Over the past month, I’ve listened to Baroness Susan Greenfield three times. First, reading an article in The Sunday Times. Second, in the audience at one of her talks. Third, hearing an interview on the radio. The same topic came up at all three events (not surprising, since she has a new book to promote) – the effect new technology is having on learning. Or, rather, the disastrous effect new technology is having on learning.

And I have to say, I disagree with her argument and pessimism. Now she is a professor, at Oxford no less. And I am a mere mortal without so much as Bachelors degree to my name. But her belief seems to be that books are absolutely essential to educational development and learning. If you don’t read books, you’ll never progress beyond the mentality of a young child. It’s a wonder how we ever invented books in the first place…

Central to the argument is that children are now flitting between multiple different information mediums, nibbling lots of content but never chewing it properly before swallowing. And those pesky computer games are distorting our perception of reality. (I’d argue that, if anything, it has the opposite effect – making reality so depressingly clear that people prefer to live in the virtual.)

I agree that lots of nibbling is no substitute for a good book, if you want to dive into the theory and history of a subject. Just as books and computer games are no substitute for real-world experience. But I’m not sure the future being painted is quite as apocalyptic as the baroness believes. Computer simulations introduce all sorts of possibilities and new ways of learning. Imagine if we were living in the time when writing was just invented. The theory then would have probably been along the lines: “Writing words down will destroy the art of story-telling. It will ruin our ability to bond and form emotional connections with one another, to learn first-hand from our elders, transforming our identity of who and what we are.”

Agree, disagree? Here’s a link to one of her interviews – iD: The Quest for Identity in the 21st Century by Susan Greenfield (The Sunday Times, May 08)

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Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. In the context of this argument, I feel that books are left in an ambivalent position. I enjoy reading as I should since I'm currently an English Literature Student at university. I find sitting down with a nice cuppa and a book quite satisfying.The key focus here should be 'reading is vital to learning'. People learn in a variety of ways though and crediting books as the sole source of mental maturation educationally or otherwise is a bit silly. Translating books to virtual formats, making them not only accessible to the younger generation but more appealing, might be a good solution.

  2. Many thanks for your comment. One interesting project in this area is World of Arden, a virtual world of Shakespeare being built at Indiana University – http://swi.indiana.edu/ardenworld.htm

  3. That rates a wow :DI'll be looking at Arden more closely and pointing it out to my S/O. Thanks.

  4. You're welcome 🙂 Good luck with your studies!

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