Imagining Life Before the Internet

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My 7th and 8th graders have begun reading Feed, a YA novel by M.T. Anderson set in a futuristic dystopian society where an advanced version of the internet (called a “feed”) has been implanted in the brains of most citizens, allowing them constant and continual access.

Before reading the book, I wanted students to reflect on our own connectedness to — and reliance upon — the Internet. To do this, I posed the following thought experiment:

Imagine that it is 1975.  The Internet does not exist yet, but people use phones, TVs, the radio, and cars.  How would you go about finding the answers to one of these questions without using the Internet and only using the technology available at this time?

Questions included:

  • Your family is thinking of vacationing in Santa Fe, New Mexico. You want to help plan the trip before you go. How can you find out the best sites to see in Santa Fe, and what the weather will be like in April?
  • Your cousin is thinking about becoming a flight attendant.  You’re wondering whether it might be a good field to go into.  How would you find out what is the average salary of a flight attendant?

First, we took a trip to the school library to see if we could find an answer among the stacks.

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We got some practice with the Dewey Decimal system, and using encyclopedias.

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As it turned out, only one group was able to find their answer!

We then returned to the classroom, and discussed what other strategies we might use to answer our questions. Possibilities included:

  • Ask a family member or friend who might know the answer
  • Consult with an expert, e.g. family doctor, government office, corporation, etc.
  • Order the necessary reference materials from a bookstore

Several students commented that the strategies we were using seemed time-consuming and potentially expensive — whereas with Google, an answer can be obtained in seconds. We often take such easy access to information for granted!

As we read Feed, we will continue  our discussions about technology. Through these conversations, we will be examining how technology has impacted our lifestyles and ways of communicating, and what ways it might contribute or detract from living a “good life.”

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The Giver by Lois Lowry: Utopia projects

In the 5th and 6th grades, we read The Giver by Lois Lowry. This book centered around the coming of age of Jonas, a young boy living in a fictional dystopian society.

In Jonas’s world, color does not exist, along with books, emotions, memories, pain, and the freedom of choice.

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To further analyze the themes of utopia and dystopia, students created their own utopian societies. They were asked to reflect on various aspects of their imaginary society — its monetary system, government, family structure, etc. — and consider what factors make a society a utopia.

As a class, we discussed:

  • What are some potential problems with your society?
  • Is your society a utopia for everyone?
  • Is it truly possible for a utopian society to exist?