digital nation - life on the virtual frontier

ROUNDTABLE: Reactions to Digital Nation

question Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff

Get ready for the second Digital Nation roundtable - which will look beyond the original Frontline documentary to some of the many ideas and issues this inquiry has spawned and suggested.

For the month of March, we'll be discussing "the crowd" - particularly the way group activity, creativity, and awareness are both enhanced and exacerbated by our digital networks. Open Source, Crowd-sourcing, The Mob, The fate of the Individual, and the rise of the Folk.

Our participants will include:

Danah Boyd - Social Media Researcher, Microsoft Research; Fellow, Berkman Center of Internet and Society, co-author, Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out. http://danah.org

Amy Bruckman - Associate Professor, Electronic Learning Communities, Georgia Institute of Technology http://www.cc.gatech.edu/elc/index.shtml

Nicholas Carr - author, The Big Switch and the forthcoming The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. http://roughtype.com

Kevin Kelly - Senior Maverick, Wired magzine. Author, Out of Control, and What Technology Wants - coming in October http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/

Mark Pesce - co-inventor of VRML, founder, FutureSt social web consultancy, author, Share This Book (upcoming) http://www.sharethiscourse.org/

Clay Shirky - NYU Interactive Telecommunications Programm, author Here Comes Everybody http://www.shirky.com/

RU Sirius - co-founder, Mondo2000, Editor, H+ magazine http://www.hplusmagazine.com/

Sherry Turkle - Director, MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, author, The Second Self, Simulations and Its Discontents, and Alone Together (forthcoming) http://web.mit.edu/sturkle/www/techself/

Jimmy Wales - Co-founder, Wikipedia. Trustee of the Wikimedia Foundation. http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Home

You can begin to participate NOW by uploading your own videos and comments to the YourStories page, click on UPLOAD VIDEO and submit your own thoughts or experiences with the digital crowd, online mobs, the joys of open source or the perils of crowdsourcing.

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YOUR THOUGHTS
Daniel Gigliotti February 24, 2010 16:30

Second Life, huh... How about New Life? How about we make a computer simulation in which you can erase your entire life experience and replace it with another one. One in which you can fly and breath underwater and have everything that you can dream of. Sounds great, right? But is it real... I am thoroughly confounded by this piece and it has sparked much concern in me. I guess I just feel that technology is moving faster than we ...(continue reading »)

Alex Riske February 24, 2010 19:21

I enjoyed the program which reminded me of a recent study ( So. Connecticut State Univ) showing this youngest generation with alarming numbers of narcissists with extremely short attention spans. Is this technology obsession creating adults with impaired abilities to delay immediate gratification? If so, I dread meeting them on the road, since it means they feel entitled to text, Blue Tooth, and Facebook as they "drive". ...(continue reading »)

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Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff

Welcome to the first Digital Nation Roundtable.

This is a place to discuss, even debate, many of the issues raised by the film. We'll be tackling one subject a month, with some of the most interesting and knowledgeable people in that area.

To begin, we thought we might start with the film itself, and some of the people featured in it. We have invited them to come here and begin by posting their first reactions to the movie and how they were portrayed. What did we leave out? What did we get right? Does having seen yourself and your work on television raised any new questions for you? What about your perspective on our digital world wasn't made evident, that you would like to share with the public?

Meanwhile, each post by a roundtable participant is accompanied by a sidebar through which visitors to site may post their own comments and reactions - either to the post itself, or to that person's portrayal in the film.

Just a note: everything here is being moderated for a general audience, so there will be up to a half-day lag between the moment you post, and when it appears on the site.

Participants:

  • Avrom and Bubbe - FeedMeBubbe.com
  • Jeremy Bailenson - Director, Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab
  • Mark Bauerlein - Professor of English, Emory University; Author, The Dumbest Generation
  • Melissa Chapman - Columnist, Staten Island Advance "Kids in the City;" WCBS-TV parenting blogger
  • Eliza Eddison - MIT student
  • Henry Jenkins - Professor of Communication, USC; Author, Convergence Culture
  • Clifford Nass - Professor of Communication, Stanford University; Author, The Media Equation
  • James Paul Gee - Professor of Literacy Studies, Arizona State University; Author, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy
  • Marc Prensky - Founder and CEO, Games2Train; Author, Teaching Digital Natives
  • Philip Rosedale - Creator, Second Life
  • Jesus Salcedo - Former student, I.S. 339, South Bronx
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YOUR THOUGHTS
Herb Coleman February 2, 2010 14:48

Rachel's "kitchen experience" is not anything new. If I think back to my childhood when my Mom was in the kitchen preparing dinner, one of us would be on the phone, another watching the news, another listening to the radio and maybe another reading or doing homework. I'm trying to imagine what else she thought should be happening. The only difference is the actual tools (toys) that were are using. ...(continue reading »)

Mica February 2, 2010 17:24

I just watched the first segment but found my self distracted by the knowledge that there was all this commentary below it. I kept obsessively scrolling up and down to read it while listening to the audio and then scrolling back up when I felt there was an associated image I needed to see for reference. As I was doing this, I started to feel disconnected from what I personally felt about the material, and a little stressed, perhaps because ...(continue reading »)

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Jeremy Bailenson
Jeremy Bailenson

Hey, I loved the arc and the pace of the piece and the choices you guys made in terms of material to include. Also, thanks for making sure all was accurate in your coverage of my experiments.

Upon watching the full 90 minutes, I felt a bit alarmed. Half of it was that I had just been to the Kaiser Family Foundation presentation about the (over)use of digital media by kids in the US. But on Digital Nation I felt as if the potential horrors of VR use left a bigger mark than the potential salvation offered by the medium. I am not saying your coverage was biased one way or the other (when counting minutes to pro and con it seems about equal), just that the gestalt taste in my mouth after the full show was that of trepidation towards media use. Not saying this is a bad thing, just saying...

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John February 3, 2010 11:21

There’s always more power to the negative than the positive. It has more to do with the reaction evoked than the amount of time spent on the pros vs. cons of a subject. Virtual reality, and for that matter the internet, is a tool. The key question is how the tool is to be used. If you use VR to discover, open doors, and then you actually open a real door and experience something new in the real world that ...(continue reading »)

Vern Pfanku February 3, 2010 21:27

Before the digital revolution, for me, the word "virtual" always meant something that was imaginary and not quite real. Therefore the phrase "virtual reality" seems a conflict in terms. It would be more honest to call these digital fantasy worlds imaginary, not virtual. But that's not nearly so romantic. ...(continue reading »)

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Mark Bauerlein
Mark Bauerlein

I think that the program plays fair with both sides and gives ample airing of different views. Perhaps the lean toward the scary impression (which I felt myself) comes from the general tendency to respond more toward worrisome things than positive things.

