Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

I missed the online role play exercise today, which is ironic since I have been quite successful at making the face to face classes and now had an opportunity to participate from the comfort of my own home. Unfortunately, I was late getting home from a new teacher event that I was hosting for my school district and my daughter had hit herself in the eye with her keys and needed help with her homework and both kids were hungry and holy cow it was 6:30 before I finally logged on and low and behold everyone had signed off and moved on to things in their less than virtual worlds around them.

Still, I enjoyed reading the article and browsing through the many blog posts. Last week, when I created my character for the role play I enjoyed that as well and was looking forward to participating. My character was a school administrator who disagreed with the premise that google is making us stupid, which would have been easy for me since I personally disagree with the idea that change is inherently bad; a concept that is at the root of the headline.

It is not necessarily the position of the author, who is really speculating more reflectively on the nature of the changes in our reading habits given the nature of the digital literacy experience. As a person who has never been particularly good at the kind of close reading that the author seems to value, I don't find that my reading habits have changed much as a result of digital literacy. I have always been prone to skimming a text, and enjoy novels that can easily be moved through quickly (plot driven novels like those of Dan Brown and John Grisham). At the same time, I like a thick biography too; however, dense texts with lots of descriptive prose tend to leave me cold. In any event, my point is that my natural reading habits are much like those described in the article.

At the same time, I have had periods of being a voracious reader and other times when I don't open a book for long periods of time. These usually correlate to specific periods in my life; not to changes in my brain chemistry or neurological connections. These anecdotes of changed reading habits are more likely a function of increasingly busy lives than anything else -- we all had more time to read when we were college students.

And, as Carr points out, if change does exist it is not necessarily bad. Still, balance is a virtue and finding time in one's life to slow down, smell the roses, and read a book with some density to it.

The real question is how do we absorb the need to prepare kids for the twenty-first century while at the same time avoiding western cultural obsession with an excessively fast paced lifestyle. Here's a video perspective on the question.

Having said all that the real question we were to have engaged today (which I didn't) was what the experience of participating in the online role play was like. Here were the questions...

1. What were some things that you did to create your role through use of language, information in/images used for your bio?
2. What arguments were you making to convince other roles to support your position?
3. What evidence or reasons were your employing to support your positions? Do you think that this evidence or reasons were effective in convincing others to adopt your positions?
4. Which roles had the most versus least power in this role-play? What are some reasons that these roles did or did not have power? What were some strategies that the roles with power employed?
5. Were there differences between your personal beliefs and those of your role? Did your own personal beliefs on this issue change at all due to the role-play?
6. How might you use an online role-play in your teacher to address certain issues or teacher about an event or text?

The video I included above was one of the things I was going to bring to the discussion. I was looking forward to the ability to share the video as a part of the discussion. How cool is it that I could embed the video in a post and then have folks react to it as a part of a conversation?

In looking at the posts, it is interesting that to some extent the usual movement to demagoguery is fairly effective. The characters who were more extreme and colorful in their arguments were attention getting. In the final analysis, I'd like to think that the reasonable arguments carried the day, but readers/listeners/viewers tend to absorb the things that support the positions they already hold. Cynical, ain't I? Still, the fact that folks might argue for positions they don't believe in argues for a more open and critical discourse. I wonder to what extent people tend to drift toward the opinions they have been assigned to argue?

Clearly, the fact of having a specific assigned time to do this conversation lent itself to increased participation (except for my own personal experience). When I was teaching English I used to take the kids to the computer lab and have them participate in discussion board postings about books we were reading. I found that they would sometimes create much more robust conversations with their classmates who were sitting around them than they would have if they had sat in a circle and been given the same prompt. It also was much more democratic, as the loudest voices had no more access to the discussion than the quietest.

So, the real question isn't, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" It's, "Is Google Making Us Different?" The answer is probably yes. The challenge is to change to something better...if there is such a thing under the sun.

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