Author Archives: Stephen Poll

Is Grey an Option or a Color?

The final debate of the course turned out to be a fantastic opportunity for dialogue around the use of technology in education, bringing a lot of this courses discussions together, and for that, I applaud the two groups involved!  The topic at hand was whether online education is detrimental to the social and academic development in children.  In true spoiler fashion, welcome to the world of grey.

A crucial start to this discussion requires the clarification of whether we are talking about COVID learning, or online learning. Remember COVID?  That never ending, still with us, virus that changed the way we live forever.  The education world we were flung into March 20, 2020 certainly does not reflect well upon the abilities of online learning and its use as an educational tool for students.  If we are talking about COVID learning, the debate ends here and most of us can likely agree, that aside from no learning, it sucked and we never want to do it again.

If we shift to debating online learning as a choice for students to access in their schooling, where teachers have the skills to deliver an engaging course and students have willing chosen to register for the course, the dialogue quickly changes and the debate begins. 

The cons of online learning

  • Inequitable ICT access will always stand in the way of educators fully supporting online learning.  It favors the privileged and manifests the already existing achievement gap in education (Anderson, 2020; Catalano et al., 2021; Chiao & Chiu, 2018; Ogodo et al., 2021). 
  • Studies also show the negative effects that online learning on social development for students. These findings site feelings of isolation, anxiety, and mental exhaustion for those student learners that are completing online learning in post pandemic online environments.
  • Not all home support is equal, bring in inequities again. Some students are able to access caregivers that are willing/able to help them with their schooling. This can not be said for all online learners however, so to have online learning as the only avenue for students to access their courses, we are again contributing to the digital divide. .
  • There are also concerns about whether online learning limits the course offerings a student is able to take given there are barriers to engaging virtually in certain subject areas. Mentioned examples include Welding, Automotive, Wood Working, etc.

The pros of online learning

  • As a supplemental, or in addition to, option for students online learning offers great advantages and flexibility.  Course which may not have been offered in certain schools prior to online learning, can now occur.  Students are also able to maximize their learning experience by using online learning opportunities to create personal learning pathways which work within the parameters of their own lives.
  • Online learning offers the ability for teachers to customize learning for students.  Whether in an online course or through use in a face to face classroom, online education has the ability to personalize learning for students.
  • This is a cost effective way for a division or school to offer courses they may not otherwise be able to run.
Grey vs. Gray -

In the school of 800 students I work in, we have various delivery models at play. We have face to face courses, modular non-attendance based options, and online learning forums. Each of these options was created with the intent to provide students choice and to acknowledge that current practice in other high schools are not working for these students. We use a quarter system to minimize the work load for students, and we carry “students over” from quarter to quarter, not requiring them to complete work more than once unless it is needed for a passing grade. Of course these are the programs we have for our Adult 12 students, aged 17-22. We are afforded a little more flexibility because a grade 12 graduation certificate allows then to join the work force. For those with post secondary aspirations, the programs are run through a more traditional pathway of in person courses.

As educators, how often do we spend time working within option grey? Education is not a one size fits all model, and teachers often find themselves adapting course content, processes, and marking in order to accommodate the individual learner needs of our students. The example of online learning as a choice, acts to aid and support educators in individualizing learning for their students, an encouraged best practice for educators world-wide. There is no doubt, it does not work for everyone, however the reality is, either does in person schooling. And so, welcome to grey!


As teachers of the Saskatchewan curriculum, we all are tasked with helping students to become lifelong learners equipped with the tools which will allow them to develop a positive sense of self and become engaged citizens who understand social responsibility.  These statements create the underpinning for all SK curriculums, and stand in addition to the outcomes and indicators of a course.  Digital citizenship has recently been added as a component of these foundational curriculum goals, as educators and government realize the importance of extending these foundational goals into the digital world (sources).  

This week’s debate had the two teams arguing whether teachers are responsible for helping students develop their digital footprint.  I started this blog with the underpinnings of our curriculum because of the importance I see, and was supported in the debate itself, of determining what teachers can, and should, teach in their classrooms.  I also feel compelled, as the debaters for the disagree side did, to make clear there is a difference between teaching digital citizenship and developing a digital footprint.  The agree side argues these two concepts go hand in hand.  However, this is not about whether they can coexist in a lesson where you might use one to enforce the importance of the other, but instead about whether a teacher is responsible for teaching one or the other.  The curriculum would say a teacher is only responsible for digital citizenship, and I would agree.

