For many years I belonged to a spiritual cult. At the beginning, I had a euphoric sense of independence. But with time, that was followed by an experience of "group mind" - namely, I was influenced too much by the beliefs of the leader and those around me. The pressures of living in this situation led to a fragmented sense of identity.
After fifteen years in this cult, I began teaching again in 2006. I started to reconnect with the world I had left. I desperately sought agency to function independently once again. It has taken years to recover from this extreme experience, but it has left me with a heightened sensitivity to entering into any collective situation.
While it was a bumpy re-entry I soon noticed familiar symptoms in my students and in many cases, their parents.
I was witnessing the cyber cult, up close and personal. Gaming, Facebook, texting and general inter-netting was now a way of being. My students exuded self confidence, fast access to knowledge and endless friends at their finger tips. It was a virtual world that left me, their teacher, an outsider to their lives.
Over the next seven years of teaching, I was spellbound as I watched my teenage students, as their minds developed, spend countless hours looking at a screen. They were being seduced into a cyber universe. This cyber reality often offers time-saving ways to navigate the complexity of life as well as giving one an entire social life. It leads you to believe that you are in charge of your own life, that a student does not need adult guidance, direction or leadership.
This is what I think of as A.I. (artificial independence). It's being offered at a dizzying rate of form and function. Technology has given us: unending virtual entertainment, short-hand language, access to thousands of superficial friends and a place to escape to so we don't have to engage in real-world intimacy. The cyber world blurs the lines between reality and fantasy, allowing us to adopt distorted ideas of ourselves and our abilities, live sedentary unhealthy lifestyles and harbor symptoms of addiction, mental instability and even post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Unfortunately parents and teachers like myself, have also jumped onto the cyber band wagon. It relieves us of our struggle to face each other through conversation and encounter. It is far easier to bury ourselves in our i-Phones while the kids focus on theirs! The cyber world functions as a cheap baby sitter. But at what cost?
What kind of independence are our children gaining from this cyber universe? True human agency is found and cultivated within. Original thought arises from reflection, introspection and often takes place away from outer stimulus. Like cults, the cyber world's influence has to be made conscious. We're all drawn into this virtual world, but at what cost?
 Roberts, Kevin. Cyber Junkie: Escape the Gaming and Internet Trap. Hazelden, Center City, Minnesota. 2010
 Carroll, Lawrence. The Phenomenology of Silence: Educing Learning and Creativity in the Classroom. August, 2013, Oxford Round Table, Merton College https://www.academia.edu/5287098/The_Phenomenology_of_Silence_Educing_Learning_and_Creativity_in_the_Classroom (Accessed December 3, 2013.)
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