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Steve Evraire February 3, 2010 18:18

I have been a teacher for nearly 30 years and have attended numerous tech-education conferences. Almost none of the "surprises" the two hosts came up against are new; for example, multi-tasking students. I was surprised that the depth of the report was not deeper...it seems like the hosts were in many cases shocked about how kids learn today. Lines such as "this is not how I used to learn" are very old. Frontline usually has someone who is more knowledgeable ...(continue reading »)

Steve Evraire February 3, 2010 18:23

Sorry, got cut off in last email. Two finishing thoughts...I was surprised that someone like Don Tapscott was not interviewed ("Growing Up Digital") -- if he was in the last half hour I apologise! Finally, I found it ironic that every so often the "See more online" banner would appear on the TV screen during the show. Talk about making one's focus shift... Thank you for your time. Steve Evraire, Ottawa Canada. ...(continue reading »)

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Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff

I guess that's the bias of television, in general, too. We can show 45 minutes of people getting smarter, recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or turning a school from failing to fantastic - but then five minutes of a Korean videogaming casualty getting addiction therapy ends up having a whole lot more impact.

Interesting. That was the spectrum that we, as filmmakers, kept finding ourselves on, too - no matter how hard we tried to avoid it. We kept working to keep looking at things without falling into "is this a good thing or a bad thing?" But somehow when you find out the brain is changing in one way or another, or that the military is using a technology to get kids interested in enlisting, or that nearly every study seems to indicate that we don't operate nearly as efficiently as we believe, well, it gets scary.

So you repress the scary part, or try to focus on the kinds of things Professor Gee says: this is an adventure, we've gone through such challenges before, and humanity always comes out okay.

Then you see something else - like the fact that people will surrender in negotiations if the avatar standing across from them is two inches taller in a virtual simulation. Or that this will carry over into the real world. And then you think about who is paying for such knowledge, or utilizing it. And then things get scary again.

I've been thinking for 20 years about why people get so scared of this stuff, and how to help them from giving into that fear. Because it's not really the technology itself but how the technology is used. It's not the web, or even social networking, but the fact that kids are interacting with Facebook - a company desperate to monetize kids' behavior by any means necessary.

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Larry February 2, 2010 23:00

Everyone will take away something different from the program. My own "scary" was that technology is passing us (in the US) by, and I am a professional in the field. When entire countries actively promote virtual technology and it's culture, what does that portend for the US citizen, where most are brainwashed into thinking that we have the greatest country on earth? To what extent will we lose our competitive advantage, or what's left of it? Is it any surprise ...(continue reading »)

Hal F February 3, 2010 1:43

Like any other creation of man virtual technology and the internet is both a blessing and a curse, depending on it's use. ...(continue reading »)

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Jeremy Bailenson
Jeremy Bailenson

Hey, the Kaiser Family Foundation released this amazing (if not scary) set of data last week on kids' use of media.

The big headlines are that kid's media use is up to over ten hours of content per day, substantially up from 5 years ago. Also, multitasking is way up, and white children use media less than other groups.

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Larry February 2, 2010 22:44

So how does this compare with the amount of time children used to spend sitting in front of the TV watching Get Smart or the Adams Family? Is this an alternative to the television programs that are "aimed at the 12 year old mind", as my father used to say, as I watched? Isn't it far better to interact then to sit numbly in front of the "boob tube"? ...(continue reading »)

Vickie Kettlewell February 3, 2010 0:39

It is stunning how easily time can be absorbed by the media technology. It has been my observation that the technology keeps us tethered to living indoors, not experiencing the outdoors, not observing the world around us, not feeling it, not smelling it, not being moved by it, not curious about it. Media technology has effectively eroded our keen selves, our sensibilities and observation skills of physical language. Just letting our minds wander, to sit and wonder about and observe ...(continue reading »)

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Mark Bauerlein
Mark Bauerlein

The troubling findings in the Kaiser report are that, since the last report on media and kids in 2004, reading time went down several minutes, including reading of newspapers. Plus, young people are not migrating from print newspapers to online newspapers. The researchers believed in 2004 that media immersion had reached a plateau and could not rise any further. Not so.

This is part of the value of the multitasking segment in Digital Nation. Having some researchers weigh in on just how adept and effective young people are when they multitask provides a cold dose of reality, especially as the habit continues to rise.

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Yalda T. Uhls February 4, 2010 11:04

However, the Kaiser report said that reading of books was up. This is a very important point and should always be brought up if the statistic of reading goes down. It's too easy for parents to get scared. Magazines and newspapers are down. Of course, people read them on-line more. But books are up! That's the good news. ...(continue reading »)

Dr. Eitan Schwarz February 4, 2010 11:06

In over a decade, with all this hand-wringing, there has been no comprehensive plan offered parents to embrace technology as a useful positive part of family life. Parent rule-setting is small and ineffective: the KFF study showed that media consumption was reduced by only 1/3 in the 1/3 of kids with such limits. As a child psychiatrist, I wrote a book (www.mydigitalfamily.org) to urge parents to start early and make electronic media a planned positive force in family life, subject ...(continue reading »)

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Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff

I'm assuming they can't measure an hour spent doing Facebook and, say, email as two hours, though, right? It's still just one hour of media immersion. So the increase is txting while walking to class, listening to mp3's while playing with friends, talking on the phone while...well, while whatever else a teen might be doing.

I'm assuming Marc Prensky would say "they're not reading newspapers because newspapers are irrelevant to them. Artifacts of the society they have left behind." If a kid is finding out about Iran via Twitter, what is so wrong about that? Especially when most of the mainstream news spent more time writing about the fact that Iranian activists were using Twitter than the politics behind the story? One could argue that these kids, instead of just reading corporate- sponsored news, were actively making it.