If we reflect on the debate, and consider the arguments the agree side argued, specifically that teachers are best positioned to help students with their digital footprint.  The argument lost its validity for me when evidence showed that a student’s digital activity is often outside the hours of class and that students often have a digital footprint prior to the start of their schooling. This is not to say that what we do in school is not influential outside of school, but rather to highlight that the potential for the most influence on a student’s digital footprint comes at home.  When we accept this argument, we also acknowledge the role private industry must accept in educating its users, and the crucial position government is in to create laws that can protect citizen rights as it relates to this topic.

My final thoughts support the disagree side as well, pushing the responsibility of a student digital footprint onto teachers is a re-active approach.  By only focusing on trying to react to the already existing structures of the digital world we are simply nurturing the already larger issue of digital capitalism. As an educator, a parent of three, and a user of the internet the reality that the digital world is keeping/collecting information about all users creates concerns that go far beyond teaching students how to develop their digital footprint, and instead have me demanding governmental legislations to minimize the power the digital world has in influencing my life.

I Hope

been there done that - richyrocks english
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Another 60 minutes of debate on whether to ban cell phone use in classrooms (I have to say, staff meetings have been monopolized by this in the past), and still I’m left not knowing if we could if we wanted to.  The debate about removing cell phones from classrooms is not a new topic, it has a long history in the media.  I went back to find an article I remembered out of British Columbia, where a principal installed a “cell phone jammer” in their school in 2009.  The students claimed their “rights had been taken away” and eventually discovered jammers were illegal in Canada.  The principal removed the device shortly after finding out and it my not seem like a big deal, but it showcases that even in 2009 people were arguing that the possession of cell phones was a human right.  And, more to the principal’s point, teachers were arguing that cell phones were disrupting learning environments.  So we sit, with cell phones as a semi-quasi human right, and teachers and school systems unable to outright ban them.  For many educators, this has left to navigate the classroom misuse as best they can but knowing full well the misuse is causing issues in education and increasing stress within the profession. 

Free Photo | Young man with beard and mustache trying to get answers of his  questions on yellow
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All of this doesn’t answer the question of whether I agree or disagree in banning them from schools however, so let’s attack that question for a moment. 

For those who agree that we should ban cell phones from schools, the evidence is not unlike that of many tech arguments.  They argue device access in classrooms results in student learning disruptions, causing a decrease in student achievement, creating addictive behaviors, and providing a platform for bullying.  On their merits, I can’t argue against these findings.  There is a large body of evidence to support these conclusions and there is an overwhelming voice from teachers in the buildings I’ve taught in that echo these messages.  Moving over to the disagree side, and it’s almost appears that we move into the world of hope.  Defenders talk about the role cell phones can have in eliminating device shortages in the school, how cell phones (like other devices) can nurture greater learning opportunities for students, and how proper cell phone use is simply a matter of teachers modelling and parents supporting.  If the tone has switched to skeptical, it’s because I believe we have to acknowledge these suggested benefits are not the norm for may Saskatchewan classrooms.  The odds are stacked against this world, and if nothing else is clear, it’s evident we aren’t living in this world yet.

Now hopeful or hopeless, I find myself gravitating towards the disagree side.  I see the potential cell phones have as a tool in education and I want to make it a reality.  I love the idea of using cell phones as a learning tool to enrich an already full curriculum, to support the individual needs of my students, and to ensure their ways of learning and collecting information is consistent between school and home (the living two lives argument made by the disagree side).  I don’t hide from the fact this is an idealistic take on an inequitable situation, and that the current state in today’s classroom do not reflect this ideology. And so, I finish this blog without a solid foundation to defend myself, but remember, I did preface this with “I hope”.

Learning from the Past

I managed to stumble onto an interesting google search today; “What do you call a person who does not use social media?”  Answer – “Happy!” 

Is it that easy?  Can we simply take away a person’s use of social media and expect they’ll be happy? Singular conclusions don’t often tell the full story.  Thus conclusions like, youth social media usage is ruining childhood, can’t be expected to portray the whole picture either.  Doesn’t parenting, community education, governance, and social responsibility also play a role in determining the affect social media will have on our young children?   


