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Smartphones and Technology in Bolivia: Please Read!

Hi Everyone…so…we all live with a digital Swiss Army knife attached to us all day long, don’t we? At least, the majority of us do.

These devices have become a little like that movie where someone is learning to use a new tool and their ‘Master Teacher’ tells them to, “think of it as an extension of your arm. It’s a part of who you are”. There’s no doubt at all that these things have become a part of who we are…

…we sleep with these things next to us, they wake us up in the morning, help us document our lives, entertain us, present us with reminders, help us connect with others, tell us how many steps(!) we’ve taken today and help us stay connected with family and friends-among many other wonderful things.

That said, they also have the power to disconnect us from what is happening around us, can lead to addictive behaviour, and many studies have shown that being constantly connected to the digital world can have an adverse negative effect on our mental health and ability to communicate meaningfully with others in the real world.

Our big question is: What electronic devices can help us capture and fully embrace the best moments during our time together?

Dragons as an organization has a blanket policy that strongly requests all students leave smartphones, etc. at home.

‘Aha…but…erm…this is different! I’m away for a year and I’ll need my phone!’, I hear you say.

No doubt, you will need your phone at some point but do you need it all the time? With that in mind we’d like to introduce our phone and electronics policy for the first 3 weeks of the program.  In short, we’ve found phones detract from the experience and can create risk management issues for the group. Please carefully read and consider what Dragons has written about smartphones (this should be in your student information packs).

Here is what you need to know about the first 3 weeks.

We want to challenge you to take a ‘Wifi and Data Fast’ for this period of time. It is amazing how dependent we’ve all become on technology and our initial time in Bolivia might provide one of the few opportunities for you to “unplug” from the pressures of constant social media/electronic connection. It is a truly liberating feeling if you haven’t tried it, or don’t remember the last time you didn’t have a phone at arm’s reach.

It’s truly amazing how many students remark at the end of a Dragons program, that being completely unplugged for the duration was a hugely positive and liberating experience for them.

For many of you (growing up in the digital age) you’ve always had phones and screens in front of you. We fully understand that. We’re not opposed to technology at all, but we know through our combined experiences as educators, that you will gain SO MUCH more from Bolivia if you’re not always plugged in.

We encourage everyone to please READ THIS ARTICLE from the New York Times, and this one from The Atlantic Magazine.

These are not the same, “technology is corrupting our youth” judgmental pieces you’ve seen before, but have some really thoughtful insights on how technology can most affect our ability to be alone and the cost/benefit of being constantly connected.

While we expect you all to bring phones and computers with you we are not expressly “prohibiting” them. However, if you do bring a smartphone/mp3 player we will let you know when and if they are appropriate to use. We will go over this in detail during our on-site orientation to the program.

As a group, what we do not what to do is to enter a home-stay, pop in our ear buds, and tune out of the experience around us. We’ve seen electronic devices completely tear students away from their present surroundings, increase home-sickness, and keep one foot in Bolivia and one foot longing for their Snapchat or Instagram feed happening back home.

Even our longest and most arduous travel days, precisely when it’s most tempting to put our headphones on, can hold some of the most amazing and unexpected cultural interactions; however, we need to keep our eyes and ears open (i.e., not looking at a screen or listening to music) to engage those unplanned moments.

While we will have rules around smart phones and electronics we also realize that these tools can be amazingly helpful and useful and can be used to aid your understanding of where you are, when used wisely.

We’re all so excited to meet you all and begin our journey together.

Abrazos,

Matt, Pedro, and Leah