These figures show how much time people spend with their little gadgets which are at home in their coat pockets. This changes human behaviour. In 2012, the journalist Christoph Koch published a book that quickly became a bestseller. Its content is nothing else but a description of what he experienced when he lived without internet and mobile phone for four weeks (v). Not only Koch describes significant changes in his behaviour through the intensive use of internet and mobile phone; a number of other authors confirm his findings. (vi) They describe unanimously that they have lost the aptitude to concentrate on the same issue for any length of time. They all describe that their thinking has become fragmented. One scientist noted that he had lost the ability to “think large, deep thoughts.”(vii) We not only lose the power of focused thinking but also the skill of communicating meaningfully with others. The observation of an American High School teacher exemplifies this:
“As soon as I finish my lecture, the students start to check their mobile phones for messages and missed calls. I watch students queuing in the cafeteria and typing messages while completely ignoring their peers who are standing just half a yard away. Late one afternoon I noticed six students who were all talking on their phones while wandering up and down the corridor, avoiding collision like boats on a night cruise, lost in the fog of conversation... A student wrote in an email about an online date she had on a Saturday night without leaving her room. Paradoxically, these students have active social lives while being socially isolated.” (viii)
These observations are symptomatic for many others: At one school the parents are invited to a parents' afternoon. Six or seven dads are busy with their smartphones while their children happily show off their new skills. The fathers are physically present but mentally absent. Mobile technology teaches us “absent presence.” The 1990's adverts for mobile technology promised us “unlimited communication”. Today, everybody can indeed talk to anyone else at any time of day or night anywhere else in the world. In the face of this great technical achievement we might forget the fact that real communication is based in the here and now. Diligent observers notice that immediate human conversation is diminishing in favour of mobile communication. Since mobile communication and internet have become the standard, we observe an erosion of direct human conservations in favour of virtual contacts. (ix)
Our goal cannot be the defeat of internet and mobile phones, this would indeed be reactionary as Rudolf Steiner stated correctly, referring to technology in his own time. But we need to point to the critical aspects so that individuals may re-discover the balance. We have to learn to oppose the overwhelming presence of mobile communication, internet, radio, TV etc. in our daily lives with times of inner peace. We do not need to relinquish the advantages of communication technology. However, a few tips for a competent use of these devices are given here. Please feel free to add any of your own.
- Arrange internet and mobile phone free times. At least one day a week should be “screen free” and “net free”. For a family with children this might mean “Mama and Daddy are mine on Sundays!”
- Keep some of the rooms in your flat or house free from technology. At least the bedroom should be free of any televisions, computers, phones, mobile phones etc.
- Turn all devices off during shared meals.
- Make sure that conversations are not interrupted by phone calls. Politely point out to others that you do not approve of the interruption of a conversation by phone calls.
- Emails are handy but they can also be a source of disruption. Do not start your working day by downloading your emails but rather by working on your own projects. Only download and answer email when you have dealt with your own work.
- Do not check email constantly but only at scheduled times.
- If you have a tendency to forget the time when you are online, set an alarm clock.
The American communication expert Howard Rheingold points out that digital media can only be used meaningfully when certain skills are learned and developed further. The most basic one of them is the ability to pay attention. Developing the skill of focusing your attention requires mental discipline. This in turn will enable you to use digital “thinking tools” without losing concentration.(x) This type of mental discipline can only be practiced in media free times and environments. Daily, focused and continuing meditation is a possibility to practice inner self discipline. It is crucial to plan times and places into our schedule in which we are involved with things that balance the relentless strain of our daily exposure to the internet and mobile phones. Handling technology with supreme autonomy sets an example for our children and teaches them a responsible approach to digital media more effectively than a lot of talk.(xi) As Karl Valentin said, “You may bring up your children in any way you like... at the end of the day, they will copy you anyway.”
Translated by Karin Smith
Dr. habil. Edwin Hübner is a teacher for mathematics, physics and religious education at the Waldorf School in Frankfurt/Main, Germany. Since 2001 he is a research associate at the Department for Pedagogy, Sense and Media Ecology (ISPUM) in Stuttgart. He is a lecturer in teacher training institutions and author of several books on media education.
iii Bundesnetzagentur. Jahresbericht 2011, p.87. http://bundesnetzagentur.de/
v Koch, C. (2012) Ich bin dann mal offline: Ein Selbstversuch. Leben ohne Internet und Handy. Munich
vi Carr, N. (2010) Wer bin ich, wenn ich online bin.. und was macht mein Gehirn solange? Wie das Internet unser Denken verändert. Blanvalet Verlag / Rühle, A. (2010) Ohne Netz. Mein halbes Jahr offline. Klett / Powers, W. (2010) Hamlet's Blackberry. HarperCollins / Brockman, J. (2011) Is the Internet Changing the Way We Think? The Net's Impact on Our Minds and Future. HarperCollins
vii Paul Kedrosky in Brockman, 2011
viii Robert Provine in Brockman, 2011
ix Turkle, S. (2011) Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. Basic Books / Kühne, F. (2012) Keine Email für Dich. Warum wir trotz Facebook & Co. vereinsamen. Aus dem Alltag einer Therapeutin. Random House GmbH
x Howard Rheingold in Brockman, 2011
xi Please also see the highly recommended publication by Valentin Wember: Willenserziehung, 60 pädagogische Angaben Rudolf Steiners. Stratos. (Only available in German)
This article has been published in the reader “Struwwelpeter 2.0” by the German Association of Waldorf Schools (Bund der Freien Waldorfschulen) in cooperation with “Aktion mündige Schule” (AmS). AmS is committed to freedom in education and initiated the first people's initiative “Freedom in Schooling” in 1995 (www.freie-schule.de). In subsequent years, it supported similar initiatives in Berlin and Brandenburg, Germany. Freedom has an external and an internal aspect. The first creates the conditions, the latter creates the substance. Both of them have one thing in common: they do not just happen by magic, they have to be created anew, again and again. A conscientious approach to modern media is one of the contemporary questions of freedom.
The English and Spanish translations of articles selected from the original German edition of Struwwelpeter 2.0 were commissioned by the International Forum for Steiner Waldorf Education in cooperation with the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum.
This paper addresses teaching professionals in particular, but it may also be of interest to parents and students because it uses almost no specialised jargon. It is clear that this is work-in-progress which will need to be continuously developed further. Above all, the authors want to encourage teaching professionals to tackle the enormous educational challenges of our time.
The authors – Franz Glaw, Dr. Edwin Hübner, Celia Schönsted and Henning Kullak-Ublick – are part of the team “Media and Waldorf Education” which started its work in 2012. Further members of the team are Christian Boettger, Klaus-Peter Freitag, Andreas Neider, Florian Osswald-Müller, Dr. Martin Schlüter and – for selected issues – Dr. Paula Bleckmann.
With kind permission by the German Association of Waldorf Schools