A hectic couple of weeks at school culminated with a “day off” at the BETT show at ExCel in London yesterday. I have been many times before, when it was held at Olympia in previous years, and seemed to have more intimacy and unity at its former home than it did in the enormous ExCel barn. It was a day for being blown away by the size of it all, wearing out some serious shoe leather, and asking questions of ourselves and of the direction of technology generally. I would have liked to tour the place in the company of Albert Borgmann. His reactions would have been interesting to watch and would have raised deeper questions than I can ever hope to pose. Some of the questions I had were about things that we might need in school (not a lot of them – actually; the needs are fairly obvious), but others were more challenging – the usual Luddite ones like – do we actually need all this stuff? What happens when digital data completely degrades? Why make things that have a short shelf life anyway?
Other questions that buzzed around in my head were the following:
- How does this technology help us live lives of communal rather than personal responsibility?
- Is there anything here that will contribute to the building of community?
- Are the values behind this show simply those of a driven technology (i.e. technology for its own sake) or is it designed to meet an identified (non-technological) need?
- Are there educational technologies here that will help us care for the earth better?
- Is there any sign at all of technology self-limiting? In other words, are there constraints that technology producers are putting on their efforts so that more human qualities might be more fully expressed? Do technologists ever accept that there is a limit to their technology?
There were some answers to these questions in the central BETT Arena, where an artist was engaged continually in drawing answers from participants’ post-it notes to the following question:
The answers were many and various and I have tried to include as many of them as I could find in this post; it gives some hope for the future that compassion and the heart of a teacher might survive – even flourish beyond – the rise and presumed eventual collapse of technologies touted at the event. Certainly the technology was less messianic than it has been in previous years, and so were the attitudes. The answers to the questions provoke more questions, so they work as good answers, at least! They may not be the deepest or most philosophical, but they betray the anxieties of humans that the qualities that make us human, those qualities that come from the reflection of God’s image in us, must both survive and transcend the technological tools we use. We dare not be subsumed by them.