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Technology: Blessing or Curse? A Case Study from the Magic Kingdom

I just got back from a week's vacation to what is supposed to be the happiest place on earth - Disneyworld. I come from a family that is not very technical or even technology oriented. Oh, they like to use it, but they have no concept of how any of it works. So these are the people I was vacationing with- and knew it would be a challenge but wanted to see what they would do when surrounded by technology.

I decided that I would do a case study while there, and collect anecdotal evidence of when technology was presented and how my family reacted without my jumping to help or explain how it was used. Okay, perhaps it was for selfish entertainment reasons. But still, it is nice to renew that childlike faith in technology and see it from another's eyes.

Our first encounter with technology was getting into our room. We had our magic key card but did not know how to use it. There was no place to put a key or card in. But there was this odd gray box on the door. After my sister pulled the cover of the gray box off, and realized it was some sort of computer, she quickly put the cover back on and realized that maybe we just had to swipe our card in front of the box and see what happens. Sure enough, the key lock is an RFID reader and just like that we were in the room.

Another encounter we had with technology was at a show called Turtle Talk with Crush. Basically, you have an animated turtle on a screen, which interacts with the audience in real-time and can even call out things about people in the audience. My sister still cannot figure out how this works. "But he's animated and knows stuff about the people in there and talks about it on the screen. How?" I just could not bring myself to tell her there were still humans involved in the whole process. And that a computer can do that kind of stuff really quickly these days.

A final story Ill share about our trip involved the dread of amusement parks waiting in line. My sister had not one, but two apps on her phone that tell you how long the wait is for certain attractions. Sure, you have the fast pass option. But you have to find things to do while waiting for your fast pass time for other rides. So out comes the app. It was funny to see how much confidence my sister had in the data on those apps being correct. Even though, each time we would look up a ride, it would give us an expected wait time and upon arrival to the attraction, inevitably the wait would be 2-3 times as long as posted on the app. What was even more perplexing is her amazement that the app could be wrong. "But the app said it was only 20 minutes. I don't know why it is so long now."

Okay, so why am I sharing all of this? It is not to make me look like a technological genius and my family to look technologically incompetent. It reminded me of Douglas Rushkoff's book Program or Be Programmed. Are we allowing ourselves to be controlled by technology, or are we willing to master the technology and become the creators of it? I have worked with many schools and many different classrooms throughout my professional development experiences. And I often see teachers trying to use technology for the wrong reasons. Just because it is there and someone says they should. I kind of felt that way on this family vacation. Were we relying on the technology just because we could or someone said we should?

I think one of the biggest disservices we do to our students is to just let them use technology and NOT explain to them how it works. Sure, maybe that takes some of the magic out of it, and had I dispelled some of these things to my family, it might have taken the magic out of the Magic Kingdom. But to me the magic is not in the end product, it is in the understanding of how it works and dreaming of taking it one step further.

So you be the judge. Technology: A blessing or a curse? Or just a fun experiment on a family vacation?

Mindy Hart
At-Large Representative

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