If you had to list all the ways you use technology every day, what do you think you’d discover? Cell phones, computers, and the Internet are obvious forms of technology that we use in everyday life. But what about swiping your credit card at the Acme, having Wawa take video of you on their surveillance camera, or even just heating up dinner in the microwave?
“We’re living in an age that is infiltrated with technology, and we don’t always think about it as technology,” says Sister Monica Sicilia, IHM, instructor in Information and Digital Systems. This semester, she is teaching Living in the Digital World, a core course for Interactive Digital Media majors, but also open to any students interested in taking it.
Sister Monica’s first goal for her students is “to make them more aware of how much technology we actually do use,” she said. We almost can’t live without it, although we often don’t want to admit this. Even if we choose to turn off the phone and the computer for the day, the world around us is still using technology constantly, and that use affects our lives.
Sister Monica asked her students to chart their “digital landscape”—the ways they use technology every day for communication, entertainment, cooking, shopping, working, transportation, and on and on. Throughout the rest of the semester, the class will be discussing the ways that technology intersects with various areas of life—politics, health care, business, art, education, entertainment, law enforcement, social justice, religion, and more. The students have to research the development and use of certain technologies and reflect on their implications.
The class explores specific uses of technology, including some that you wouldn’t expect. Take technology and religion, for example. Sister Monica introduced her students to apps that provide daily prayers and the entire text of the Bible.
As for another somewhat unexpected use of technology, some funeral homes are now offering webcasts of memorial services. Students share their opinions about whether this is beneficial or not—is this a helpful service for family members who can’t be present, or is there something strange about watching the funeral in the living room while the kids are playing nearby?
Technology has undoubtedly improved health care in myriad ways, making surgical procedures more precise and storing health information electronically, to name just a few examples. Sister Monica told her class about how doctors can use 3-D printing to create a new ear and graft it onto a patient’s body. Medical apps have made it easy to collect and monitor vital signs and other data.
But sometimes these tools raise ethical questions and carry risks. Without having a medical degree, can cardiac patients adequately monitor their hearts using an app? If they miss certain warning signs and have a heart attack, who is responsible—the patients or their health care providers?
Electronic health records can save lives—say a patient goes on vacation and is knocked unconscious in an accident. The ER doctor is able to pull up her health record and find out she’s severely allergic to the drug he was about to give her.
But making that information available to health care professionals means that hackers could also gain access to it, along with Social Security numbers, birth dates, and other sensitive information.
“There’s both sides of the coin,” Sister Monica said. “You’re always going to have people who, just even for the fun of it, are hacking records.”
The class considers social media, that increasingly important subset of technology, and how it has helped raise awareness about many social justice issues. You might notice that your friend recently “liked” the Facebook page of an organization that builds water filtration systems in developing countries, or see a link to an article your colleague shared about how prevalent human trafficking is in the U.S.
Many social justice organizations invite this kind of online sharing in order to spread the word about a cause and foster engagement. Have you seen the Slavery Footprint website that allows you to enter information about the clothes, food, and household products you buy, and then it calculates how many slaves “work” for you, judging from how many of these items are likely produced by slave labor? Once you have the number—which might surprise you, at 30 or more—you can share it on social media, and learn how to look for fairly traded goods instead.
Sister Monica’s students research creative uses of technology like these, creating infographics and presenting their findings to the class.
“No matter what field they go into, they need to know technology. And if they don’t know it themselves, they need to know where to go to get someone who can help them,” Sister Monica emphasizes to her class.
You might think that a bunch of “digital natives” wouldn’t need much help figuring out how to use technology. They’re the ones who are always rescuing their parents when the computer is acting up, right? But Sister Monica has found that the younger generation still needs guidance and instruction. “They can’t just use technology for hobby-based things,” she says. “They’ve got to start using it professionally.”
Sister Monica brings her perspective to the younger generation’s hobby-based uses of technology as well. “I don’t think kids today really use their imagination as much,” she says, citing the ubiquity of video games, YouTube videos, and countless other diversions available in seconds. Sister Monica had a TV when she was growing up, but it had an antenna, and sometimes the picture didn’t come through very well, she remembers. So she and her siblings went out in the woods and made up their own games to play. “So I talk about the importance of the imagination, and how to really develop that,” she says. Technology can’t replace creativity.
Nor can it replace curiosity and a willingness to learn. “Even though I’m sitting here in front of you trying to teach you about technology,” Sister Monica tells her students, “I’m still learning, and forever we’ll need to learn about technology. Because it’s going to constantly change.”