In support of the agree side, it is easy to conclude the usual suspects will come into play for young users of social media.  There will be addiction tactics employed by app developers, marketing schemes used, fake news disseminated, personal data collected, and yes, cyber predators present.  There is no denying these things exist for adults users, and they therefore will also exist for young users.  So why am I not convinced social media is ruining our youth’s childhood and should be taken away all together until they are old enough to deal with the realities of what it encompasses?  Well let’s get into it…

MattF started a portion of the conversation which almost had me thinking of voting for the agree side.  He suggested technology and the developments in the app and social media fields are occurring so quickly parents themselves are not able to keep up with the safe use of them.  Because of this, he went on to say the use of social media is not like anything else parents monitor for their kids; parents struggle to set limits for social media because they, themselves, don’t know the rules (“the pool”). 

I want those readers still with me to remember the 1980 and 90s anti-drug campaigns.  The “just say no” and “scare them straight” time. In a shock to older generations, the campaigns didn’t work.  For some reason (please sense my sarcasm), scare tactics and avoidance because they said so, didn’t have the desired effect of stopping youth from experimenting and using.  Instead what proved most effective was educating youth through community and school programs, explaining the realities of drug use, showing the long-term effects of using, and highlighting that addictions can occur through single time use.  I personally see device use in our young people (ages 3-12) through a similar lens.  If it was as easy as parents telling their children not to use social media apps and it would happen, then we wouldn’t be debating this.  Also, if we are naïve enough to think we can pass a magic law which removes social media access from those same children and solves everything, we’ll be the next “shocked” generation trying to figure out why it didn’t work.

So, let’s address the pool.  As a parent or teacher speaking with youth about drugs, did those individuals need to have experience with them?  Did they need to know all the rules around how to get them, what process would get them the greatest high for a given drug, or what it felt like to do them?  By providing an open space for youth to learn about drugs, letting them self-determine, and trusting them to be responsible, we saw greater reductions in use. Now if there was only a place parents and educators could find information about safe social app usage (cough, cough, Google).

This week’s “agree” group resources portray a very bleak outlook for youth if their use of social media does not have more stringent controls put in place (reading, youtube#1, youtube#2). It’s kind of a dire need argument, however, I’m not convinced. My honest feeling about social media use by children between the ages of 3 & 12, is its not that different from other parenting practices. It requires research and education by/for the caregiver (no reason government bodies and community organization can’t help with this). And finally, it needs to be monitored, with consequences for children who do not follow parent guidelines (we need to be willing as parents to take the device away).

A Tough One

The first thing I must get out of the way is, I loved the themes of this fourth debates introductions.  The creative nature of both were outstanding!  Great work teams!

Nothing witty for this post. It’s more of a journal entry as this final debate for week #4 hit me different than the others


So, what are my pre-debate thoughts on educators having a responsibility to use technology and social media to promote social justice?  I think as educators we do have the responsibility to promote social justice in our practice.  We should take pride in promoting social justice, equity, and inclusion in our classrooms, buildings, and community. And ultimately, because the tool of communication most commonly used by our students is social media, we as educators should teach to respectful practices for its use, while being aware of the influence we have on youth in our interactions with them and through our own, educational, posts. And yes, I said educational posts.

As many of you suspect, my pre-debate vote was yes.  This, however, quickly changed as the nature of the debate shifted from what I perceived as a question of teaching and demonstrating social justice advocacy and tech, to actively using social media pages to display social justice issues and my beliefs towards them.  As a teacher I am more than comfortable to actively dialogue with students about controversial topics; in the past these have included abortion, evolution, gun laws, and artificial intelligence.  In these discussions I do my best to play a moderator, promoting mutual respect of all participants, and continuing the conversation by raising defenses for both sides.  I always end up sharing my viewpoints on the topic, but never at the cost of influencing the debate (that’s the intent).  I work hard to set those trust circles and I never sell my beliefs as the only or correct way, but instead try to force the students to consider their beliefs and challenge their preconceived notions.  My practices in a classroom are not the topic however.

