I was re-watching a movie the other day, which I had really loved a generation ago and I couldn’t be bothered after about 20 minutes. It was just too slow. The pace of culture must have changed or something. My wife had already given up on her allegedly once favourite film, but left it to me to switch over, (not off), as she was quite happy posting on Facebook or checking her emails as she ‘watched ‘. Multi-channel communication, it seems, is the norm, except for grumpy old me, more inclined to suppress the desire to blurt out, ‘are you watching this with me or not!’ Social relationships, to my mind, are a lot more anti-social these days.
Having been a teacher, for over 35 years, I have seen massive transformations in social relationships within the classroom too. It is hard to believe that beating children with physical objects for relatively minor misdemeanours was commonplace until the 1980s, (never by me have I hastened to add). Girls, terrified at seeming to undermine their male peers, (and possibly future boyfriends), never dared show their intelligence by putting their hands up (none of this targeted questioning back then). Thankfully, feminism came (and sadly went?) and now it’s the other way round with boys not wishing to seem too nerdy by showing as much interest in achieving as the girls.
This revolution in inter-generational and gender dynamics however, pales into insignificance relative to the hyper-revolution brought about by new technologies. Most of us no longer interact in the same physical space with significant others. In fact, significance of relationships in an actual physical space is now often undermined by more important social interactions across hyperspace. I was out with colleagues, before Xmas, when a group of four young adults in their mid 20s all came in to the pub together, still formally dressed, presumably to enjoy an after work Xmas get together. At last, an opportunity to really get to know each other, beyond the usual routines of their working lives, you might think. All four however, sat down at the same table, switched on their smartphones and gazed at them in silence, twiddling away contentedly, without even acknowledging each other’s existence.
So, what has all this to do with social relationships in the classroom today? For one thing, as a teacher, you now have to be able to compete with a flash, bang, wallop, C.G.I’d version of reality young people are now accustomed to, to even register on their consciousness. In fact, even the most tuned in teachers frequently lose the battle as their charges twiddle under their desks, endless variations on ‘I’m really bored , are you’ ?’ Such are the technology impaired attention spans facing us, that lessons have to be broken down into varied, short, sharp activities, where our interactions with students involve not actually talking to them for too long. Like the film, fashioned before the communications revolution, anything else is just too slow to be bothered with.
Oh my God -this rant has turned into a horrible realisation that this culture shift has finally got me too! I did after all turn that multi academy award winning film off because it was no longer in tune with the pace of our time that even I now expect. Perhaps I’d better just accept the fact that concentration span is just an outdated concept and that sociability has nothing to do with being in the same physical space any more. No, I must have just let my guard down for a moment!
So dear reader, if you got this far without clicking on something else, there is, in my increasingly minority view, some hope. (The film by the way was Nicholas and Alexandra (1971) – watch it on ‘catch up’ and see how long you last).