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mjb fresh February 2, 2010 20:09

computer screens...video gaming screens...television screens...we stopped fighting our kid, and allowed full, uncensored and unedited access about a decade ago, when he was 9 years old...we heard the criticism...the boy is now a young man, Information Science Major at Cornell...thriving. ...(continue reading »)

jjohannson February 3, 2010 3:46

Your mention of corporate-sponsored news raises my primary criticism of your very thought-provoking documentary -- that there was little if any mention of the business of digital content making. The virtual worlds we're pickling in, and the devices transporting us there, are mostly products of companies that have either fiduciary obligations to shareholders or at least a compelling interest in marketplace growth and influence. The accruing evidence of behavioral addiction to our digital devices and displays puts the manufacturing industries ...(continue reading »)

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Mark Bauerlein
Mark Bauerlein

In fact, Doug, the report did not include texting or talking on the phone as media use in the totals. Most of the multitasking involved TV plus another medium. So, the 1 hour and 35 minutes that 7th-12th- graders spend texting is to be added on top of the other media activities!

And, ah yes, the Twitter revolution in Iran. Not so many months ago people were predicting it would bring down the regime. Hasn't happened yet.

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Andrew Nealon February 2, 2010 15:58

I think we are all a bit tired of the Twitter/Iran story as an example for how Twitter can revolutionize protest/social movements, and can agree to disagree. However, I believe Doug was getting at the actual spread of information. If a tweet goes out "Revolution in Iran bit.ly/linktoarticle" and a youth stumbles upon it while browsing Twitter, how is this better or worse than if the same youth stumbled upon a similar story in, amusingly, the next morning's paper? Also, ...(continue reading »)

douglas rushkoff February 2, 2010 19:03

Well, it could be a problem for both, ultimately. ...(continue reading »)

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Marc Prensky
Marc Prensky

Doug has prevailed on me to say something. I haven't yet viewed the piece - I will today. I have heard the headlines of the Kaiser report, but not yet read it.

But let's see...

A couple of years ago people worried about kids staring at stand- alone computers. A couple of hundred years ago, when mass books first appeared, people worried about kids staring for hours at pages . Now people worry about kids interacting with "content" and with other people.

Interacting with "content" and with other people for 8 hours a day--- is that bad? Isn't that what people do, for almost all of their time, via a variety of means?

Now interaction *can* make you sick sometimes. Just hearing certain voices can make me want to throw up, and we may need clinics for obsessive watchers (or cross-watchers) of Fox or CNBC.

But people just love to worry about changes in habits. They worried about writing (Socrates), books, telephones, radios, trains, cars, TV, recordings, sock-hops, music, stand-alone games, Internet, connectivity, interactivity, 3D, virtual worlds, and will keep worrying forever. Some people (e.g. Jaron Lanier) do have some interesting points.

"Being human" is evolving, and will (hopefully) always do so. Because the problem is so complex, there is no reliable data, and almost all "conclusions" are really just hypotheses.

More after I've seen the piece.

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Andrew Clark February 2, 2010 22:53

I am a member of a consortium of child psychiatrists who speak in regards to Children and Media use. The program was balanced and fair. I am pleased to see Sherle Turkle was interviewed. ...(continue reading »)

Neva Moga February 3, 2010 13:37

I really liked how you brought the issues back to what's really bothering people about the use of the technology. It's really about change. The game has changed and we have not changed at the same pace or even understand all of the implications of the changes. Change takes time. Regarding the skepticism surrounding technology in the classroom--This too shall pass. PS-Hi, Marc! I worked with you for a presentation in Milwaukee. ...(continue reading »)

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Mark Bauerlein
Mark Bauerlein

We disagree on many things, Marc, but I always enjoy reading your commentaries. And I agree here when you say that people have always worried about change--not everyone, and change has always had its fans, but a fair portion of people of conservative temperament, yes, if not ideology. But the consistency of worry doesn't mean that worry is always misguided or false, nor does it mean that in previous cases someone wasn't, indeed, lost when TV and other advents came along.

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Andrew Mayer February 2, 2010 19:39

But in order to claim that worry as more than a general moral panic, you need to define what would be lost and the negative consequences are. Just "losing X=Bad" just panders to a general conservative attitude that things as they were/are is always the best. ...(continue reading »)

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Eliza Eddison
Eliza Eddison

My cursory review of the piece has given me three thoughts:

1. I finally understand why people say I talk fast.

2. A comment I made that was not included in the piece is thus: we are not the tricky, deviant generation that figured out how to goof off and not pay attention in class. IMing your neighbor is merely an accelerated and more subtle form of passing notes. While multi-tasking or keeping a laptop in front of you may minimize your productivity, it is unfair to act as if we are getting less out of our education because of our gadgets. If someone doesn't want to pay attention, they don't need a laptop to tune out a lecture.

3. Also: many, many lectures at MIT have no more than one or two laptops open. If the lecture being presented is note-heavy, important and interesting, you will find a hundred #2 pencils flying over paper and only hear the typing of one or two people catching up on e-mail.

I'll react to the rest when I have time to watch it without falling asleep from jetlag-induced fatigue.

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Joan Combs Durso February 2, 2010 15:29

Joel Foner has an excellent post on the role of the networked audience, from the POV of the speaker in front of that crowd at http://joelfoner.com/2010/01/networked-audience-is-here-now-are-you-ready/. As he points out, it takes a whole different mindset and new skills to work with this audience, in public or in the classroom. ...(continue reading »)

Meadowlark Bradsher February 3, 2010 2:24

I know this is a comment for a different monthly topic but as far as the segment on education and multitasking students, there is also the trend of market influence on higher education as expressed by the documentary and book "Declining By Degrees". In this report, professors are unmotivated, often underpaid with class rooms that are too large, being rewarded only for publishing research, and not for designing engaging courses. They are giving more A grades and B grades and ...(continue reading »)

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Jeremy Bailenson
Jeremy Bailenson

Hey, on the topic of multi-tasking. I am sure we all have anecdotes similar just like the one I describe below, but given that it happened two days ago it is fresh on my mind.

I was giving at talk at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society on Monday on the benefits and costs of virtual life; the audience was mostly students and professors for Harvard and MIT. At the end of the talk, during Q&A session, a student was excited and was rushing into the room while talking on his (digital) cell phone. He hit his head on the (physical) door frame went to the floor, bleeding profusely from a head wound. HE IS FINE NOW, but just to be safe the EMTs took him out on a stretcher.

On the other hand, of course there are many instances where cell phones have saved the lives of users and those around them.