When the debate turned to us actively and publicly post our views, I backed off, and my vote flipped. If the conversations I listed as examples went out to a public forum, I don’t know that I would have had them and they most certainly would have removed the authenticity of them for me.  Not because I’m afraid I’ll get fired for my beliefs. they are not outlandish, but because my trust circle is with the students I’ve been working with and as much as I feel free to share personal beliefs and experiences with them, I don’t feel comfortable sharing them with the world.  And I won’t be publishing them to text so that they can be misinterpreted or used against me.

I made the chat post during the debate about thinking at one point this was similar to the old debate about whether a teacher could have a drink in the small town bar they taught in or whether they had to drive an hour away to have that drink.  Just so you know, I drove that hour.  I believe teachers are held to higher standards and I personally do what I can to maintain the professional image we have with the public.  Social media is such a powerful tool and I loved all the positive examples brought up by the agree team.  Truly amazing to see youth using the platforms to bring about real changes in the world!   These are skills and processes which can be taught to students in the absence of me having a active social media presence, however. And because of this, I switch my vote to “no”.

I’m interested to know if others struggled with this one? Did you switch your vote based on the course the debate went? Can’t wait to see what this short, honest, little blog generates for discussion (if any).

The Pen-is Mightier

Before I completely digress and travel down the rabbit hole known as my 20s, a time I filled with Saturday Night Live Celebrity Jeopardy skits before heading out for the evening (thus the Pen-is Mightier), this week’s debate about schools no longer teaching skills which can be handled with technology (cursive writing, multiplication tables, and spelling) must be addressed.  In my usual fashion, I came into this debate with a preconceived notion of what the debater’s arguments would be, and though I was not completely wrong, I was surprised to see the focus on cursive writing and the passion both sides were able to put into promoting their team’s view point; great job debaters!  I found it odd this debate focused on cursive writing as it is the piece of the debate I would have conceded technology has, and rightfully so, managed to replace the need for.  Very few things I receive during the day are written in cursive.  Whether I get work from students, messages for work, or a text from my family at home, they are almost never in cursive (tried to change to a cursive font just for a effect, didn’t work). To Leona’s point about fine motor development, there are practices in other courses that could accomplish the same benefits.

I would compare the use of cursive to knowing how to read and write latin, it was once beneficial for historical scholars to know the language, and now it is no longer needed.  Do you agree?

On to the other components of the debate where my vote for “yes”, let the tech take over, was changed quickly to “no”.  It’s important to distinguish what Durston highlight during the debate in my argument as well; I’m suggesting we use technology to teach multiplication and spelling and not rely on technology to perform the tasks for students and remove those learnings from teaching.  I’m completely in favour of using tech as a tool to support teaching where, for example “the diversity of spelling skills among children can be large… (and) each child will display a unique spelling profile.”  As highlighted thought my choice of title, I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you like to search the best of Sean Connery’s Celebrity Jeopardy, I support drill and practice for spelling and multiplication tables if for nothing more than to avoid the need for pulling out your device in order to save face when reading publicly, or determining if the total your server just gave you makes sense.  Further, during the intro to this debate we saw how poorly dictations programs do with speaking on our behalf, not portraying enough emotion to convince anyone to do much more than fall asleep; Bueller, Bueller.

Too many times I’ve watched messages incorrectly convey meaning because the word recognition software put in a properly spelt word, but without any context, the same software was not able to determine that the word was incorrect itself, and the author did not have the skill set see it themselves.  As a life skill, the BBC in 2017 suggested spelling is not only a practice to be concerned with during your school years, but it is also used to determine competencies in the workplace.  And how many times have you been served and told the total your owing and it was simply your route (that’s what my spelling software wanted there; “rote”) memory that saved you an over payment be it paying cash or with a tap of your card or tech device. 

To summarize my thoughts on our 3rd topic, I’m specifically cutting cursive out as a replaced practice which tech can have.  I’m also content to use the technology as an additional support to make my own life easier and additionally, support teaching and learning in the classroom for spelling and multiplication practices.  And, I am not giving way and voting we use technology to replace the learning and building block practices currently in place for spelling and multiplication. 

The Grand Old Debate: Equity versus Equality

Does education’s use of technology create an equitable playing field for all? 

