In a taxi on the way to the station this morning, the driver tells me he used to work for the Cambridge Evening News, my local newspaper
(I remember with amusement and disbelief the first copy of the newspaper we ever bought when looking for somewhere to live years ago; the main headline read ‘woman misses bus- gets caught in downpour’ – we live in exciting times in East Anglia).
But back to the driver who took me to the station. He worked as a compositor at the newspaper for more than twenty years (compositor = a person who set and corrected type and assembled text). He was a ‘hot metal’ man when newspapers were produced with metal letters. He did a 7-year apprenticeship with 12-week release courses every year. He was a member of a print union. He had professional knowledge, had acquired a skill, and was a member of a proud trade. But all that is gone. With modern digital printing there is no need for his skills anymore. So he drives a taxi, and the question I ask myself is whether I should mourn the passing of his trade which, as so many others, has disappeared under the weight of modernity.
So this post is all about lost trades as the new and present world offers ever more technological replacements for the ways we used to do things. For example, we don’t produce newspapers like we used to, so all that ‘compositing’ knowledge is redundant now. In fact we don’t read newspapers like we used to that much, anymore. I read The Observer in print on Sundays, but my two other ‘newspapers’ (The Guardian and El Pais) I read as iPhone Apps or on my iPad. And my link earlier on in this post is to the Cambridge Evening News website, surely a much more common way for people to access local news than the paper itself. So what I can’t help wondering is whether I should be happy about that new way of reading, or nostalgic about blackened fingers, the pleasure of folding pages, those newspaper vendor conversations and the armchair sprawl.
In fact I can’t help wondering what ‘old’ technology (and ideas) I should keep and what ‘new’ technology (and ideas) I should embrace. How should I face new technology? With enthusiasm or disdain?
I wonder, sometimes, whether angry reactions against technology aren’t character- rather than reason-driven, motivated by some idea of pre-lapsarian grace. Throw away your technology! Be pure! Teach (for example) like we used to, just the teacher and the student dialoguing together, and eschew the computer in the corner. But that’s a bit like dogme film-making without tricks in the world of Avatar (with all the positive and negative connotations that comparison brings with it).
And yet the ways we did things back then were full of wisdom and good practice. What motivated teachers then, for example, (in a pedagogic sense) makes as much sense today and tomorrow as it ever did – I mean truths like learner-centredness, the value of rapport, the importance of teacher ‘presence’ (discussed recently in ‘An A-Z of ELT’). But that doesn’t mean we have to be stuck in those times, does it? Does it?
And what of presenting? The lecture is still around, of course, and the big conferences. But there are workshops now, conferences in Second Life, Second life interviews (I can’t resist this link!), video-ed talks online, the ubiquity of powerpoint and the thrill of Pecha Kucha.
So I guess my question to you is this: as teachers, trainers and presenters what do you think we should keep from before, and what do you think we should embrace from the exciting world that confronts us? How, as teachers and methodologists, can we pay appropriate respect to what was done before whilst at the same time being open to the future?
Or to put it in another context;
a) which of these would you keep? Board, tape recorder, flip chart, OHP – or something else from the past, and
b) What one piece of IT hardware/software would you want everyone to own?