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toby February 3, 2010 0:34

Great story. I wonder if the student tweeted about the quality of the ambulance service on the trip to the hospital/snapped a photo of the contusion for his Facebook account/googled injury attorneys or "how much blood does the human body hold, anyway/or did he just enjoy the ride with the EMTs? And would tweeting be beneficial for them in their line of work? These conversations mushroom... ...(continue reading »)

bubba February 12, 2010 15:32

Hey, the student who was hurt, and talking on his cell phone on the stretcher (probly) on while on his way to ER shows what, some immature kid? Former President, "Bubba" Clinton, it was reported, was on his way to ER to deal with a heart attack and was on his iPod. Makes u wonder, was Bubba maybe tryin' to call thru to a prayer line for some divine intervention? I think Mike Judge (Beavis and Butthead) probly has it ...(continue reading »)

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Marc Prensky
Marc Prensky

You asked for my reactions:

How can I say this---there's lots of room for improvement, which I very much hope gets done before its released.

Here's are the two things I would like most to see:

1. A MUCH faster pace (this is 1940's documentary paced.) Only old people (or people constrained like me) are likely to watch it to the end, and some of the better stuff comes later. One suggestion: Put it through one of the video speed-up programs that don't change the sound (one exists in MS Media player) and have it run at twice the speed.

2. Lots more real COUNTERPOINT and clashes of opinion. People make statement after controversial statement with no direct rebuttal. Over and over again things are said about which I (and others) violently disagree, and there is no IMMEDIATE expressing of the other point(s) of view. This would be a MUCH stronger work if, after, every clip, someone who violently disagreed came on and said why. Small, Bauerline, Turkle, Salen, Prensky, Rushkoff and many more all basically give opinions, or use evidence that is really debatable. No one takes the other side, until maybe (in some cases) much later, when it is unconnected and lost all its relevance and power.

So I'd love to see an organization like: "Question, YES, NO": e.g.:

"Is being totally cut off on vacation good?" Yes argument, No argument. (With the question and each argument titled as such)

"Are laptops in schools more positive than negative?" Yes argument, No argument.

"Is the so-called addiction in Korea really a cause for worry?" Yes argument, No argument.

"Are kids doing themselves a disservice?" Yes argument, No argument.

"Are the research and experiments discussed here worth anything?" Yes argument, No argument.

"Do the brain scans we see matter?" Yes argument, No argument.

"Do we need unmultitasked time for thinking? How much?" Yes argument, No argument.

"Are there really any "experts" in any of this stuff?" Yes argument, No argument.

"Are kids who film themselves "goofing off?" Yes argument, No argument.

"Are reading and writing still basic skills?" Yes argument, No argument.

"Are there no good writers among youth today?" Yes argument, No argument.

"Is the use of drones positive or negative" Yes argument, No argument.

"Can't we teach the connections some say are lacking?" Yes argument, No argument.

"Should a mother like Rachel worry?" Yes argument, No argument. etc. etc.

To me, that organization would be really useful. The piece as now constituted caused me to continually ask "What is the point the film is trying to make?" and "How is this helping me?"

My sense is that this film could be sooo much better, even with mostly the same material (+ some small additions, many of which you probably already have on tape.) Again, I very much hope you take another shot before releasing it. Sorry I can't be more positive.

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Glen S. February 2, 2010 19:43

I found the pace to be very fitting to the subject, and also in line with Frontline's unique style. Many documentaries on new media have a pace more like you suggest (i.e. twice the speed), but I feel like they gloss over important points and do not give the viewer enough time to digest the material. I'm not an old person, nor am I constrained in any way, and I had no trouble watching it through to the end and ...(continue reading »)

Toby February 3, 2010 1:10

Really? You want the program to be: issue, point, counterpoint. issue, point, counterpoint? Seems to me this is precisely the stunted conversational style so unfortunately prevalent in communication today. What's wrong with a slower-than-you-want pace? The program covers a range of technology applications (not broad though not narrow, either) and leaves the viewer to make up their mind about how they feel about the topic...we do NOT have to decide whether the Yes or the No wins, we can view, ...(continue reading »)

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Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff

Interesting, Marc. Your description of the ideal Digital Nation speed and format for you ends up sounding very much like - surprise surprise - the Internet itself! Which may, indeed, be the ideal form for this content.

But is the point/counterpoint yes/no style of inquiry the best or the only way of approaching the material? It's definitely the bias of most net conversations, which - like the binary code on which it is written - tends toward polarized discussion. And while there is some of that in the show (folks like you, Gee, and Henry Jenkins standing up for the possibility of a new human being who may not actually require the traditional skills associated with literate culture) I was hoping we would avoid the answerable "is it a good thing or a bad thing" conundrum and move straight to the "what the heck is the thing that's happening to us all, anyway?"

And is the slowness an issue of the film's pacing, or of your speeding up? Does too much time to contemplate make you...uneasy? ;) ...

MORE »

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Daniel McQuade February 2, 2010 23:08

Right on, Rushkofff...I felt, too, that we don't need to talk so much about good or bad effects, but mostly, what is happening? This is as profound as Gutenberg and maybe bigger. Like Poe in the maelstrom, be aware of your surroundings and that is how to survive and thrive. ...(continue reading »)

larry February 2, 2010 23:21

The speed, pace, format, length, and presentation of the program are interesting discussion material for those in the media business. For me, however, the Frontline programs have always been provocative and informative enough to stimulate thought, discussion among those in your living room, and in some cases trigger action. My hope is that the general population will start to choose Frontline over Wheel of Fortune, will engage rather than sit on their couch and say, “yeah, somebody ought to do ...(continue reading »)

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Avrom and Bubbe
Avrom and Bubbe

It was quite a surprise to see everything. Being digital we decided that we had to stop and not talk to each other so we could run over to the computer and record the following which really gives you an insight to what the original thoughts of everything was.

