All my life I have been a reader and writer. But not any more. And there is not a day that goes by that I don’t regret (just for one minute) the end of that leisurely, literary life. See Books by dale
There are still printed books of course. Plenty of them. But they aren’t the ‘ant’s pants’ any more. I still read novels – though not those that are the most popular in Japan – written for mobile phones. (Each ‘chapter’ is just the right length to be read between stops on the bullet train; and the most popular novels actually get printed!) See
When it comes to writing, I have been replaced by Google and Wikipedia. All those information books I wrote last century – they are so old fashioned these days (and so out of date!) And all the daily screening we now do has changed the way we read and write anyway.
And clearly it isn’t just me: the iconic Angus & Robertson booksellers chain along with Borders has gone into receivership. At the same time the e-book is increasingly in demand.
The test for me is that I have trouble reading the books I wrote all those years ago. Such long sentences. Complicated explanations. You have to read the paragraphs twice to get the meaning. (And they are my own words!) And I am not alone.
The internet – according to Nicholas Carr in his BOOK, The Shallows: how the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember (2010, Atlantic Books, London) comments on the way the internet seems to be chipping away at his capacity for concentration and contemplation.
‘Once I was a scuba diver in a sea of words’ he says. ‘Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski’. And he adds, MY WAY OF THINKING HAS CHANGED (See also, TALKS – THE READER)
I too have become so used to skimming and scanning on the screen – looking for the information I want rather than working my way through my own or someone else’s books – its quite hard to stay focused.
I even wonder at my patience in writing those books – without a word processor or the internet. (Thousands of pages – all handwritten.)
Days spent at the library poring over books – copying endless pages and quotes – by hand!
At least then you wouldn’t be accused of plagiarism and caught out; the copying task was often tiresome and boring and so you took short cuts. And presto! Inaccurate copying was instantly turned into paraphrasing! (6 LINK WITH PLAGIARISM)
Printed books are being transformed into E-books – though its likely that they wont remain just text! The novel is on the way to becoming a multimedia experience. Already some e-books are more like video games than pages of print.
I grew up before TV and even popular radio, and my own family life of an evening wasn’t all that different from the picture of the 19th century family: they gathered around the fire with one member entertaining them with readings from Pride and Prejudice or Oliver Twist. We were all engrossed in our own books and but would read bits out to one another.
Images like these will soon be history.
And I know this from discussions I have with many of my generation who genuinely believe that ‘the end of the book’ looks like the end of civilisation. (But of course as a great article in the New Yorker points out - ‘Books explaining why books no longer matter come in many flavors’
(Read more http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2011/02/14/110214crat_atlarge_gopnik#ixzz1ET9m4YGq )
I think that a tad of history helps to put all these changes into perspective.
After all, this distress is much the same as that of the monks of the Middle Ages felt when the saw their beautiful, illuminated – and sacred – manuscripts being displaced by the soulless machine that stamped ink dobs on paper. They went to great lengths to preserve and protect their ‘information’ from the barbarians.
Printers were banned and burned, along with the books that they printed. But not even the Church could stop ‘the pagan texts’ from proliferating. The book became essential; it has been a foundation stone of our way of life ever since (good and bad!).
Just as well banning and burning aren’t permitted these days – or there would be a few casualties: teachers and academics who find it hard to give up control of knowledge – and of their classroom.
Librarians who don’t want to move away from the Dewey system and the reference library. These attitudes are understandable – but not always helpful.
Given the changes from oral culture, to cave painting, hieroglyphics, the alphabet, manuscripts, printing presses – and now digital – I don’t think there is much point in trying to stop the changes. Or in condemning them!
Some of the objections to digital are nothing other than objections to change. But this is not negotiable. And it is rapid change that is the order of the day: I’ve just read an article the New Yorker, by Adam Gopnik, and he sums it up delightfully….
When the first Harry Potter book appeared, in 1997, it was just a year before the universal search engine Google was launched. And so Hermione Granger, that charming grind, still goes to the Hogwarts library and spends hours and hours working her way through the stacks, finding out what a basilisk is or how to make a love potion. The idea that a wizard in training might have, instead, a magic pad where she could inscribe a name and in half a second have an avalanche of news stories, scholarly articles, books, and images (including images she shouldn’t be looking at) was a Quidditch broom too far. Now, having been stuck with the library shtick, she has to go on working the stacks in the Harry Potter movies, while the kids who have since come of age nudge their parents. “Why is she doing that?” they whisper. “Why doesn’t she just Google it?”
In the 21st century, change isn’t an event – it’s a way of life (SEE 7 SHIFT HAPPENS)
Much better to have a critical look at our print heritage and decide which things we value, and which we would like to see reflected in the new media.
One aspect of the shift to digital that concerns me at the moment is the way education has NOT engaged with young people’s use of technology, and their digital culture. Mobiles are banned (maybe burned? Certainly confiscated) in many education institutions, and video games are dismissed as mere entertainment.
But what can you expect when students have taught themselves their magic digital skills – and have then used them to entertain themselves – precisely because they don’t have any amazing educational or ‘serious’ video games?
Where educational professionals have created engrossing games, the students have been as enthusiastic about serious success as they are with silly products.
‘Supercharged’, designed by MIT for students who were having difficulty with concepts of electromagnetism has been a huge winner. Given a spacecraft and a destination, they have learnt about electromagnetism as they have navigated their way round the cosmos.
If there is little or no input from the education sector, and students haven’t got a wide range of serious games (and simulations) that they can play – it’s not the students who are to blame.
Many students today may equally ask their teachers – what is all this content for when it takes only a keystroke to find much more, and more exciting stuff, with Google.
