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October 22, 2021

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How on-demand culture and metric-based thinking hijacked knowledge

By SHOURYA ARASHANAPALLI | September 28, 2021

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Arashanapalli investigates how the expansion of technology has impacted our education system and the psyches of students. 

When it comes to technology and education, our preexisting negligence has been aggravated due to the onset of COVID-19. Students are reliant on their devices more than themselves and acquaint their identities in the grades they are compelled to work after. The precarious handling under the educational system drives students into an abyss of burnout and hollowed dignity.

In today’s fast-paced society, there has never been a greater demand for the speed of information access and retrieval. When it comes to needing a piece of information, we want it all, and we want it now. 

As described by former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, the world is in the midst of what he refers to as the fourth industrial revolution — an event that marks rapid innovation in technological advancement. Yang alluded to the depletion of manufacturing employment due to technological and mechanical automation, but there is another facet to this draining effect: a mental and sociocultural depletion where patience has become not only a virtue but a rarity: An on-demand culture.

The pervasive nature of the internet, spanning from tablets to whiteboards to refrigerators, has rendered a dependency within the human mind. The memory of individuals decreases due to the mere awareness of information. When individuals know certain information is available for their access, their ability to recall is significantly lower than those who did not expect to have access.

In essence, the result provides a tangible instance where the mere presence of technology can impair cognitive functioning, a phenomenon informally called digital amnesia.

This cognitive burden is far heavier on the shoulders of students, who are up-to-date with the latest tablets and smartphones of the day. 

Teenagers bring their devices to the place where they spend the most time outside the home: school. Several educational boards are already transitioning curriculums and lesson plans to meet this transition, and now, with COVID-19, modern education is becoming increasingly predisposed to incorporating technology in the classroom. As students are more reliant on their devices, teachers must be fully cognizant of how the ubiquity of technology affects students’ academic performance.

While technology has introduced its own set of problems to schooling, its exclusion should not be seen as a silver bullet. It is typical for students to prioritize a worthy grade over the experience of learning for learning’s sake. Numerical grades also contribute by diminishing student interest in learning, reducing academic risk-taking and decreasing the quality of thinking.

A study from the University of Michigan showed 80% of college students based their self-worth on their academic success, leading to low self-esteem and other mental health issues. Within the past 30 years, feeling overwhelmed and reporting psychosomatic complaints have continued to increase among youth in the Western hemisphere. What is even more insidious is despite the increasing use of antidepressants and therapy, the incidence of youth mental health problems remains unacceptably high

With the importance given to testing and quantitative student achievement, the bigger picture is lost. The purpose of the establishment, the educational system, is thus tarnished, as the prioritization of grades and data supersede the breeding of mastery and comprehensive-based learning.

The immersion of technology into modern education has accelerated these preexisting complications, few of which are directly addressed. When a grade is a driving force behind both a student’s psychological stability and perceived self-worth, it becomes paramount to assess students' attitudes towards assessments and the role technology plays.

A common area of confusion among the ethics boards of universities and the administrations of secondary education is why students resort to cheating. In some cases, the educational apparatus of a given institution, be it a university or a middle school, seems better equipped to catch and exterminate academic dishonesty than to breed and nurture academic zeal

The explanation is crude but elementary: As soon as students are made aware that their palpable future is to be ultimately represented by an array of numbers on a transcript, they will not hesitate to seize any possible opportunities presumed to be in their favor. This is not to defend academic dishonesty but to produce an example of how an on-demand and metric-based culture has allowed technology to exacerbate unyielding attitudes about the nature of education.

Technology is a gorgeously wonderful tool, but it also is a cunningly deleterious one. That is all technology is: a tool. Technology is meant to make connections more productive and efficient. The on-demand culture of today, however, has injected itself into educational administrations, where technology has stepped beyond its role of facilitating knowledge into replacing it. 

Knowledge has lost the respect it deserves, as its value is recognized only for the sake of something else — grades and occupational security. It has been relegated to having only instrumental value. Students rarely find themselves working solely for the beauty and satisfaction found in knowledge for its own sake (its intrinsic value). Instead, they allow the expectations of an education system born of a technologically-driven society to erode their physical and mental health. 

This attitude towards knowledge does not flourish because students are helpless and ignorant. It festers because students are convinced they are doing something worthy.

It is the incessant obsession with protocol and urgency as well as the unflinching adherence to a metric-based way of life that has let this issue drag on unattended. Because students are minors, there is a built-in expectation to heed the instructions of those in charge. This mindset is prevalent among college students as well, who feel their time is better spent standing in line, fearful of losing their footing in higher education.

The demonstration of this affliction is a vice for citizens of a culture that prizes a steady, lucrative job as the backbone of our identity. A culture of absurdly permeated on-demand commercialization and metric-based productivity brings along with it the anxiety and expectation that we should be steps ahead of it at all times. Let’s hope that we can keep up.

Shourya Arashanapalli is a sophomore from Cumming, Ga. studying Philosophy and Behavioral Biology. He is the Editorial Cartoonist for The News-Letter.

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