The infinite cage

Tammy Duncan is a teacher and freelance writer living in the Sacramento area.

Virtually every home has a computer. Who needs the library when we have the Web? No need for field trips; just hop on board the cyberspace express. We can sit in front of these little boxes all day long with access to everything—the only time we have to leave it is when Mother Nature calls. Remember her? The metaphor for the force behind natural and living things?

The word “cyberspace” was coined by writer William Gibson to describe this computer-generated world. He also called it “an infinite cage.” Certainly, people—especially children—caught in the addictive grip of a computer, barely able to tear themselves away to eat or pee, gives one cause to stop and ponder Gibson’s words.

We’ve had a phenomenal push for computers in every school and classroom, right down to preschools, if possible. Millions of little children learn what a circle is by pointing and clicking a computer mouse. What happened to making a circle by holding hands?

Doctors, psychologists and behaviorists tell us that children—especially younger children—learn through imitation and that they need experiences to stimulate and integrate their senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch in order to learn.

We are so concerned about teaching children that exploring what’s on a two-dimensional screen is more important than playing with real objects or having an attentive conversation, we risk losing basic human skills. Interacting with other people is essential for social development. When we stand face to face and look into another person’s eyes, we learn something beyond facts.

Computers can’t give us this intelligence of the heart. They are merely information-giving machines, and information is a minuscule part of education. As electronic developers are lining up to stake a claim on children’s minds, we should really ask the question, What happens to a society, already steeped in broken relationships with nature and our fellow man, when it divorces itself even further by crawling into a mechanical cage?

Our children need the living world. They need to come to love its abundant gifts of life. They need to be able to touch a real violin, smell the rosin, hear the music and dance the dance. That’s education.