We ended up recording this audio:

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atmzeal February 3, 2010 0:47

to keep it compact, ill address everything that popped into my mind in one big smorgasbord. i think anyone can agree with how people by themselves shouldn't be excessive in using technology like cellphones or laptops. i happen to find bubbe spewing some of the most sensible things in regards to how society views recent technological changes. but in regards to the idea that children are being swallowed up, in the program or by many of the interviewed, i find ...(continue reading »)

Ilsa Martinez July 25, 2010 17:04

My feeling about the way tecnology is taking off is wonderful,but when their is children involed that may not be able to control what the world is generating to them that's a diffrent store. I believe that tecnology is good for everyone.in knowing how to communication with friends and family. but when wargame, are introduct to children at a young age that' a ball of a diffrent color.I feel that many young children are being exposed to too much at ...(continue reading »)

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Melissa Chapman
Melissa Chapman

I have to agree with one of the other commenters -- the split second sentence I utter has no context and actually doesn't even make much sense in the discourse -- I understand now that editing a person's words can in fact make them sound incoherent.

I did like Rachel's narration throughout the program, and how she infused her personal experiences and that of her family into the program, and there were definitely interesting stories throughout, I enjoyed the Bubbe blog -- I honestly would have like to have seen more of those kinds of human-interest in-depth interviews than short sound bites.

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mason mckibben February 2, 2010 18:08

Show hasn't aired yet. Gee, and i was worried about having to watch it and hold a conversation at the same time. Bravo PBS. -mason ...(continue reading »)

Andrew February 2, 2010 19:27

A thought provoking piece to be sure. However, the credits at the beginning I found distracting and too long and the audio did not sync up with the video (this might just be me?). ...(continue reading »)

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James Paul Gee
James Paul Gee

The show comes across at times as Baby-Boomers whining about digital culture. Any powerful technology is neither good nor bad. It depends on how it is used. It can be used for good, bad, or neutral purposes (and, too, people can differ about what is good or bad). It is not that there are not dangers in digital culture. But these dangers--like the potentials--can only really be understood when we study not individuals alone, but the contexts and systems of which they are a part. For example, there are points in the film where people seem to imply that school would be a reflective, meditative, highly literate place if only it weren't for digital media, but yet many schools are without either digital media or highly reflective literacy practices. In fact, many kids turn to digital media because school offers them so little deep, engaging, and critical thinking.

Furthermore, the dangers of digital media need to be understood in relation to the potentials digital media have for good. For example, it is not really that helpful to say multitaskers are less good than focused thinkers. It is even worse to pre-theoretically equate multitasking with distraction. Rather, we need to know which approach (multi or single tasking) is best for or called for in different contexts. When is one required and not the other, when is one dangerous and not the other? There are complex situations and tasks that require multitasking. There are situations--like many a lecture in college--that are so slow and pointless at times that they invite "distraction". However, let me say that being able today to juxtapose different perspectives and flexibly switch among them and integrate them is an important skill in research and work. It is not the typical multitasking, but, nonetheless, a skill which is supported more and more by digital tools for problems that are too complex for a single focused narrow view. To take another example: addiction to games. Being told that a bunch of people are addicted is not all that helpful. Even worse is equating lots of time in and of itself to addiction. Why are they addicted? All for the same reasons? What else is going in their lives and cultures? What skills are they picking up if any? Is their massive time-on-task leading to anything or not? What percentage of players are addicted in any harmful sense?

The show makes much of the supposed loss of reflective contemplation of books. Before printing, when books were handwritten (and no spaces were left between words), people in the West read out loud, meditated on the sound and meaning slowly, and read the same book over and over again. Since books were hard to produce, people did not produce or read books on "trivial" topics. These readers would find what we see today as reflective and contemplative as a quick one-time read of often trivial material that was really not revisited enough and read slowly enough to be truly understood and appropriately valued. They might have produced a show saying how unreflective today's Baby Boomer readers are. We Baby Boomers would rightly respond that we did not have time to read things over and over, read widely, and in any case used reading for a lot more purposes--all good things, but the old timers would probably still be unimpressed. And yes there is a loss to not reading out loud and meditating on sound and meaning anymore.

Books--just like digital media--are not unmitigatedly good. Infinitely more people have engaged in murder and mayhem because of the Bible and the Koran than have ever done so because of digital media. And so far no one thinks God produced a game, but lots of people think he produced a book. Books can make people smarter or dumber--they can expose them to the world or hide reality from them. So any real understanding of them would have to be nuanced and contextual. For books we have long learned to ignore their power for bad. For digital media we are predisposed--at least if we are Baby Boomers--to look for the dangers.

There is also an important issue missed by the show and that is the question of how people from different social and economic groups use and benefit (or not) from digital media. I guess it is not surprising that American TV does not much deal with class issues, but there is little doubt that digital media are leveraged by some families to great benefit for their children in school as part of a larger learning and literacy ecology that includes digital media and print. Other families use digital media in quite different ways. Indeed, there are many different uses with many different outcomes--my simple dichotomy really will not do, but it raises the issue of equity and outcomes for diverse people in our society (and, indeed, world).

The film is indeed thought provoking. Its power is in being by and large an "etic" (outside) view of other people's new cultures. It is less good at giving a real feel for what those new cultures and their concomitant practices mean to young people today from the inside.

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Dave Evartt February 3, 2010 12:22

The program made important points, to be sure, but in the end mostly what I came away with was a sense that, if you watched the program, you couldn't help but believe that our children are losing their souls. As has been stated, technology such as the internet is not good, nor is it bad, it just is. Like television, radio, the telegraph, books, scrolls, and clay tablets, every advancement in human learning came about as the result of a ...(continue reading »)

Concerned Viewer February 3, 2010 23:34

The first half of this show was one of the most boring Frontline pieces I have seen. I have read and watched Peter Singer and others on Military robotics and related topics. That and immersive experiences are worthy topics of discussion. For a while, I could imagine myself watching a fluffy concerned-parent kind of piece on CNN during the first half of the show. Just wondering, you send a correspondent all the way to South Korea to talk to a ...(continue reading »)

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Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff

These are some great and important thoughts, and help flesh out what I believe are some of Marc Prensky's issues, as well. I had these thoughts throughout filming the show, but needed to keep reminding myself of the audience, pulling myself out of my own deeply immersed 'screenager' sensibility, and into the headspace of the less initiated viewer.

I've written immersive books and made media that recreates some of the experience and sensibility of cyberian living. But I think the task here was a bit different. It wasn't to evaluate is it good or bad, but more to look at what we might be gaining and losing. If people are reading less (they are) then that's a fact. And then we have a person saying why that's a problem, and another person saying it's not. Of course Rachel, the producer and parent, has to wonder what it means that her kids might not have the same relationship with books that she does. But then she also asks whether that concern is itself a nostalgic one, denying what her kids might gain by moving on.

