When I was in seventh grade, I had a teacher that many of us adored, but many of us also thought was kind of crazy. Everybody knew he rode his bike to work every day (turns out he owned a car, but never drove it). Eventually we learned that he didn’t own a television, or a microwave.
These might sound like common choices for people who are trying to live sustainably, but in the affluent suburb I grew up in, this stuff was unheard of. What was really interesting was that he really seemed to like living this way. He seemed, you know, pretty happy.
I thought of this teacher the other day when I pulled out my flip phone during class and got a few surprised looks.
“Wow, I haven’t seen one of those in a while,” one student quipped.
There are a lot of boring, innocuous reasons that I’ve got an old “dumb” phone. I’ve never been an early adopter. I typically hold on to my phones until they die, sometimes years after I’m eligible for an upgrade. I’m not anti-smartphone, I just like my phone bill at its current price.
But a small piece of me clings to my phone in protest of the consumer culture that engulfs my students (and my peers), with iPhones as one of the top status symbols. If you’ve got the money for one, why haven’t you gotten one yet? And if you don’t have the money, then you definitely need one to make it look like you do.
I know this situation is not unique to SLA. (In fact, I suspect that handing the students identical free laptops cuts down on some of the gadget envy.) And I have no desire to tell students or their families what to do with their money. If you get judgmental on a personal level, this gets nasty real quick.
But I do want students to see that these products are designed to separate you from your cash by any means necessary. And that you don’t have to play that game if you don’t want to. Like so many things that society expects you to do, if you can recognize the system, then you have the power to opt out. It might be worth it to you. Sound like a good critical thinking lesson yet?
I know that eventually I’ll cave and get a smartphone. But I still plan on poking holes in our consumerist culture in front of my students. (Because when I grew up, I realized that life without a car or a television was actually pretty sweet.)