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Sunday, May 15, 2005

Reading v. Video Games

"Brain Candy" by Malcolm Gladwell, May 16 The New Yorker pg 88

This article in the New Yorker should be required reading -- even if that perhaps is too linear (the pun will become apparent if you read the article.)

Malcolm Gladwell first cites James Flynn, a political philosopher, who uncovered data showing that the I.Q. scores of Americans have increased quite dramatically in the past few decades. The mean is always being adjusted to reflect changes so that the average will always be 100. If you eliminate the recalibrations, you find that an individual who scored in the top 10% in 1920 would now score in the bottom third. Flynn wonders whether the change in popular culture might have something to do with that increase in intelligence -- if I.Q. measures intelligence, but that's a whole different argument.

Gladwell discusses Steven Johnson's new book, Everything Bad Is Good For You, which makes some provocative statements. Johnson has written several books on science and technology -- I have ordered all of them for the library -- and his analyses are provocative. He suggests that television has evolved from shows that are essentially linear, with few characters and a simple story line, to shows like "The Sopranos" in which a single show would encompass multiple narrative threads and characters who move in and out of the plot, often with little explanation, requiring the viewer to do a lot of "fiilling in." Television now forces an engagement of the viewer that forces cognitive demands on the spectator.

Video games have evolved similarly. Today's games might require forty hours to complete and require the player to make strateghic decisions based on multiple sources of information. "This is why many of us [me, certainly] find modern video games baffling: we're not used to being in a situation where we have to figure out what to do. We think we only have to learn how to press the buttons faster."

And is there evidence that Roe v. Wade reduced the crime rate?

A final quote for us book lovers to mull over:

"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. . . .
"Books are also tragically isolating [something I've always considered a benefit :))] 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 herself in a quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children. . . .
"But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path. You can't control their narratives in any fashion--you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. . . .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; it's a submissive one."

Johnson, in a jocular manner, is making the point that reading "is a form of explicit learning." Video games make you think. Of course, reading this article certainly got me thinking. . . .
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