Writing in the Digital Age – how about learning in the digital age?

10 Oct

John August, screenwriter and director (Go, Big Fish, The Nines), has a very informative blog where he just posted the transcript to a speech he recently gave called “Writing in the Digital Age.” Some choice quotes are below, but I recommend reading the whole thing.

“as more aspects of our lives are conducted online, how we present ourselves in writing will only get more important.”

“The internet has billions of readers. What it needs are writers who write with authority.”

“No matter what career you end up choosing, or what career is chosen for you by fate, you will be a writer for the rest of your life. As the digital age accelerates, I’m convinced that writing is going to get more important each year. It’s not a noun anymore. It’s not the term papers and the memos and the screenplays. Writing is a verb. It’s an action. It’s a crucial way in which we process the world around us.”

Reading this brought to the forefront of my mind thoughts I’ve been having recently about the state of learning/information/knowledge in “the digital age.” The boy I tutor has an iPhone and a laptop, which means that he’s able to connect to the internet virtually anywhere and at anytime. That means he carries the entirety of wikipedia and infinite google search results in his pocket. If he carries all that information there, what does he need to carry in his head?

I don’t have some climactic revelation to all of this, but I do think it’s fundamentally changing something about the purpose of learning, or at least what is fundamentally important to learn. On another angle, if the space in our brains that we spent on memorizing facts can be used for something else, (since the iPhone/internet can be used as a repository for facts) what can we do with this newfound brainspace?

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5 Responses to “Writing in the Digital Age – how about learning in the digital age?”

  1. motherofjedi October 11, 2007 at 1:21 pm #

    Even when I was teaching in the public schools, I never had the illusion that the subject matter I was teaching–the exact stories, or facts about literature, or even grammatical points–was important. I was teaching young people how to use, to utilize, to make use of, their minds. Math, English, science, geography, etc. etc. are all different ways of exercising and thus shaping the mind. It’s similar to gym class; some activities strengthen your muscles, some stretch them, some provide cardiac benefits…the important thing is not the jumping jacks but that you are working your body, training it, shaping it, gaining mastery over it. I am very grateful that I learned, for example, as much math as I did because it was great training for my mind–but I don’t remember formulas and equations or use them on a daily basis. I loved learning grammar because it showed me the shape of language, but what I was really learning was to shape my mind, to train it to see patterns and to apprehend meaning at more and more complex levels.
    The Dalai Lama says that the key to happiness is a tamed mind. So what does your student need to carry in his head? A tamed mind, a mind that he is in charge of, that is not in charge of him. School, as it exists in our culture, contributes to the process of taming the mind, but this process should be our lifelong pursuit. Taming the mind requires consistent practice, and practice requires tremendous discipline–two factors that I feel are being lost in our “modern” ideas of education. Every day I enjoy the fruits of having a (somewhat) tamed mind (I read and consider your entry; I write this, then edit to make my response better, more concise, clearer). But each and every day, I also deliberately and consistently spend time in training and taming my mind.

    • Anonymous October 12, 2007 at 9:52 pm #

      I really like the analogy of jumping jacks. I remember asking (probably to her annoyance) my algebra teacher why I had to learn little formulas and equations and things that I would probably never use. Her answer was actually quite good in that she explained it’s more about learning a certain kind of problem solving, a certain way of approaching and analyzing situations and problems.
      Of course I replied that I learn the same thing by playing Zelda, but her point (clearly) has stuck with me.

  2. tinycaredance October 12, 2007 at 1:58 pm #

    i was thinking how easy kids have it today.
    when they start a research paper they dont’ have to “research” it the way we used to. i can remember pouring over the encyclopedias and books in the library. now they can just go to google and type in the (for example) country they are looking for and they are brought to the countries website. the ease of that itself is just mindblowing.

  3. kirawen October 12, 2007 at 3:17 pm #

    interesting article about digital lives: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/05/AR2007100502391.html

  4. kirawen October 12, 2007 at 3:32 pm #

    I’d like to say a word for the cowboy…
    I think I agree with Juno’s statement about what we can do with the freed space in our minds more than anything. I’m not sure that just by having information and tools right at our fingertips is necessarily going to make us lose anything.
    Think of it this way: you all know how your parents, grandparents, teachers, anyone new to computers, have a hard time learning it. There are things you need to train your brain to do in order to work a computer. Becoming a master of google, for example, makes me think of working out a riddle or maybe even the scientific method. To find what you’re looking for, you need to have the mental process of identifying the problem, thinking ahead to what sorts of conclusions you want to reach, run a few test searches, and filter through all the results of your search to find what you’re looking for. You need the ability to figure out what is trustworthy, reliable information and what is not.
    It seems “too easy” to us to go to Wikipedia and look anything up for a quick summary, but anyone who’s never run a search has no idea what keywords to use to find what they want (assuming it’s more complicated than “France,” of course). But how much easier can someone used to the index cards in a library find a book than someone who doesn’t do it often? The computer is the same way. Same sort of work/mental process, different tools.
    Computers do teach you problem-solving skills, and anyone who’s ever written code or tried to create images on Photoshop has used mathematical skills. I guess what I’m saying in my rambling way is, don’t be afraid of it and don’t assume it is creating laziness. People do retain at least a little of what they read, so think about how much general knowledge of the world and society those kids that read Wikipedia articles can gather! The only difference is they don’t have to travel to access it. But, hey, with things like the Wii and Dance Dance Revolution, the world is starting to consider keeping people active in the digital age.
    So those are my thoughts for now…

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