t read, don’t enjoy the natural world, don’t think independently, nor have meaningful conversations. No, they drive very fast cars covered by the best motor trade insurance, watch very large room sized televisions, and listen obsessively to the radio using Seashell Radio sets attached to their ears.
So? you say. What is your point? This is my point. Our children read dystopian novels, they watch movie interpretations, they raid the internet. And here’s the rub. Our children are living in a world that could be described as plugging into hedonism – Bradbury’s radio, or Aldous Huxley’s Soma in Brave New World. Of George Orwell’s Big Brother (Murdoch springs to mind). Or governments monitoring and controlling online activity.
What do we do? We panic. We ban computer time. We read articles describing the destructive effect computer games are having on our vulnerable children’s brains. We worry about long term damage. We read another article that disproves the first research. We rate ourselves as parents determined by how we control technology in our homes, and usually fail spectacularly. And what does this achieve? We give power to technology. We make technology a verb. We set technology up as a sentient being. We lose or deny an understanding not only of the world we inhabit, but the future world our children will create.
What should we do? Stop, look both ways, look again then cross the road. With our children.
Let’s consider technology as a tool. Take the internet. It’s a vast evolving library. How would you guide your children when they want to open that door? You don’t know what’s in there. You don’t really know what will interest them – which shelf they will walk past cursorily glancing at the pages, what will grab their attention, will lure them to dig deeper into the stored information or spend hours disproving. Nor do you know what they will find. We are not all knowing.
What would you do at the library door? I would want to help my sons read, and to think, to question and challenge that library.
I want them to learn how to select reliable information, to question what is in front of them.
To engage widely across topics; deeply into areas that interest them. I hope they have fun – dream, learn and share with friends both using social media and the more traditional cafe. So why not help them learn how to manage this technology? They already know at 14 and 12 far more about new technological developments than I can even imagine. But… I can teach them the social skills they’ll need to navigate and interact online. I can talk with them about the consequences of their postings, the permanence of their images. Help them learn to be resilient and manage cyberbullying. Equip them. Isn’t that our role as parents?
Think about it. Work with your school. Teachers are incorporating new technologies and exciting ways to learn in the classroom. They are teaching our children how to manage online life. We should too. Have a look. Talk with your children. You might even find you want to play that game after all.
When kids are little they are looking up to us; we are their role model. Do you want to teach them to fear the unknown, by default? Let’s help them navigate the world of today and they can think with their dystopian novels