We should use technology to dramatically alter the way we learn.
Edward Snowden has recently given a new interview in which he characterizes technology as a new system of communication people need to learn, like a new language. Lacking this technical literacy, he says, is what prevents people from grasping the extent of the challenges to our privacy facing us in this digital age. I wholeheartedly agree, and I hasten to add that the possibilities for learning that technology brings with it cannot be overstated. Consider learning a foreign language.
Before the Internet, reading books, newspapers, or magazines in a foreign language, might have required some sort of effort. Getting audio or video material in the same language, might have been possible either through cassette, CD, cable TV, VHS. Speaking and writing were limited to telephone and letter writing, and ultimately, travelling to a country where the language was spoken could possibly have been one of the best ways to practise it and test your real life ability on it.
Technology has changed all that. Most of the aforementioned resources and learning tools are one click away. We have numerous mobile apps to help with word meaning, pronunciation, and much else besides. Technologies such as Google Hangouts and Skype allow us to have actual conversations with people anywhere in the world really, provided they have a computer and an Internet connection. There really is much we can do on our own, at our own pace, and as many times as we need it. Learning a foreign a language is, of course, an example I picked at random, not least because I’m an EFL teacher. But the examples of technology revolutionizing the way we do things today are far too many to need rehearsing here by me.
Yes, it can seem daunting at times, it does move at a faster pace than we can possibly imagine, and, yes there is a lot to learn. Snowden described it as a new set of symbols, a skill to be learned like learning to write a letter, only in this case we’re doing it with a keyboard and a monitor, we’re learning how computers interact and communicate. Of course, governments have to take the lead in investing on education that prepares people for this digital age. But ultimately it falls on the individual to make the personal effort and show the interest necessary for personal success. One of the most precious resources on the planet is the human brain, and it can keep learning, if only we use it.
Freedom is one of the most important rights of a human being. Independence Day reminds us of the value of liberty. It is one of the three unalienable rights that Thomas Jefferson included in the Declaration of Independence. It inspired several parts of the world to embrace democracy as the best means of governing society and allowing it to grow in all respects, though not without its challenges.
At a week when the US supreme court ruled that companies can refuse to provide contraception coverage on religious grounds, the Israel-Palestine conflict continues claiming lives, and the threat of extremist Islam remains real, preserving liberty is still a priority. As is the proper balance between our security and privacy—a debate forced by Edward Snowden’s extensive revelations on the NSA surveillance system not only on American citizens, but around the world. The merit of Orwell’s warnings on totalitarianism could not be clearer, as are the current odds of a fair trial for Snowden, whom Hillary Clinton has said has the right to legal defence in the US.
Much progress has been made when it comes to freedom. The First Amendment of the US Constitution is a democratic model which allows for a pluralistic, progressive, and inclusive society. Its guarantees for a separation between church and state, the free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press are rights we cannot live without. It is a shame that many take them for granted, and that many in other parts of the world have never had such rights. But it is very inspiring to also see many around the world campaigning for what is right. We still have much work to do, much to learn, and much to achieve, but it can only be done by means of unfettered inquiry.
Unalienable rights are non-negotiable. It was this determination amongst others things that helped us to successfully face and take on some of the biggest threats to liberty in the 20th century. We still need that determination to allow philosophy, science, literature, poetry, music, etc to continue thriving and to achieve the fairer, more equal, and safer world we aspire to create. Liberty remains crucial for our progress. Giving in to our fears, giving our freedoms and our minds away has not helped us, it has stifled us. Independence Day gives us the confidence that the ideals that led to its declaration, and others that came from them, are ideals that the whole world needs. May we always uphold them.