Face to Facebook

Students pictured during last year's Spalding Grammar School German Exchange trip to Speyer. ANL-150217-120248001
Students pictured during last year's Spalding Grammar School German Exchange trip to Speyer. ANL-150217-120248001
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Grammar Views is a new, monthly column written by teachers and students of Spalding Grammar School, this week with Head of the Modern Foreign Languages department, Jonathan Blackbourn

What happened to MySpace? Is texting the future? No, all consigned to the museum of technology along with typewriters and pagers. Passing fads, the latest big thing… How quickly we forget. Some ideas, however, never go out of fashion.

Sadly, the need to communicate is a life skill often taken for granted. We love communicating at SGS and languages are one of our strengths. English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Latin – which ones will you practise today? Every time you learn a new word or sentence you have reason to be proud of yourself. Your cultural awareness is growing and you are richer for it. To learn any language takes patience and commitment but all the effort is most definitely worthwhile. My favourite quote on this matter is that “those who speak two languages live twice.” And technology is not yet able to take that away from us… The complexity of human language still eludes computer programmers and so online translation sites are flawed – glorified dictionaries at best. I am glad that one element of our brains cannot be fully replicated or downloaded as an app – some things remain sacred. It seems to me that technology and digital media are not the key ingredients of life, they are merely the condiments (like salt and pepper) that may or may not enhance our experiences.

Face to face conversation, dialogue, negotiation, raucous laughter, debate and argument are what drive, shape and inspire us, and ultimately make us “real”. No amount of friend requests can replace this. There is no substitute for offline interaction. I love technology, it is wondrous and beautiful but to spend so much time online immersed in virtual communication must feel like living ‘with the volume turned down’. I love the opportunities that ICT provides for learning but am wary about its ability to numb or dilute our senses. I first realised the scale on which this can happen in Paris five years ago. Truly an unnerving sight to behold – a legion of tourists looking at the Mona Lisa on tiny mobile phone screens. Not one soul pausing to enjoy the moment or make eye contact with this object of infinite beauty. Click, edit, upload to Facebook and straight on to the next exhibit. “Hey guys, look what I saw today in Paris!” Well unfortunately you didn’t see it at all. You looked, but you never saw. You came all that way and traded your eyes (capable of distinguishing between several million shades of colour) for a device that doesn’t even work properly indoors. I’m no art expert but I don’t think any painting looks better when the foreground is obscured by a multitude of raised forearms clinching phones.

By all means interact online, send friend requests, follow and retweet to your heart’s content but don’t forget that life involves looking people in the eye, smiling and choosing your words carefully. Subtle shifts in body language and facial expressions rarely apply on social networks but thankfully Facebook and Twitter are not the stage where the key events in our lives are played out. Can you imagine a virtual job interview for example?

Self-expression and finding common ground (in any language) are factors that influence the success we hope for in life.

Even if living twice isn’t for you, just make sure you live once. The rent might be cheaper in Cyburbia, but the landscape is definitely not as exciting.