So I think it's more a question of how far along the "acceptance" chain a person gets. Rachel's view would appear radically pro-digital to many. I promise you, Rachel's mere suggestion that she might best accept that books are a thing of the past, and that it may be okay for kids not to read them, will be met by a big WHAAA??? from most of the show's viewers. Merely suggesting that we might need to evolve from the full-length book to something else and possibly more Twitter-like is shocking and frightening to many.

As for books killing people, well, radio did an even better job at getting mobs together. I don't know that we need to trash books in order to promote the evolution of our media ecology. It may, however, be up to book's advocates to figure out how to make them - and flesh contact, live interactions, and so on - relevant in a digital world where those things are not always valued.

So maybe moving beyond the first reactions to the film itself as good/ bad pro/negative, perhaps we should look at the bigger question being raised here, which is what questions - if any at all - should we be asking about the impact of digital media on our lives? Should we stop asking questions about it altogether, just get on the train and learn how to use this stuff to the best of our ability? Should we consider whether there's room for any human intervention at all in their development, or should we let the market just build stuff that we either buy or don't?

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Ellisberg February 4, 2010 2:45

You are in the media business, and so you focus on media (books versus "screenager"). Of course, these are valid discourses. However, the real impact of human isolation and detachment is the elephant in this particular room. You can do things in cyberspace that has real world impacts of which you may remain blissfully unaware. (Case in point, that mother who conspired with her daughter to malign and slander an adolescent girl resulting in the victim's real world suicide). The ...(continue reading »)

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Avrom and Bubbe
Avrom and Bubbe

There will always be reasons to resist and those reasons are important. Look at Las Vegas, just an empty shell of it's former self. That is a demonstration of when one does not appreciate the historical significance of not fixing up a building but blowing it up completely. For many they will miss the feel of a text book and yet others see the opportunity of having everything on one digital device to be good enough. In the case of those that celebrate sabbath where you can not use electricity for a period of sundown to three stars coming out in the sky it will be brutal without having books that one can dig into. For this cultural reason alone certain books will still be published though I could see the bookseller creating a way that you can print the book you want on demand. Just pick the book put in the slate and the book gets printed and created before your very eyes. Then again reading can be slowly decreasing as evident by the cliff notes available for easy consumption online.

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Steven February 3, 2010 15:46

My issue with Cliff (or Spark or whatever) notes is the same as the issue I would have with a person standing in front of a class and lecturing over a text... the students don't get a chance to decide what is important to them. they take what is important to someone else, and then decide from those points. Wherever the text comes from, and whatever from the media is... if all we get is the digested product, we miss ...(continue reading »)

LindaBeth Nichols February 16, 2010 21:44

I think the above comment is really well put, and also speaks to the issue raised in another forum about whether it matters if a kid finds out about Haiti from a Tweet vs. reading a paper, they still find out. One person's summary is their literal and figurative reading of the event/novel/point of view, etc. For one to develop their own critical take requires deep and meaningful investigation and discussion...something quite lacking in so much of the new technology ...(continue reading »)

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Mark Bauerlein
Mark Bauerlein

Jim says that "many kids turn to digital media because school offers them so little deep, engaging, and critical thinking." I don't know of any broad research that draws that conclusion. Studies of student interest and boredom such as Indiana University's High school Survey of Student Engagement do register high levels of ennui among the kids, but they find course material boring mainly because they don't find it relevant to their lives.

As for turning to digital media for deep critical thinking, the surveys that I've seen of youth digital activity such as a few by Pew show students citing one reason for it well above any others: connection with friends.

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Steven February 16, 2010 23:35

The reason why students are drawn towards digital media is because schools do not always offer information that students find relevant to their lives, and digital media gives them the ability to find information that students consider important. Also, the internet gives the ability to access information that was previously inaccessible. Digital media gives people the ability to join movements that would have been unknown if not for the internet. Students are drawn towards digital media because it offers ...(continue reading »)

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Jeremy Bailenson
Jeremy Bailenson

I actually liked the pace which was methodical and calming and NOT like a video-game trailer.

I do also agree with Marc in that the beginning was probably the slowest part and I thought the viewer spent a bit too much time in Korea...

Doug, to your bigger question, I think the micro components of the piece are all substantial and informative regardless at the pace they are played. The macro issue is one of viewer attention and story arc, and, having zero experience in documentary film production, I don't know how to advise there.

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Henry Jenkins
Henry Jenkins

Douglas, you asked for my initial response to the film so I am going to be brutally honest.

I have found the Digital Nation website to be an extraordinary resource which I used repeatedly in my teaching last semester, drawing in many different segments to stimulate discussion, to allow students to hear more directly the point of view and see the personalities of writers we were engaging with through our readings. What works for me about the website is that it is multi-vocal, allowing many points of view to be expressed on more or less equal footing, encouraging reflection as people make their own decisions about what to watch and how to juxtapose the pieces. I doubt any two readers took the same path through this material or any two teachers used the resources the website provides in precisely the same ways. Yet, it is hard to argue that the materials on the website did not provoke thought about the set of questions that the filmmakers were posing.

I frankly found the documentary itself mind-numbing and relentless. It rarely trusts the viewer to draw their own conclusions about what they are seeing and it deploys much of the material in ways which point towards a much less nuanced conclusion than any of the participants in the conversation might have advocated. The website allows us to ask our own questions, while the documentary tells us what to think.

I appreciate that the website allows us to see so much of the material which ended up on the cutting room floor and thus to second guess the judgements the producers made in organizing and presenting the materials. In that sense, the two read side by side will make a valuable contribution to fostering critical media literacy skills.

For example, I might use the documentary to talk about the primacy effect -- the degree to which what comes first in a linear media experience sets the horizon of expectations and frames how we understand the material which follows. It strikes me that we go more than 20 minutes into the film before we hear what might be considered an authoritative voice offering a sympathetic comment about the value of digital media and that initial critical framing of media as a social problem gets reasserted multiple times in the course of the documentary. This surely encourages greater skepticism when alternative viewpoints get expressed later.

We might talk about the ways that voice-over narrators carry much greater weight in our response to documentaries than the subjects they are drawing upon -- they are allowed to cast judgements and when they raise doubts, they carry extra weight, which again gets used here mostly to point us back to an interpretation of media use as a social problem.

