Monday, May 30, 2011

Technology for Pleasure, Technology for Work

These days I'm interacting with a computer during almost all of my working hours. Even in meetings, there is usually at least a smart phone at hand, and this comes in addition to computers in my office, at the reference desk, & when teaching in the computer classroom. Maybe this is why when I am not at work I now tend to avoid computers. Computers have become associated with my job, and only when not at my job do I feel free not to be at a computer.

There are a few reasons why I bring this up. First, I always try to use my time at work productively, and I tend to scrutinize my behavior to that end. However, I've noticed that simply using a computer -- even in ways not obviously related to my job, such as reading a New York Times article -- frequently has a positive impact on my performance, be it when supporting a technical problem or explaining the difference between a wikipedia article and a Britannica article to a class.

Secondly, I seem to be losing the component of fun in my relationship to computers. Part of what used to make technology interesting to me -- its potential for teaching and learning in uniquely challenging and entertaining ways -- has morphed into something different, in that now I think of technology in the limited context of productivity and efficiency.

I find it really easy to forget that not everyone has such ready and continuous access to computers, and that the students I interact with are often still mainly interested in technology for fun activities like communicating with friends. But it's frequently this spirit of play that drives widespread adoption of a technology, rather workplace productivity.

For instance, last semester the library's instant messaging account was friended by someone who now regularly writes short stories to us. While some of the librarians find this less charming than I do, I'm glad to cultivate this type of connection. It's hard to put my finger on why (could it be something to do with exploring the possibilities and limitations of the tool?), but in the scheme of technology-centered interactions, this one seems more interesting and meaningful than those involving merely mechanics.

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