Why are we doing this, many students ask traditional teachers and lecturers? Will it help me get a job? Expand my horizons? Whats it for? Students can be genuinely puzzled when they don’t understand the purpose of the lesson. See “Serious Fun and Games” by dale.
You cant talk about games – without talking about girls – and their absence from the games making business. And their relationship to IT altogether. This is one of the reasons I wrote my last book – Nattering on the Net; and it is a major reason for my current concern with the supposed lack of interest of girls in IT – and the catch 22 that ensnares them.
As with the publishing world where for many years male publishers in male publishing houses declared that the reason they didn’t publish women’s books was because they didn’t sell – so too the reason that is generally given now for the absence of good and gripping games for girls is often much the same – they don’t sell!
Yet how do they know they don’t sell when they don’t produce them?
How do they know girls don’t like IT when so many of the lessons are oriented towards the interests of boys? see more on women in IT
Because change has become the reality of daily life – – it must also become central to our education system – and our public policy. We cant protect our communities from change (even if we wanted to) but we can help them to cope with it, and even to come to enjoy it!
This was another thing I came to realise this when I wrote my last book Nattering on the Net in 1995 … see more on books by dale
It was one of the early books that looked at the impact of the new technologies on our society. And I began to understand that I couldn’t just learn to do digital – in the way I had learned to read.
Once you have learned to read – you can just keep doing it. You might come across new words – or more complex prose – but you don’t have to learn to decode a new symbolic system – or a new ‘app’. Print just stays the same.
Doing-digital however is an ongoing venture into the unknown – where you have to work things out.
Digital changes everything. And it won’t stop. In this new culture, I realised, I was going to have to keep learning for the rest of my life.
Talking to some teachers at that time about the new skills they would need to acquire, one of them said - ‘I’ve just learned to do email. Can I stop now?’
I don’t know of any histories of computer use – but I do remember how proud I was of my first machine; a Sinclair QL:-
(WIKIPEDIA The Sinclair QL (for Quantum Leap), was a personal computer launched by Sinclair Research in 1984, as the successor to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. The QL was aimed at the hobbyist and small business markets, but failed to achieve commercial success.)
It had cassette tapes and came with a daisy wheel printer that took up more space than I did. It was better than an electric typewriter though!
Then there was DOS; all sorts of numbers before you could even open the damn system. And then – bliss! A Macintosh – with a mouse!
(The Macintosh (pronounced /ˈmækɨntɒʃ/ MAK-in-tosh), or Mac, is a series of several lines of personal computers designed, developed, and marketed by Apple Inc. The first Macintosh was introduced on January 24, 1984; it was the first commercially successful personal computer to feature a mouse and a graphical user interface rather than a command-line interface)
I remember sending my first email from Canada, in 1985 – it was more like sending a telegram – and waiting for one in return. And there was dial up internet (and learning how to use it) and waiting! And then came browsers, and email systems, and HTML and web pages, and cell phones, and Ipods, and Napster and music downloads; everything from online shopping and banking to Open Source and Facebook and YouTube and Twitter ……. And apps, apps, apps!
And every day there’s something new to learn: it’s not like something you must memorise and keep in your head. It’s more like learning to ride a bike – its learning how to DO something. (But it’s a new sort of bike every day!)
Some people believe that the shift from books to screens is just plain dumbing-down. Because they regard learning as ‘hard work, that must be taken very seriously they see today students as having far too much fun to be ‘learning’ anything!
But when I compare my own past learning with the present – there’s no doubt that digital is the more demanding – and these days – the more satisfying.
I think of all the hours I spent – on my own, in my bedroom, in silence (no music then) – just as the weather warmed up before Christmas, and the temptation of the outdoors was almost irresistible; and I had to do it. So that I could block out everything else, just to cram into my head so much information – that I now know I have never used!
It was all about discipline. Hard work. Application. Compliance. This is what was meant by being a good student. Doing what you were told. Memorising everything. Just in case it ever came up in your lifetime; (what assumptions there are here about knowledge not changing! And the world not changing!) Learn it all and you would get a qualification – and a job for life.
This was the difference between pass and fail! The ability to reproduce – for teachers and examiners – information that they already knew! (And which you would probably ‘forget’ anyway, the day after the exam.)
It was a pretty mind deadening process. No wonder we had to celebrate when it was over!
And what do I do now? What is learning in today’s world?
When it comes to the new technology skills, the first thing you notice about young children today is that – like me – they have taught themselves. It’s the new media that have helped to make them independent learners! (link 13 INDEPENENT LEARNERS)
I can’t remember learning to read – but I know I didn’t teach myself. I had to rely on my patient mother who was there to give me feedback, to help me distinguish an ‘a’ from a ‘b’, and to point to the words on the page – left to right across, and down – till I got the hang of it.
Trying to make sense of reading – without help – would be pretty difficult. This is not the case with the new technologies.
Like young children who are curious and who want to learn how their mothers I-phone works, adults today have to move away from the old model of being taught, and move on to learning for themselves. It’s quite a challenge; it’s why many adults in our society cant keep up with the digital skills of their kids!
Its not the exercise that’s the obstacle – not when three year olds can do it and their professorial parents cant! It’s the mind-set. Everyone has to keep changing the way they learn and think.
Young people today don’t ‘learn’ at scheduled institutional times (between 9.00 and 3.00! They learn any time, anywhere. And anything – without educational guidance in the medium.
They don’t want to sit still and be quiet and copy out information — or go to their room and study/ learn web pages. They don’t want to provide teachers with information that is already known – but to create new stuff of their own. They want to play games! They want to make apps!
They can do all manner of amazing things. Many of which stretch their powers of imagination and reasoning. They want to search and match and change what they find – to solve a problem, to make connections, to work with others; they want to enjoy themselves.
These are the skills that so many young people have taught themselves – and they are the skills they will need for earning their living!