On Choosing Technologies That We Know Will Diminish Quality

Why we sometimes knowingly adopt technologies that degrade our experiences, and what this behavior may mean for education.

August 23, 2016

Can you think of examples where you chose to adopt a new technology,  even when you know that this choice will result in a lower quality experience?

Can you apply your personal technology choices to the larger world of educational technology?

3 examples from my life:

1 - Netflix DVD Rentals to Netflix Streaming:

Do you still get DVDs by mail? I don’t. My Netflix viewing is not 100% streaming.

Going from DVDs by mail to streaming means that my choice in movies has diminished. There are less than 6,000 movies and TV shows available on Netflix to stream, compared to the 93,000 available to rent by DVD.

The tradeoff that I make in going streaming only is one of convenience vs. quality.  It is way more convenient to stream a movie than it is to wait for the DVD, crack or watch the DVD, and then return the DVD.

The way I have watched video has also changed.  Almost all of my Netflix video viewing occurs on my iPhone or my MacBook Air.  Neither of these devices have a DVD slot. 

Streaming inferior video is preferable to watching superior, but more difficult to access, movies and TV shows.

2 - Buying Mostly Kindle / Audible Whispersync Books:

The books that I prefer to buy are books that are Whispersync enabled. I want be able to seamlessly go back and forth between reading with my eyes (the Kindle e-book) and reading with my ears (Audible audiobook). 

Going back and forth between e-books and audiobooks allows me to read more books. I’m able to read while multitasking (audiobooks) and uni-tasking (e-book reading). Going back and forth between the audio book and the e-book creates a virtuous circle of reading.   You are encouraged to read more as books go faster - reducing the opportunity costs for the reading of each book.

The problem with preferring to read Whispersync books is one of supply. Only a few of the books that I want to read are Whispersync enabled. There is often a Kindle book, and an audiobook, but Amazon has not synced the two together. (There are technical challenges in syncing e-books with audio - and maybe licensing challenges as well).

What I’m choosing by choosing Whispersync is to limit my book reading options. I’m also choosing to restrict my book buying to a single seller. Actively contributing to limiting future options by supporting a monopoly (and Amazon has a monopoly on synced e-books/audiobooks) is a risky proposition.

3 - Running With An iPhone Instead of an iPod:

When I run I listen to music.  The way I listen to music while running is through the Pandora app on my iPhone 6s Plus.

Five years ago I would listen to music while running with an iPod.  The music was downloaded locally.  The iPod (whatever version I was using) was much smaller than my iPhone.  It was easy to skip through songs, as I had a physical button to push.   Nothing has ever matched the tactile feel of the iPod Click Wheel as an interface to manage music while running.  Doing so on a screen is unwieldy and challenging.

The reason that I run with the iPhone is that I don’t need another device - and I don’t need to buy and manage a music library.  I’m choosing an inferior technology for convenience.

Okay…what are the corresponding educational technology examples?

When do we choose to use a new technology in the full knowledge that we are (in some ways) degrading some element of educational quality?

How can we have a more nuanced conversation about educational technology that recognizes the trade-offs of adoption?

What can we do to move beyond the dichotomy of totally pro-edtech vs. totally con-edtech - and admit (even to ourselves) that we make choices in technology that have both positive and negative educational consequences?

What are the edtech lessons of actively choosing technologies that we know will make (some) things worse?



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