By Doug Ward
Thoughts from two speakers I’ve listened to in the last week have been bouncing around my brain.
At Journalism Interactive last week, Richard Hernandez of the University of California, Berkeley, pressed conference participants to experiment with technology that allows new forms of expression. To illustrate his point, he held up a smartphone and said: “You have more information in your pocket than Ronald Reagan had as president.”
Last night in a speech in Lawrence, the columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. used his smartphone as a prop, as well, after an audience member asked him about effecting change. His response went something like this:
In the 1950s, the civil rights movement started among concerned people who used rotary dial phones and mimeograph machines to mobilize citizens and end American apartheid. Today, he said, with smartphones that give us access to infinite amounts of information and an ability to communicate with nearly anyone, anywhere, anytime, why can’t we seem to steer society in an inclusive direction?
The take-away is that technology alone can’t solve problems. Simply having access to infinite amounts of information does us no good unless we know how to find the information we need. Having the information we need means nothing if we don’t know how to interpret it, to synthesize it, and to present it in meaningful ways. And even if we do that, new information is meaningless unless others have the context and the means to learn from it, use it, and act upon it.
I’m a big fan of technology, and I’ve written more about Journalism Interactive on one of my websites, JournalismTech.com.
Listening to Hernandez and Pitts speak, though, reminded me how important the human element of technology is. I continually push my students to experiment with new digital tools and new techniques of storytelling. Technology can give us superpowers, of sorts, abilities to make sense of things we once could only dream about. It can make us look smart (or dumb), and can shrink the world to the size of a smartphone screen.
Technology means nothing, though, unless we apply it to meaningful questions and problems at a human level.
I hope you’ll let that idea bounce around in your head this weekend.
Doug Ward is an associate professor of journalism and a fellow at the Center for Teaching Excellence. You can follow him on Twitter @kuediting.