Learning Consumerism

When I was a kid, the weeks before the start of the school year were a joy. I loved rulers, and paper, and protractors, and compasses and binders. I still love the technology of my childhood. I also know that this impulse needs to be held in check less my house become an office supply store. That’s consumerism. We can’t really blame school for it, but schooling can’t escape it, and too often encourages it. As technology develops, consumerism develops right along with it, creating as many new problems as opportunities.

Now we hear that smart phones are a “must-have” for students (Tech gadgets are must-have school supplies). There’s nothing surprising in that– the commodification of life is ever renewed– but I think that there’s an element in this dynamic that’s worthy of extra caution. When we were kids we got the usual existential pitch: buy this product and you will be the cool kid. The commodity would solve that persistent pesky alienation. There’s a kind of magical thinking that goes along with shopping, appropriate perhaps only for children.

Now, however, it’s not just the commodity that’s supposed to salve the alienation, its the information and knowledge it provides. If you don’t have full access to information, the logic goes, whenever and wherever you are, you are not really fully alive. The economic threat is very explicit too. Students need to be able to work all of the time or they won’t get the grades that will allow them to succeed, perhaps especially in what might be a permanently contracting job market. It take the pleasure right out of the tech.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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