We might talk about conversion narratives such as the way Rushkoff deploys his own shifts in thinking to add greater credibility to his current position in the classic "once was lost but now am found" tradition of religious witnessing.

We might talk about notions of juxtaposition -- the ways that each positive claim is followed by a critical perspective, while for the most part, people who are more sympathetic to new media practices are not allowed to interject or challenge claims made in the more critical segments.

We can talk about how selections of clips can frame and limit the conversation -- see how we are already focusing on the kid who claims to have read Romeo and Juliet as if he were representative of anything other than his own misguided understanding of how to engage in literature. As someone who taught at MIT for 20 years, I scarcely recognized the place depicted on the documentary -- I certainly would have no trouble creating a documentary which arrived at the exact opposite conclusion about what was going on when those students used their computers in the classroom.

And we can talk about the polarizing effect of traditional broadcasting where every issue has two and only two sides. Witness the ways that the more qualified statements chosen from James Paul Gee or myself are made to look as if we were arguing against digital media, which means that any time you cede a point in an interview, you run the risk of having it used against the case you are trying to make. Critics of new media are allowed to make unqualified statements, while advocates are shown to be more equivocating. The result of such practices over time has served to polarize the conversation -- so we are either for or against digital media, it is either good or bad, rather than allowing a meaningful discussion of its potentials and risks, its benefits and problems, which might allow for us over time to find common ground and act meaningfully in response to a situation none of us fully understand. Every one of us, no matter what their perspective, comes across as a more nuanced speaker and thinker in the web clips than we do in the context of this documentary -- and yes, this is an inevitable consequence of trying to cover too much territory in too short a time.

I wouldn't object to the fact that the documentary had a point of view, if it were not for the fact that the point of view is so predictable a reflection of the culture war that keeps getting framed between the kinds of people who watch public broadcasting and the kinds of people who play video games. I am struck by how consistently the documentary connects new media practices to hot button issues within the demographic which is most apt to watch PBS -- framing digital media in opposition to books, say, or linking it to the military or to corporations. Again, this is part of the story but would digital media come across differently to this audience if it was presented in relation to home schoolers, online book clubs, or say, if we showed how the people protesting the military-entertainment complex had used new media to mobilize their supporters.

You had a chance to do so much more than this -- creating a context where serious thinkers with a range of different perspectives can talk through their differences and try to arrive at a more nuanced understanding of a complex situation. I believe the website did this. I believe an online conversation may do this. I don't think the documentary does. What does this tell us about television as a vehicle for serious reflection? What does this suggest about the value of the kinds of social spaces for open ended inquiry and discussion digital media at its best can provide? For example, what does it suggest about the need of television to compress for time and the potential of the web to offer unlimited material?

Seriously, I don't think we can use one instance of media use or misuse to sum up the medium -- whether television or the web -- and that's part of the point I am making. It is nonsensical to make a judgement about whether the web is good or bad. The web is. How do we use it in a way which maximizes the benefits and lowers the risks? That's more or less where you end the documentary -- but at most steps along the way, it's pretty clear the documentary is more interested in the "dangers" than the "benefits" of digital life.

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Kent Moroz February 5, 2010 22:48

"The web is" of course. It is the medium and as McLuhan said "the medium is the message." My impression of the documentary is that it attempted to steer into that direction by not adopting a point/counterpoint format as had been suggested in an earlier post. Mr. Jenkins' critique, too, devolves into an essentially binary criticism at the end after making some very good points. Perhaps it would be better to say that each critic frames his or her response ...(continue reading »)

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Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff

I want to address Henry Jenkins' response (which I may place earlier in the discussion, if that's okay, where most are voicing their first reactions) - which expresses a place I found myself through much of the filming process. Some of your words are the very things I said to Rachel as we shot - because by temperament and career, Henry, you and I are actually in very similar positions.

There are TV documentaries out there - BBC is just putting together a new four-hour series called The Digital Revolution - that are looking at this phenomenon in all (or at least a lot more) of its breadth. The intent here was a bit less ambitious, at least in the film. And while I can't speak for Rachel who produced and directed, I can honestly say that the starting place was that this stuff is starting to feel inevitable, and many people are uncomfortable with that. Is such discomfort and suspicion merited, or simply a misplaced nostalgia for the obsolete expressions of universal ideas?

And I think Rachel actually went into it more optimistically than I did. I was feeling pretty overwhelmed by the commercialization of the net, the limits of programs like Facebook and the willingness of so many people to submit to their social network profiles as accurate reflections of their identity, and so on. My own concern is that people are relatively unaware of the biases of the technologies they are using.

So Rachel went to find out what - if anything - we actually know about the way digital technology impacts our brains and behaviors. And I looked more at some of the applications through which people are redefining their human connection to one another. What I found, I thought, was rather encouraging: Warcrafters forging real relationships, Philip developing Second Life for people to experience the presence of other people, Bubbe genuinely connecting to people through her videos, and so on. Rachel really did want to go find out that multitasking made up for the so-called shorter attention span. But nobody doing research - even the ones who were looking - were able to find evidence of successful multitasking at play. Does this mean there is no evidence? Not necessarily - but it isn't encouraging. Especially not for the parent of kids going to laptop schools like Rachel, and many many PBS viewers in the same position. This was the kind of investigation they want done so they can make decisions for their families, and what they expect from PBS.

And as we made an honest effort to gauge people's experiences, we couldn't avoid the fact that most are still working hard just to cope with the amount of change, the high level of distraction in their lives, and the relative paucity of time to make more considered responses. The sensibility that your colleague, Sherry Turkle, expresses. I don't think we could approach this material from the perspective that they simply don't know how great this stuff is. There is a commonly held sense of apprehension about just how disjointed things are going to get - one that forces that a good amount of attention be paid. I went to Korea looking for inspiration about our future to bring back to the story, and found a culture and government dedicated to correcting the very ill effects we are just beginning to talk about here. Maybe they are overreacting, but it's where they are at as best I could tell. (And American kids' faces are just as calm and expressionless when they play Starcraft competitively.)

Still, I believe your bigger point about the difference between the website - where we let people speak for themselves - and the documentary, which had a clear (if, in your estimation, tilted and reactionary) perspective - can be safely generalized to the biases of these particular media. It may be part of why - as Marc Prensky argues - linear media might be responsible for driving more people to killing one another - but also why - as Mark Bauerlin might argue - a "legacy" value system is easier to preserve and communicate in slower, linear media with singular voice.

