In his recent installment, Wave of the Future, More Screens in the Classroom?, Joshua Gibbs envisions a future where employers weed out prospective employees based on a test which measures their screen dependency. Theoretically, they do it the same way testing currently detects recreational drug use. Am I the only one who finds that terminology, recreational drug use, sadly humorous? Such damaging things described as recreational. But I digress.
Using a fictional dialogue between a teenage part-time job seeker and the grocery store manager he petitions for employment, Gibbs lays out a scene. The confused job applicant wonders how this “old” dude could be so clueless about the wonders and advantages of technology.
Food Country Manager: Sorry, but based on the way your tests came back, I cannot offer you a job.
Kid: Why not? I couldn’t have failed the drug test.
FCM: Your drug test was fine, but your light scan came back hot.
Kid: My light scan?
FCM: The retina scan they did after you peed in the cup.
Kid: Yeah, what was that about?
FCM: A light scan measures screen exposure. Yours came back at a 73 and Food Country has a policy of not hiring anyone with a light scan reading over a 35.
Kid: What’s a 73? 73 what?
FCM: A 73 suggests that you view screens between 7 and 8 hours a day. That kind of screen dependency makes you a significant liability as an employee.
Kid: (confused) So, I “view screens”? What does that mean? Everyone views screens.
FCM: We’ve found that employees with significant screen dependencies simply get far less work done than employees with lower light scans. Four years ago, before Food Country instituted light scan tests for potential employees, analysts estimated the company lost between 240 and 280 million dollars a year in labor value to employees viewing screens on the clock. Of course, the higher your light scan number, the more likely you are to look at your phone on the clock.
This kicks off a hearty dialogue between them in which the store manager updates the clueless teen that people -and parents- in the know have largely abandoned technology in the same way the majority of the public abandoned cigarettes a generation ago. In fact, that only the poor and uneducated view technology as something to embrace:
Kid: Where am I supposed to work?
FCM: I don’t know. Try to get a screen-related job. Although even that could be tough. Nobody fears the power of screen addiction quite like the purveyors of screen addiction. Did you never hear all those stories from the early 20s about how the CEOs of tech companies wouldn’t let their kids have phones?
FCM: Tim Cook, Bill Gates, all the billionaires at Facebook… none of them let their kids use social media.
Kid: I doubt that’s true. Why wouldn’t big tech CEOs let their kids have phones? You’ve got to stay connected.
FCM: The same reason why drug dealers don’t do drugs. They see what happens to people who do.
Kid: How long has the general public known that big tech CEOs don’t let their kids have phones?
FCM: The last twenty years.
Kid: Why didn’t that stop people from giving their kids phones?
FCM: Back in the day, having a tech-savvy kid was a point of pride. It was often viewed as a sign of maturity. It was thought very urbane and modern.
FCM: Because it was new and because it was just a little uncommon.
Kid: Is it not still considered urbane?
FCM: (laughing) Heavens, no. You don’t read parenting blogs, do you? Why would you? Today, handing a child a tablet or a phone is considered no less vulgar than giving a child a cigarette— that is, among the same kind of people who thought it fashionable thirty years ago.
Kid: So, it’s just a matter of fashion? Perhaps giving kids screens will become a fad again. Maybe in being addicted to screens, I’m actually ahead of my time.
FCM: Perhaps, although giving a child a cigarette has been considered abuse for quite some time now. I don’t think that’s going away. So far as wealth and privilege are concerned, the trend is so strongly away from tech, I don’t know that tech will ever recover a luxury image. High tech has become a symbol of slavery and oppression over the last twenty years— this is the way adults with money see the matter, anyway. High tech is a sign you’re being monitored, conditioned, manipulated, like some kind of little child or animal. Cash has made a huge comeback. The number of discount stores has decreased, but the number of stores aimed at the upper middle class has skyrocketed. After a long drought, cash is making a comeback. Real libraries— the kind with books— are reopening in affluent neighborhoods. But you’re seventeen and don’t have any money, so you don’t see any of this happening.
Kid: This is starting to sound like classism.
FCM: (shrugging) Yeah, maybe. I don’t know. How are they defining “classism” this week?
Kid: It’s when one class of people keeps another class down. It sounds to me like people who can afford screenless lives are oppressing people who can’t afford screenless lives.
FCM: You can’t afford a screenless life? Given that your screen addiction just cost you a lousy job, it seems more like you can’t afford anything except a screenless life.
I’m not convinced the future looks the way Gibbs is painting it here. Frankly, there are too many people who have too much to lose should the current mass technological dependency wanes.
Secondly, from what I have read, there are powerful forces at work trying to push us toward a cashless society. I’m doing my part to resist, being something of a cash girl myself, but still. I do however, foresee greater and greater numbers of people making an earnest attempt to circumvent the all-seeing, all-tracking capabilities being employed by the likes of Google, Amazon, and Facebook. The “right to privacy as a nonexistent reality will eventually be too much for people to take. Or at least it will be when the recognition of thoroughly we’ve all been compromised becomes common knowledge.
Will a day come when only expensive private schools employ physically present teachers? When public schools will be little more than shells of their former selves, reserved to meet the minimum legal education requirements for the children unfortunate enough to born into families who can employ no other options? It all sounds rather dystopian to me, but I appreciated the opportunity Gibbs offers to contemplate what our future might look like if we continue on our current trajectory.
Currently, our family’s livelihood and standard of living has been funded completely through the expansion of the use of technology. And yet, we have reservations about most social media platforms and are routinely taking stock of the role of technology in our lives. We are far from perfect in this regard, but it is something we take time to consider and tweak. We haven’t yet abandoned it wholesale, in case that isn’t glaringly obvious.
I find the predictions about education particularly intriguing. It is the reason why the article inspired this post, in fact.
So tell me, what do you all think? Are we looking at a technological futre where teachers are obsolete and students obtain all their education, such as it is, via screens? And what about the possibility of determining a job applicants suitability for employment based on an analysis of their screen time usage? Personally, I think the former question is more likely answered in the affirmative than the latter, but if we live ling enough, we’ll see.