About Meghan L. Stauts

Meghan is the Communications Associate at The Walker School, an independent coeducational day school serving grades PK - 12 in Marietta, Georgia.

Disconnecting to Reconnect

Today, I did something I never thought I would do at work. I ended a nearly three-year relationship. Why talk about my personal drama on the Walker blog? You see, my practically vintage iPhone 4S took a water-logged journey earlier this morning, and we are no longer on functional terms.

My phone is with me constantly. Tweeting, Facebooking, Instagramming, texting, emailing. It is always clutched firmly in my hand, sitting on the table next to me, or tucked in my pocket (not so securely, I might add). And yet here I am staring at my screen as the camera lens is clouded by water droplets, texts struggle to send, and Siri annoyingly keeps urging me to “Slide to power off.” Is the universe telling me something?

Let’s take a journey back in time to Wednesday. The now infamous “Look Up” video had been making its way around (and around and around) the Internet for a few days. As with most feel-good videos that go viral quickly, I ignored it, scrolling past and rolling my eyes every time I saw it in my newsfeed. “This video? Again?”

After seeing it posted for the umpteenth time, I caved. I watched it. And I am so glad I did. In the opening of the video, writer-director Gary Turk says in a voice-over:

This media we call social is anything but
When we open up our computers and it’s our doors we shut
All this technology we have, it’s just an illusion
Community, companionship, a sense of inclusion

One of the things that is so wonderful about Walker is the emphasis on meaningful relationships that inspire transformative learning. Social media is both a fun and powerful tool that can be used for great things, and creating meaningful relationships can certainly be one of them. However, when our alums return to campus and they reflect on their time at Walker, their memories don’t involve apps or tablets or smart phones – they involve lively class discussions, traditions like Senior Walk, and lasting friendships with both students and teachers.

So look up from your phone
Shut down those displays
We have a finite existence
A set number of days

As educators and mentors to students who can nearly all be classified as digital natives, it is so important to practice what we preach. How can students take us seriously when we walk into classrooms and sing the praises of using social media sparingly, and then proceed to stare at our phones during any free time we might have?

So don’t give into a life where you follow the hype
Give people your love, don’t give them you like
Disconnect from the need to be heard and defined
Go out into the world
Leave distractions behind

Is the video a little sentimental? Sure. Is it a little ironic that social media is responsible for nearly all of the 32.5 million views the video now has? Definitely. But the message is clear.  Unplug from your phones. Marvel at the world around you. Take it all in. Have a real conversation – one that does not involve autocorrect.  Disconnect to reconnect. This is what we tell our students, and this is what we need to practice as adults.

This weekend I’m going to look up. I’m not going to scroll through Twitter (or play Candy Crush) while I drink my morning coffee. I’m not going to stop my entire family from eating Mother’s Day brunch because I need to Instagram the meal first.  I’m not going to be so fixated on documenting an experience that I miss out on actually seeing, breathing, living the experience. Thanks, water-logged iPhone.

The 21st Century Flame

There are few phrases that you can utter in front of a room full of parents that will immediately grab their attention. Social media is one of these phrases and understandably so. While it is a daunting realm, one that changes with every passing day, hour, minute, even second, this idea of social networking isn’t wholly unfamiliar to most of us. While words like Snapchat, hashtag, or – shudder – Ask.fm, might silence a room of parents and educators, we cannot deny that technology, social media, and other forms of communication are rapidly evolving. Rather than tell our students to avoid these things at all costs, it is crucial to instead demonstrate the beneficial power that technology and social media possess when used properly.

On Monday, along with faculty members from Walker’s Middle and Upper Schools, technology staff, and guidance counselors, I attended a workshop on social media snares and digital consciousness. The dynamic Richard Guerry, founder of the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell Phone Communication, kicked off our morning by holding – not a smart phone or an iPad – but a lighter. When our ancestors initially discovered fire, he explained, it was undoubtedly terrifying and lots of people were, quite literally, burned by its use. However, after centuries of trial-and-error, it became quite clear that the immeasurable power of the flame had many beneficial uses that would alter the course of humanity.

You see, technology is the 21st century equivalent of fire – scary yet powerful beyond measure. Yes, it can put us in direct contact with faceless, thoughtless, power-hungry individuals who are intent on ruining the lives of people they know they will never meet – or worse, people they see on an every day basis. It can also ignite passions we didn’t know we had, connect us with people we might have never had a chance to interact with, or allow us to share our work with an audience of 7 billion.

Can you imagine how amazing it would be to read an archive of tweets from the 250,000 people who witnessed Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech? To only have to visit YouTube to see a video of your great-great-great grandparents walking, talking, singing, and laughing? To realize your dream of becoming a published author and photographer, simply because half a million people check your Instagram account daily to see what your dog is up to?

Along with division leaders from our Lower and Middle Schools, I have held a number of crash courses in social media for parents this school year, and the most common concern I hear is the difficulty of staying up to date with the ever-evolving world of social media networks. “The second I finally understand Vine, here comes Instagram Video!” they lament. “How on earth am I supposed keep up?” Simply put, you can’t. It is impossible to name every single tool that uses fire; however, what we can do is model fire safety for our students while setting clear and defined guidelines for how to safely harness the power of fire.

We don’t need to berate ourselves for not knowing every single app, just like we don’t need to scare children away from technology. Ask your student what he or she enjoys about Instagram, Snapchat, or Vine.  Use social networking as an alternative way to help with homework.  Stay up-to-date on trends in social media and apps by browsing websites like Mashable and Common Sense Media over your morning coffee. Create a social media contract with your family and abide by those guidelines. The more students see you using social media in a positive way, the more likely they are to do the same.

I nearly titled this blog entry, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  At first I attributed this famous quote to Stan Lee, of Marvel Comics fame; however, a quick Google search revealed it was actually Voltaire.  See? Technology isn’t all that bad.