Technology vs Its Absence

Today's Enquiry Time (see here for description) was particularly heated. The staff announced that following many meetings and hours of discussion, it was decided that students wouldn't be allowed to bring their PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones to Brockwood next year. It was felt that many students were mismanaging their usage of such devices, and rather than attempt to police it, simply leaving them at home would prove to be a much better solution. PCs will be made widely available in the school for work-purposes.

The students' response was bound to be challenging. I still remember my uproar when my father told me at the age of 17 that I was henceforth banned from playing "violent" video games and took them all away from me. How could he do such a thing when I'd been playing them for years, and all my friends were too!? It goes without saying that several years later I could see the purpose behind his action and was grateful for what he did. At the time however, there was little that could be said to convince me otherwise. I simply wanted to play - as do many of the boys here at Brockwood (Call of Duty seems to be the game of choice).

The topic goes beyond playing video games though. It's more about our relationship to technology - passive entertainment in particular - and how we reflect upon it. This conversation was admittedly a little hard to bring up amidst 75 students variously pissed off for one reason or another (if it wasn't gaming, it was the internet, or simply the need to work on projects on one’s own laptop). While some questioned why the staff was allowed to prohibit students from something that they allow themselves, and why they, the students, were not allowed to be part of the decision-making process; some of their peers took it upon themselves to reply. Although the discussion was mainly polarised between staff and students, it took a student to point out after an hour of discussion that three groups had formed: students who were protesting against the decision, students who disagreed with those students, and the staff.

An interesting thing raised was the sense of unfairness about the decision being made in apparent secret and without consulting the students. Although this was not quite the case (the issue had been going around Brockwood for the past several years, we had already spoken about the role of passive entertainment in our lives in K class, and staff had spoken with various students about the decision the past week) I can clearly see why one might be upset. "I thought Brockwood was a community. I thought it was about each one having a voice" echoed several students. A staff member pointed out that "we have to remember that Brockwood is a school with a community feel to it." Equally, it is a place in which everyone's voice is listened to - to the extent that such a process is possible. In the case of important decisions such as this one, students were listened to, and after endless deliberations, the staff decided that having the students leave their devices at home was in Brockwood's interests.

Try telling an angry teenager that their views are listened to when a decision has already been taken. It remains unclear why the students weren't informed about the fact that a decision was being made about personal devices earlier on. Getting bogged down in the intricacies of Brockwood's decision-making procedures (which are by no means clear) or in the staff vs. student struggle, feels like we're missing a large part of the picture though. As a student who's spent his life at Brockwood pointed out, it's clear that no matter what provisions the school puts in place they won't suffice to make things as they are today. Yet we are only considering that loss on its own, rather than also looking at what might be gained

IS IT NOT a very strange thing in this world, where there is so much distraction, entertainment, that almost everybody is a spectator and very few are players? Whenever we have a little free time, most of us seek some form of amusement. We pick up a serious book, a novel, or a magazine. If we are in America we turn on the radio or the television, or we indulge in incessant talk. There is a constant demand to be amused, to be entertained, to be taken away from ourselves. We are afraid to be alone, afraid to be without a companion, without a distraction of some sort. Very few of us ever walk in the fields and the woods, not talking or singing songs, but just walking quietly and observing things about us and within ourselves. We almost never do that because, you see, most of us are very bored; we are caught in a dull routine of learning or teaching, of household duties or a job, and so in our free time we want to be amused, either lightly or seriously. We read, or go to the cinema - or we turn to a religion, which is the same thing. Religion too has become a form of distraction, a kind of serious escape from boredom, from routine.

I don't know if you have noticed all this. Most people are constantly occupied with something - with puja, with the repetition of certain words, with worrying over this or that - because they are frightened to be alone with themselves. You try being alone, without any form of distraction, and you will see how quickly you want to get away from yourself and forget what you are. That is why this enormous structure of professional amusement, of automated distraction, is so prominent a part of what we call civilization. If you observe you will see that people the world over are becoming more and more distracted, increasingly sophisticated and worldly. The multiplication of pleasures, the innumerable books that are being published, the newspaper pages filled with sporting events - surely, all these indicate that we constantly want to be amused. Because we are inwardly empty, dull, mediocre, we use our relationships and our social reforms as a means of escaping from ourselves. I wonder if you have noticed how lonely most people are? And to escape from loneliness we run to temples, churches, or mosques, we dress up and attend social functions, we watch television, listen to the radio, read, and so on.

- J. Krishnamurti, This Matter of Culture

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