How old were you when the world changed?
aka boundaries in a digital age
I’ve decided to add a feature to Dear Addie that will be free for email subscribers, and also allow you us to interact with each other more! As they come up, I’m going to offer some of the questions I’ve been pondering lately, and see what you all think, or what answers you might be able to offer.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m an English (and Humanities, and sometimes Dance) professor at a community college in Houston. I teach an enormous load—at the least 5, and sometimes more for extra money—and so, this weekend I’ve been in grading hell. There’s something that happens close to the end of the semester that always happens but I’m just reflecting on it in a deeper way than I have in the past.
As technology has changed, the way that students communicate with faculty change. For example, I started college just as the Internet was born, and just as cell phones became accessible to the average buyer. It was several years before smartphones, but also before unlimited texting, and just the beginning of faculty have email accounts. It was acceptable to write your professors, but they didn’t respond right away and it was understood that you only wrote them when it was a matter of urgency, and they were just a step up from a business memo. In other words, you wrote when you would be absent from class, when a car accident kept you from your final exam, and etc. These emails were written with a very formal tone, you indicated exactly who you were and very specifically what course you took, and you were very aware of how much of your professor’s time you were taking up.
I’ve been teaching full-time in higher education since 2005. And as technology has become more advanced (and also more pervasive), I’ve noticed a change in the ways that students communicate. Also, the more that their phone world became attached to their email world, the more fused the boundaries were between how a student texted their friend and how a student texted their professor.
Let me give you an example. In the final few days before grades are turned in, understandably students are anxious. But, student anxiety about grades is not new. What is different is that students now email faculty as though texting a friend, and I will sometimes receive ten emails in the span of two minutes that are little more than thoughts a student is having about their grade. I will also receive emails, like the one I received yesterday, like this: Hey when you get a chance shoot me a text.
For the record, I am not judging students who behave like this, and certainly not all of them do. But if parents (or educators in the students’ lives) do not address the appropriate etiquette (and boundaries) a student should have with their faculty, many of these students simply don’t know that any exist.
The question I have for you is more one of experience and goes far beyond the classroom: How old were you when technology became pervasive in your life? Was it always there? How would you describe not only your boundaries around digital communication (both responding and initiating) but also your expectations?
With love and in solidarity,