Friday, June 22, 2012

Digital Nation

We watched a program about Queen Victoria last night and when it was over, there was a Frontline report, originally run in 2010, called Digital Nation.  I wasn't really paying close attention, but midway through the show, I became fascinated by it and ended up recording it so I could see it thoroughly today.   It's available to view on line here.

The focus of the show is the effect that technology has had on the youth of today. The first half of the hour program examined the effect that multi-tasking is having on people (which one guy called "The dumbing down of the world."

A teacher says that they have to develop new ways of teaching because students today need more stimulation and that multi-tasking produces people who are unable to think and work clearly.  She explained that technology has now become not a thing that one does, but what one is when they are connected all the time.

A scientist at UCLA has done brain scans of people reading vs. brain scans of people searching on Google and found that the scans show the brain is 2x more active when people are doing Googles searches, though they don't know if that's a good thing or not, because there has been little actually written about it because by the time you do research and publish the results, they are already out of date.   (That was instantly clear when the show talked about "instant messaging" and never mentioned "texting.")

One study shows that for students using computers, reading scores increase 30% and math scores 40%, but those results fade over time.  One Senior in a school in New Jersey admits he can't remember the last time he read a book.  He uses Spark notes to get the plot and said he had read "Romeo and Juliet" in 5 minutes and that if there were a 27 hour day, he could also read "Hamlet."

My reaction to this was what a terrible shame that was.  It's one thing to get the plot of a book, but you miss the language -- and I've said here many times how enriched I feel by wallowing around in a well-written book.

An college English professor said that he can't assign a novel of more than 200 pages to his students because they can't handle a book that long (heck, that's the length of books I read each week at Logos!).

He talked about how students don't think in "essay format" any more, but in "paragraph format," so that the end result of what they are writing seems very choppy and does not flow the way it should because of so many interruptions.

I must admit that I both identified with the concept of interrupted writing, but disagree that it necessarily limits flow in writing.  One of the things I have found very nice about virtually "meeting" authors on line is learning how many of them write the way I do...write a sentence, play a game of solitaire, write another sentence, get a snack, check e-mail or Facebook, etc.  I don't think it necessarily produces a disjointed product (unless, of course, these journal entries are more disjointed than I think they are!)

The program says that only 6% of college students actually come to school prepared in writing, but I don't think that has much to do with modern technology.   I remember when I enrolled at UC Berkeley and it was expected that I would take remedial writing because "everybody does," but I passed the test to go into regular English classes with flying colors.

The question was asked:  Are old ways evolving into something else?  It was the answer to that question which I found most thought-provoking.  

40,000 years ago, when our ancestors lived in caves, the way they told their stories were with cave drawings. The graffiti of the day, from which modern man can get a clue as to how those people lived, what society was like.  Cave paintings are found all over the world, if Wikipedia is to be believed.

At some point, however, perhaps after "language" developed more fully, storytellers emerged and the history of a people, its culture, a way to share and interpret experiences could be passed along to others verbally.  Think of Sheherazade, of the Irish Seanachies, African, Aboriginal or Appalachian storytellers. As cave paintings died out, storytellers took over the same task.

But then along came paper and quills and ink...and ultimately Gutenberg and his printing press which now allowed human history and the tales of culture and society to be printed and distributed and carried when someone moved from one place to another.  One of the professors interviewed for this program called printing a "fairly new invention" and pointed out that it was the method of communication for a few centuries, but was it going to be the primary method of communication for the 21st century?  Obviously not.

They also talked about what you lose when one form of communication begins to replace another.  When printing replaced oral history, we lost the kind of memory that those storytellers had.  Homeric singers could produce thousands of lines of poetry from memory.  Human beings are not good at that any more (unless they are characters in Fahrenheit 451" !). 

It seems clear that we humans have a burning need to communicate, to share our world with others of our tribe, our families, our neighbors or our unseen and probably un-met friends half a globe away.  The introduction of new technology is always hard on old timers, whether it be someone who is going to tell your stories, or a piece of paper on which your story is printed, or email and texting.  The program went on to describe virtual reality environments like World of Warcraft, Second Life and other sites that I can't quite wrap my head around.

With each new advancement in technology, we let go of something from our past.  Slowly we find a balance, but it always takes time....and the old timers are going to grumble, but the younger generations will embrace whatever that thing is and perfect it.

I wish I were going to be around when Brianna's grandchildren are immersed in their technology and Brianna is looking longingly back to the quaint technology of e-mail and text messages.


Harriet said...

How often I feel that one or another program is there to do your thinking for you, so that you end up doing little or no thinking at all. As much as I like using Google -- more so before they dumbed that down too -- there are some subject for which I would rather read an encyclopedia.

We already know that social networks are a great place to spread propaganda, truth or fiction.

jon said...

Reading a book will become a lost art soon.

I saw someone who was trying to hold up their sagging pants on talk on his cellphone. His oversized baseball cap was on sideways and his boxer shorts were showing.
Sadly, a girl texting ran into him at the intersection and they both dropped their phones. Destroyed both phones.
I expect to see them on Judge Judy soon.

The cellphone is a wonderful tool. unfortunately good manner have taken a holiday when it comes to usage..