Face to face [The Salina Journal, Kan. :: ]
(Salina Journal (KS) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 10--Face to face
By MICHAEL STRAND Salina Journal -- Saturday, May 10, 2014 2:00 AM
Faces permanently buried in their cellphones -- sure, they can text at lightning speed, but can they still talk to each other? And can those fingers so good at playing "Flappy Bird" still flip pages?
As it turns out, at least some members of local high schools' class of 2014 aren't in the thrall of technology; they read books (the paper kind) and don't think technology is a substitute for face-to-face contact.
Each spring, the Salina Journal interviews the top 1 percent of local high school seniors -- those named Governor's Scholars by the state of Kansas.
This year, we asked the students to think about the what the world will be like when they're approaching 50.
Tanner Robl, a senior at Salina Central planning to major in engineering at Kansas State University, didn't mention any worries about technology in the future.
"I think there are a lot of challenges," he said, mentioning government debt, violence and other issues. "I want to make the difference I can, and raise a family that can go and do the same."
And Kylie Mauch, a Central senior who is going to the University of Kansas this fall and plans to become a math professor, said she's worried about people becoming more selfish, but also suggests an antidote -- mission trips to foreign countries.
"Once you go on a mission trip, it changes you," she said, adding she's seen the same change in friends who have gone. "After the trip, they start volunteering around town -- it starts something."
Too dependent on tech
But many of the discussions turned to skepticism of modern technology and some of its promises.
"I think we're too dependent on technology," said Hunter Lindquist, a senior at Ell-Saline High School who plans to go to KU and become a criminal defense attorney. "There's nothing wrong with moving forward -- but we still need to be able to do things for ourselves."
More specifically, Lindquist said, she worries that an electronic book or other computerized documents might not be readable 100 years from now -- or that as resources become scarcer, those bright gizmos might go dark.
It doesn't take 100 years for that to happen. When NASA scientists in the 1990s wanted to look at some of the unprocessed data sent back by the Viking probes to Mars just 20 years earlier, they found the tapes the data was stored on, but computers that could read the tapes were long gone -- as were most clues to what format the data was in.
But, she said, "We can still read paper documents from centuries ago."
Beyond the technical considerations, she said, "I like sitting down and reading a book -- I love the smell of books, and I can't imagine not getting a newspaper."
Books and newspapers
"I prefer (printed) books, even though they often cost more" than the electronic versions, said Sarah Mc-Connell, a senior at Salina South High School. She plans to go to K-State, and eventually become a country doctor.
One advantage books have over tablet computers or e-readers is "you can read them in the sun," McConnell said. "I'll use a tablet for reading news -- but I also read the newspaper, every day."
"If I'm going to sit down and read for enjoyment, I'd rather have a book," said Austin Kack, a senior at Sacred Heart High School who plans to go to KU and major in engineering. "But if I'm reading a paper, doing research, I prefer the electronic version -- which lets you do things like search the document (for key words)."
Kack also said he's found that he has better recall if he writes lecture notes by hand, rather than typing them.
A paper published by researchers at Princeton just this past month confirms his findings.
Love the smell and touch
"I still prefer books, I love the smell and touch," said Marisa Mitchell, a senior at South who plans to major in civil engineering. She also prefers listening to vinyl records over mp3s.
"Technology is going to be a huge aspect of our lives in the future," she said. "We need to learn to use it in a way that isn't detrimental. I think it opens many doors, but I think we still need to get our hands dirty and not let the technology take over."
McConnell agreed, saying that while she's read about advances in medicine that allow doctors to see a patient remotely via the Internet, and relatively new remote-controlled surgical robots that could allow a surgeon to operate on a patient hundreds of miles away, she's skeptical.
"I'm not sure you can really diagnose someone without being there in person," she said. "Technology is great, but it's no substitute for human contact."
No substitute for humans
Kevin Kraus is looking upward and outward, and said he, too, doesn't think technology should sub for humans.
He's planning to major in aerospace engineering at Wichita State University, and wants to eventually design equipment that will go into space.
Letting unmanned spacecraft perform missions such as sending supplies to the International Space Station is fine, he said, noting that it makes little sense to "strap someone on top of a bunch of explosives" for so ordinary a mission.
"Hard physical numbers you can get with an unmanned probe," he said. "But as humans, we're inclined to adventure -- and one of the biggest adventures is still out there."
A constant surveillance
"I think we'll have lots of new technology in a few decades," said Brett Nurnberg, a senior at Southeast of Saline. "A lot of what we have now makes it easier for people to connect, no matter how far apart they are -- and that can be a good thing, but it can also hinder communication because you're not face-to-face and it's tough to know how the other person is reacting to what you're saying."
Nurnberg, who plans to major in engineering at K-State, said he's also worried about increasing levels of surveillance, both by the government and through other means, such as the cameras built into some new video game consoles.
"I think in the future, our lives will be a lot more documented," he said. "I don't think constant surveillance is a good thing."
Traveling the world
By the time he's in his late 40s, Eli Harmon hopes to be retired and travelling the world "immersing myself in a different culture."
Harmon, a senior at St. John's Military School who will attend the United States Air Force Academy this fall, thinks even 30 years from now, the best way to do that will be in person.
"Online, you're not really meeting and interacting with people the same way," he said. "Being in their environment is crucial to understanding another person's perspectives."
Harmon said he also prefers a printed book if he's reading for fun -- "it's something passed down from my parents, our house is full of books," -- but electronic documents if he's doing research.
"I think things just seem more real if they're on paper," he said.
Make simple changes
Rachel Werling, a senior at Solomon High School who plans to attend K-State in the fall and eventually become a doctor, thinks people put too much faith in technology to solve problems they could solve themselves.
"I've worked in a pharmacy, and a lot of the patients coming in are there because of their diet and lifestyle," she said, explaining they could make simple changes and not need the medical care.
"That's why I want to major in nutritional science -- so I can help my patients be more educated about health and their bodies," she said.
Werling describes herself as "not a huge techie person;" she has a Kindle Fire HD and "I'm on that 24/7, but I'm not really interested in Facebook or Twitter. I lost my cell phone two weeks ago, but I really only used it to call my dad."
It's about preferences
Jennifer Kim, a senior at Central who will attend Washington University and is considering a major in biomedical engineering, said she doesn't think any particular medium is superior.
"I don't see a disconnect there," she said. "It's about your own preferences. I'm not going to be a snob and say only printed books are better."
-- Reporter Mike Strand can be reached at 822-1418 or by email at email@example.com.
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