Tuesday, 23 August 2005

Everything Bad is Good for You!

Just finished this thought provoking book by Steven Johnson.

Try this thought experiment from the book: (a parallel universe where books are the new technological advance & becoming more popular than video games)
"Reading books chronically understimulates the senses. Unlike the longstanding tradition of gameplaying - which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical soundscapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements - books are simply a barren string of words on the page. Only a small portion of the brain devoted to processing written language is activated during reading, while games engage the full range of the sensory and motor cortices.
Books are also tragically isolating. While games have for many years engaged the young in complex social relationships with their peers, building and exploring worlds together, books force the child to sequester him or himself in a quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children. These new 'libraries' that have arisen in recent years to facilitate reading activities are a frightening sight: dozens of young children, normally so vivacious and socially interactive, sitting alone in cubicles, reading silently, oblivious to peers.
Many children enjoy reading books, of course, and no doubt some of the flights of fancy conveyed by reading have their escapist merits. But for a sizable percentage of the population, books are downright discriminatory. The reading craze of recent years cruelly taunts the 10 million Americans who suffer from dyslexia - a condition that didn't even exist as a condition until printed text, came down to stigmatize its sufferers.
But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a linear path. You can't control their narratives in any fashion - you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. For those of us raised on interactive narratives, this property may seem astonishing. Why would anyone want to embark on an adventure utterly choreographed by another person? But today's generation embarks on such adventures millions of times a day. This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they're powerless to change their circumstances. Reading is not an active, participatory process: its a submissive one. The book readers of the younger generation are learning to "follow the plot" instead of learning to lead."

Before you jump up & down about this slanderous attack on the the importance of reading it is a provocation for us to think that - Non-print based media is honing different mental skills that are just as important as the ones exercised by reading - Print requires effort, concentration, attention, the ability to make sense of words & follow narrative threads... Games - require some of the skills above - there is a lot of 'collatoral learning' - decision making through a process of probe, hypothesise, reprobe, rethink (scientific method) James Paul Gee, What Video Games have to teach us about Learning and Literacy.

Yep food for thought :-)
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