Welcome to the debate.  Smashing blows were thrown by both sides in this week’s activity which saw students (Nicole, Tracy, myself, Christina, Amaya, and Matt) deliberate about technology use in the classroom and whether it creates an equitable playing field for all students.  To my chagrin, I was on the team arguing that it does.  This after completing numerous grad study assignments and setting up an experimental design to argue and prove the exact opposite.  Hope I sold it well.

In keeping an open mind and reflecting on the arguments made, I see the value technology and devices are offering to individualize learning.  I can, and did, find evidence of the progress technology has afforded students worldwide.  And I certainly see firsthand the benefits technology offers teachers and schools in trying to maintain a family balance while teaching overcrowded classrooms.  However, whether a person of different abilities uses tech to support their learning, teachers use it to enhance student learning, or schools use it to communicate with its school community, the access inequities between demographic groups has to force education to consider how it incorporates and uses technology as a learning tool. 

It’s also important to process that local equity, provincial/state equity, national equity, and global equity are very different things.  Teachers in my home town may argue there is equity amongst students and their use of technology, but most of that is because we are fortunate enough to be in a high demographic community where students often have one, if not two, of their own personal devices, access to home internet, and supportive caregivers who are well educated themselves.  Drive yourself 15 minutes west and hit the city where I teach, things are already a different story.  Even when the school system I work in handed out devices to less fortunate families to access learning during the pandemic, many students were left with little to no access to the materials which teachers were posting online and, maybe more importantly, left without the caregiver skills at home to help problem solve.

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It’s a fine line I’m walking here, and I know it.  I love tech, straight out.  I’m the person who fixes broken devices, rebuilds computers, solders circuit boards, codes, and taught a Robotics course in my last teaching assignment.  If theirs a gadget, I’m the one trying to dissect it and figure out how it works.  I would say the internet and its devices are the tool that support me in learning about the things I’m interest in.  Unfortunately, the students most effected when schools implement devices in classrooms don’t have the prior learning and skill sets needed to use their tech as effectively.  I’m also an old man who is content to ignore social apps, but there is no way the students I work with could ignore things as I do without being ridiculed for it. Unfortunately, the systemic issues within our society are manifested when technology is mis-used.      

Advancements in tech and their use in education are not going away.  I think I’d say, “nor should they.”  But instead, let’s start the conversation about what we can do to flip the narrative.  What can be done to allow advancements in technology to have the positive effects on education we are all hoping for?

With Great Power

In an interesting twist, I’m starting my use of technology to enhance learning blog on the day Regina Public School’s entire network is shut down so our IT support can look into a malicious attack on the system.  No internet resulting in no board emails, no student Wi-Fi, no staff portal for those who had to call in sick, no photocopying, no printing, the list goes on.  Panic is upon us here, student learning has stopped, and the world will soon end, right? A quick walk down an empty hallway indicates otherwise, students are still engaged in learning.  I hear the normal sounds of a classroom, teachers explaining concepts and answering student questions, one teacher taking advantage of the beautiful day and taking their Visual Art class outside, and other teachers covering their content as usual.  Classrooms are still using technology to assist them, smartboards are running, assistive hearing devices are on, and the students are still using word processors to complete and save work on a funny thing called a USB flash drive.   For those teachers who are little more tech savvy, they’ve found a hot spot and are working within the online capabilities of their personal phones.  Everything is almost the same, well except board emails, but do we really miss those? 

A conclusion I find myself drifting towards in the great debate about education and technology is that there is a need to separate technology use in education from internet use in education.  I believe a person is hard pressed to not see the value non-web technology provides students, teachers, and education; examples include (but certainly are not limited to) the aids used to assist students with “different abilities”, the increased teacher time afforded by limiting medial tasks such as note taking,  the ability to read the notes because they were typed and are easily manipulated, the fact teachers can give more immediate student feedback, as well as, a greater learning experience created with the use of computer generated visuals (article is here for UofR students).  What are now considered simple innovations in the technology, computers, photocopiers, word processors, and overhead projectors are standard pieces of furniture in a Canadian classroom which contribute to a better learning for students.  In my own experiences as an Automotive teacher, the ability to create a safety video, take a picture of a part or video it’s removal from a vehicle, and access vehicle repair software has been priceless quickly and conveniently.  The advancements technology has been able to provide service equipment and the vehicles themselves has also made for a safer working environment.  

