How to Cope in Your Rapidly Changing World: College and Technology

By Dr. Steven C. Scheer, Ph.D.

Those of us who were born more than 50 years ago can honestly say this: the world has changed since our birth more in the last half century than in the previous 10,000 years combined. Even if you are in your late teens or early 20s, your world is rapidly changing now.  Embracing technological change can you help in college, and in your post-college life.

To be successful in college, online or offline, you have to be computer savvy. But it isn’t just computers that you have to contend with these days. Cells phones, which are relatively new, are also advancing so fast that it’s hard to keep up with them. They used to say that the brand new car you just bought has already depreciated a great deal by the time you drove if off the lot. This is probably more true of computers and other recent gadgets than it was of cars in the old days.

How can you cope with all this? Must you always be on top of the latest wave? Is your success in college tied to the latest computer with all the bells and whistles? Well, it’s not a bad idea to have it all, but you can really make do with a lot less. How?

To begin with, let us not underestimate the capacity of the human mind to ride its own waves. You have gray matter between your ears, and you can put it to good use. Part of your learning curve is going to involve the use of computers and other advances in technology, but these things are and will remain tools. Never forget that technology is here to serve and help you. It is not here to overwhelm and dominate you. Use it. Don’t let it use you.

The great American writer and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, said back in the 19th century that instead of owning things, things have begun to own us. And this was at the dawn of the age of consumerism. Thoreau was a seer. But this doesn’t mean that you have to let yourself be “owned” by technology. The piece you own of it is at your service. That’s how you should look at it. Here is an example of how certain studies are now being conducted to see how technology affects the students of the present day and of the future:

Certain thinkers have noted a long time ago that certain major changes in how we order, keep, and retrieve information changes the way the human mind works. The invention of the phonetic alphabet, for example, had a tremendous impact on how we think about language and words.

Just think, prior to representing sounds by combinations of letters, the idea that you could see what you could only hear up to that point was unheard of. Just imagine the world in which there is no writing at all. You can’t even imagine the invention of writing with the phonetic alphabet that you take for granted today. One scholar who dealt with this issue is the late Rev. Walter J. Ong. The following review of his major publication about this issue should be fascinating reading for anyone puzzled by how technological changes may alter the workings of the human mind:

The point of this particular article is then simply this: do use as much of today’s technological advances are you are comfortable with. If you can afford the best, invest in it. But do keep in mind that all these things are tools. It’s the user of the tool that should be the master, not the tool itself.

Word processing, for example, is still a major improvement over the use of the old portable typewriters, which were already making headway towards becoming obsolete when the electric and the electronic typewriters came into being. Today almost no one used them. Today we use computers and printers and may even submit papers online as attachments to e-mails.

The world is changing rapidly now, and all these changes affect the way you study. But if you keep in mind that it is you who is studying and not the technology you are using, then you should be the ruler of your own world and do well. Just keep this simple truth in mind: we use tools. Tools should not use us.

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