About a not-savior

What I’m about to say is broadly true.

It is true in education.

It is true in churchdom.

It is true in banking.

It is true in auto mechanics and cooking and pretty much every other sphere:

Technology is not to be viewed as panacea.  It does not always provide the answer.

[If you have only a little time, skip down to the bold paragraph. ]

Perhaps you are one who regularly experiences technology that actually does what it’s designed to dowhich scenario has seemed increasingly rare since the un-complex days of Windows 3.1 and DOS and the Apple IIe (or whatever fruit-based model was synchronic with early Windows).

==> A corporate website fails to take into consideration today’s multi-browser scenario, and a hover or a click does nothing (instead of getting you the right stuff, as it would have if you had used Firefox or IE instead of Chrome or Safari).

==> Someone forgets to manage the messages systemically routed to a merchant’s generic e-mail account, and people’s needs go un-attended to.

==> A whippersnappery sales rep doesn’t understand the needs of a serious device-user for business and real communication (instead of for gaming or watching YouTube kitten videos or joy-texting).

==> Functionality is lost, not gained, as Big Technology pays increasing attention to glitz and glamour over functionality.

The technological arena is increasingly complex these days—and, as a result, things are more likely to fail or at least to fall short.  But I’m not even wanting to deal with effectiveness or proper operation here.

I’m wanting to speak emphatically about the apparently irresistible inclination for those in enterprise authority to move humbly, decidedly, and in unthinking obeisance to technology as “savior” when they don’t know what else to do.

Yes, by all means, use the buttons and circuitries, the YouTube DIY videos, the hyperlinks, the Onboard Diagnostic Port on a car.  But sometimes, it’s more effective to ask your friend to come over and help you look at a problem with a human eye or ear.

Part Two:  the spotlighted for-instance
Online Education in Conducting Is a Really Bad Idea

Now comes an advice-seeking e-mail, sent a couple weeks ago to a large group by a conducting colleague I don’t think I’ve ever met face to face.  Apparently his collegiate institution is considering offering an entirely online conducting master’s degree.  To be clear:  I’m all for smart boards in some classrooms, and I have always used educational technologies, but it is a deluded, shallow, and ignorant philosophy that assumes technology is always the savior, the answer to the need at hand.

Here is a slightly edited version of my reply to the music educator [identities of educator and institution withheld in order to preserve anonymity] who wanted feedback to share with his administrators:

I have no qualms at all in expressing a very strong opinion on this, and I trust you will receive many others in the same vein. 

It is a patently bad idea, pedagogically speaking, to consider offering any degree completely online.   I have taught a hybrid course, and I would agree that some topics may be appropriately addressed in such a format, but not all.  Those making decisions to move toward entirely online education ought to be put out of true educators’ misery.  They are business people, not educators, and they must not be allowed to control education.

Honing in on your immediate conducting degree issue now:  frankly, it is ludicrous to consider an entirely online conducting course.  Maybe if ensembles were online in real life, there could be some value in online course delivery from a philosophical and academic standpoint—offering readings about the physical science aspects of gesture, lists of repertoire, aspects of rehearsal technique, and more.  But, in my view, the real-life experience on a podium with real people in real air, listening to real sound is irreplaceable . . . and is much, much more what graduate students need and want.

I hope you can relay this in some appropriate way to those making the decision in your institution.

Brian Casey, D.Arts (9/23/15)

Addendum 10/6:  a younger musician demurred when I mentioned this conducting-degree issue.  He avowed the technological “way the world is going,” more or less, and touted technology’s gains in recent years:  “This isn’t the 80s,” he commented.  To the extent that he believes an entirely (or largely) online conducting degree is viable, though, he cannot be grasping the nuanced realities of conducting real, live musicians who produce sound in air.  One simply must work in and around real things, not hidden by video streams, headphones, etc.  It’s difficult enough for a conducting student to begin to sense and connect the aural and the visual inside time and physical space! 