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With that out of the way, let’s muddy the waters and talk about the elephant in the room, the internet.  I fully expect this is where the heated discussion occurs.  Just like Neo in the first Matrix movie, if you decide to swallow the red pill, you’re choosing to go down the rabbit hole.  So many advantages to a shared resource data base that is not a set of aged Encyclopedia Britannica (for those who are like, what is he on about?).  What a great, environmentally friendly, communication device for schools, community, parents, and students.  And how wonderful is it when colleagues or student groups can share resources and work simultaneously on a tasks from anywhere.  Evident in last week’s debate and within the research shared is the growing concern from research of the negative effects the internet and technology are having on future generations of students.  Education is becoming de-humanized, there is added physical and mental concerns about device usage, and student focus is starting to become a real concern (source).  As both an educator and a parent of three young ones, it is concerning to know technology use at schools is contributing to unhealthy behaviors.  It’s scary to consider the evil side of technology and the impact it may have on society.  And there certainly appears to be the need for a “device reckoning” in the future.

When it comes to the internet I can think of no better adage then, with great power, comes great responsibility (are your Spidey senses tingling).  Technology and internet access are influencing (both positively and negatively) the world around us at a pace we’ve never seen before. As educators we have a duty to help young people navigate the world they live in. This week’s discussions have not changed my opinion about the use of technology in the classroom as a tool to enhance learning. However, the focus is again on the responsibility of education and society as a whole to incorporate technology which promotes learning in a safe, structured, and healthy manner. I feel strongly that internet usage is the number one enemy in the battle we are having with technology use in schools, but I am not naïve enough to believe we should just unplug students.

A Reality Check on My Daily Use of Tech

As I sit down to my desk setup which includes a laptop workstation, dual monitors, wireless keyboard and mouse, as well as a Bluetooth speaker it’s interesting to consider how technology is involved in my daily life.

              No alarm clock beside my bed anymore, my phone wakes me up based on apple watch’s “nudge” feature, being sure to slowly bring me out of any sleep cycle I am in (just need to make sure I charge it while in the shower and getting ready).  Once awake, it’s all about using my device to catch up on scores I may have missed, the daily family/work schedule, and finally, collect my awards in my NHL Skate 22 app (might be addicted).  While commuting into the city, I’m often using hands free tech to send text messages, read emails, and call back home to ensure my little ones have woken up in time to get to school.  All of this in a 2-hour window.

              In my role as VP, I have to make a conscious effort to get up and walk away from my desk just so that I am not sitting all day.  A person could almost complete everything from there now. I leave the desk to try and interact with people as well, but that doesn’t mean I’ve left my work behind.  I’m able to get messages both on my phone and watch, assist and communicate with colleagues continuously through a good morning text, read their new emails immediately, help them with Wi-Fi issues, problem solve Edsby, or add students to courses in MSS; all from my iPhone.  Automatic appointment reminders keep me on time, organized, and portray me as a dependable employee. 

              When I get phone calls, caller ID allows me to decide if I’m available or not… hold on, that was my wife and she is texting now instead, best reply quickly.  A person really can pick and choose who they want to personally interact with at these days.  Aside from the few people I pass and chat with in the hallways or go out of my way to see because I enjoy talking to them, email and text can take care of the rest; especially that tough colleague (email sent).

              Interestingly, this is the part of my career where I’m using tech less.  Prior to the VP chair I was teaching robotics and automotive.  It’s amazing how technology dependent both of those subjects are.  While automotive may not have students coding, the tools for solving electrical issues in both fields is almost identical.  We all love the plug and play diagnostic devices that are able to narrow our scope and solve the issue, however this is rarely the case and it’s a person’s ability to use search engines and other internet resources that ultimately leads to solving the problem.  To think of it, these were also the days I got to really interreact with others at school, and I miss it.

              So you’re all thinking, what about social media?  Honestly, I don’t do it.  My only scrolling happens on Kijiji.  Usually done in about 7-10 minutes.  Boring, I know.  In the evening I may be using AirPlay to stream my favorite show or kids sport I can’t attend in person, but that really is when I try to let go of the tech in hopes of slowing life down; maybe for a second.  Now if only I could ignore the kid’s sports apps that continue to ping with reminders and oh, there is always the online course I’m enrolled in, and…

              Honestly technologies influence in my life is basically 24/7.