The visual and aural communication necessary for a conductor are partly perceptible through well-executed technology, and there are indeed some very useful technological tools available for conducting pedagogy.¹  On the other hand, anyone who feels technological tools can thoroughly train a conductor ought to try entrusting their haircuts, restaurant food, and surgeries to cosmetologists, chefs, and physicians trained entirely online.  Furthermore, any teacher of conducting who agrees to an online conducting degree is selling out.

Lest any readers who don’t know me assume I am all thumbs when it comes to computers or smartphones or what-have-yous, that is not the case.  I have for about 25 years been tech-capable and tech-involved.  I have programmed scripts in a COBOL-derivative language.  I once held a position called “Coordinator of Internal Technology Consulting.”  I have been considered a “power user” of Windows and of desktop applications.  I’ve rarely needed anyone else to solve any of my own computer issues, and I can even (gasp) get around on a Mac better than some Mac users.  Although I am no longer cutting-edge, I have definite technological inclinations.

All of this is not about disavowing technology; it’s about realizing some of its limitations.

Technology can be cool; technology can serve.  I like and use many technologies every day.  Technology is, or at least can be, a support, but it is not itself the content, it does not always represent the best direction, and it is not worthy of undue or worshipful attention.

Part Three:  more for-instances (skip to Part Four if you don’t want more examples)
The solution for a family’s nutrition concerns is not the microwave or e-shopping lists correlated by software to nutritional databases and budgets.

How about some simple, real, uncooked vegetables?

The answer to an educational institution’s budget crisis or its staffing concerns is not a technological effort in order to get by cheaply or apparently efficiently, although technologies can certainly assist.

How about some down-to-earth education with real teachers and real students?

The answer to a church’s supposed needs is not video clips, a new, 64-channel mixing board, and worshipcams on robotic arms.

How about real Bible study and real vertical and horizontal relationships, unencumbered by the pressing need to use the costly technology you thought was going to address your every need?

Part Four (epilogue)
Technology must not be worshipped as savior.  It does not have all the answers.

Neither do I glibly, shallowly go around, bumper-sticker-like, claiming “Jesus is the answer” to everything, either.  And yet, I strongly suspect that many concerns would in fact be illuminated or even solved by turning to Jesus.  Sadly, in and around my own life, I only see a pathetically small number of concerns getting that kind of (deserved) attention.

¹ For instances:  I have known of some software that uses a camera to analyze and record gestural pathways for review.  This can be very useful — perhaps especially when a human teacher is not fully capable of such analyses, and/or for supplemental study beyond the live-air rehearsal and real-life conducting lessons.  Google Glass, another tool, was initially overrated by some of my conducting colleagues for pedagogy and insight but has not proven to be as groundbreaking as initially assumed by some.


2 thoughts on “About a not-savior

  1. God's Children 10/07/2015 / 4:01 pm

    Given that The power pack on my five month old laptop blitzed, I have to say technology is not all it’s cracked up to be. I can’t resist saying that I’ve been around long enough to see all of the fads come and go that were supposed to create church growth. Helping people to meet and come to love our Lord is Best done by…intentional followers of Jesus intentionally, openly walking closely with Him. Bringing the light and love of our Lord to those around us will do more to influence people to follow Jesus then any program ever devised by man. ( it’s pressing on towards midnight here in Dracula land while in the US, it is mid day. I’ll say good night and God bless.)
    — Anne in Transylvania


    • Brian Casey 10/07/2015 / 7:19 pm

      It takes perspective to see limitations of the tools we have. You mention a perspective that comes with years, and I share about 5/8 of yours according to the clock, but less in the actual application of wisdom. 🙂 Additional perspective might come with the acquisition of expertise. In other words, when you know something deeply, you know more of what helps it, furthers it, champions it. I’m glad to have you as an example of one who has broad, experienced perspective on the Christian walk.


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