Yes, we went to some extremes: how VR is being used to treat Gulf War vets, and how a different sort of VR is being used to conduct war from the safety of home. And in the latter case, our object wasn't to show that it makes it easy to kill; quite the contrary, these long-distance soldiers suffer the same stress as the ones in the 'real' battlefield. That does tell us something - though I don't think it's that using these technologies is a bad thing. Only that it's tremendously complicated.

Interestingly, most of the traditional media's reviewers have made the opposite point to yours: they feel we didn't answer enough questions, didn't make judgments, didn't find out whether this stuff is "good" or "bad," and didn't make any prescriptions for viewers to takeaway and employ at home.

We really did see the show as a way to initiate conversations - of which this is this first. I hope your dismay over how the documentary ended up won't discourage you from continuing it.

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Crystal February 5, 2010 1:03

Life imitates art. I was reminded of the Dan Simmons classic sci-fi space opera, Hyperion, which won a Hugo in 1990. One of the themes was the notion that instant data acquisition had become a mass cultural addiction. People accustomed to getting immediate answers would suffer severe withdrawal symptoms when access to data was denied, sometimes to the point of madness. Virtual reality was a kind of vicarious thrill, replacing actual experience. You could plug in and dream you were ...(continue reading »)

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Mark Bauerlein
Mark Bauerlein

While many of Henry's criticisms of the film correctly apply to the medium of the TV documentary general, his final point does get to the heart of the question of Digital Nation: "The web is. How do we use it in a way which maximizes the benefits and lowers the risks?" He then criticizes the filmmakers, though, for being "more interested in the 'dangers' than the 'benefits' of digital life." (Let's overlook the odd allegation that Doug was invoking a racist stereotype in Korea.)

But what if the filmmakers genuinely believe that the dangers are more worth reporting, and for sound journalistic reasons? One of them could even be that they are convinced that the most common behaviors and popular activities of teens online have troubling consequences. They appreciate the wonders of digital technology, but see too much evidence of misguided impressions (such as how kids think they're great at multitasking), harried lives (as in Avrom and Bubbe's comment just above), and poor intellectual outcomes (such as declining reading scores for 12th-graders).

These consequences are widespread phenomena, while the counterexamples of good Web usage that Henry mentions are, in fact, microphenomena. He cites home-schooling, but only around 3 percent of U.S. kids are home-schooled. He cited online book clubs, but while I don't know of data on how many there are and how many teens participate, given the many surveys of book-reading habits that show steep declines among teen and young adults over the years (including the Kaiser survey mentioned previously), online book clubs, too, are a tiny venture. And, of course, so are protests outside the "military-industrial complex." That doesn't mean that they aren't important, but only that in the big picture of digital influence on the young, they have a pretty small place.

Finally, the statement "It is nonsensical to make a judgement about whether the web is good or bad" doesn't account for the dynamic role of Web tools in current behaviors. Yes, Henry is right that it all depends on what people do with them. But if the tools allow you to do things you had never done before, then the tools themselves have a formative impact on the good and bad that people do.

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Mark J. Koenig February 3, 2010 12:34

Bauerlein makes an excellent point here. We are constantly inundated with the prevailing view that technology and 'digital immersion' are - almost by definition - good things. It's also conventional wisdom that all this "connectedness" is beneficial and leads to improved learning among younger people who in many cases have never known a world without these technologies. To the extent that sound journalism is a search for the truth, it is axiomatic that these pervasive cultural assumptions should be challenged. ...(continue reading »)

Sean Dagony-Clark February 9, 2010 12:24

In response to Mark Koenig's proposition of a leftist agenda among those who view technology as beneficial: we must be careful to differentiate a political agenda from a societal one. Clearly the two can be related, but to infer nefarious intent from those who value interconnectedness is a bit of a leap. The reality of the modern world is that our society _is_ becoming globalized. This process started before the internet existed. It has been assisted, not begun, by emergent ...(continue reading »)

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Henry Jenkins
Henry Jenkins

The issue of multitasking is an absolutely pertinent question to explore within a documentary and doing so may well prompt discussions we should be having about the impact of digital media on our culture. I am delighted to be participating in this exchange and think it's great that it brings together people who would normally be speaking in very different contexts. That was the strength of the website and why it is so useful in teaching these debates.

My problem is that the film seems to want to address three questions of very different levels of granularity --

1. the debates around multitasking. Here, the focus is too narrow on the computer as the cause of these problems. There are other questions we need to ask such as the degree to which issues of distraction, over-simulation, and multitasking would be a phenomenon of our lives even if computers did not exist at all. Indeed, that was the point of my one comment included in the documentary -- that these issues have been an ongoing concern throughout the 20th century. At worst, we can say that the computer has amplified or accelerated these phenomenon, but it does not create them and to deal with multitasking without dealing with the range of factors which have made our lives more complex, seems to offer an incomplete picture. ...

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Teresa Evanko February 3, 2010 20:42

I agree that the computer is only one contributor to short attention spans. The radio and television are major contributors. The very nature of programming and dividing time into saleable bits of time, stories resolving themselves in 30 minute episodes started the trend. The bits of time just keep getting smaller. ...(continue reading »)

Sean Burke March 2, 2010 14:19

I am currently a 20 year old college student. I can understand the point you are making that the computer and internet are not entirely to blame for our short attention spans, but television and radio barely scratch the surface of this generational shift as far as I am concerned. When I was in middle school I can remember my afternoons being divided up into athletic time, television time, and homework time. Each activity was done separately. Today, my pleasure ...(continue reading »)

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Avrom and Bubbe
Avrom and Bubbe


As a film it is very strong, yes in some places it is slow and tough to sit there and take it all in. The connections in the film from one story to the next really gave it all purpose. The deeper understanding of what technology is all about and that in the right hands it can be an amazing thing. Just the general spirit of knowing when it can be too much of a good thing in the sense of what takes place in the internet cafes. However in America it was more of a social experience. Is there a reason why Americans know how to connect better? What would the general public say if our government ended up providing access to internet detox camps? Will we see Dr. Drew now in the future do a Celebrity Rehab about the internet. I always considered my use of the internet better then drinking or even cigarettes, but when the comparison in the film about doctors that used cigarettes because they didn't know any better left a bit of a pit in my stomach. Without the internet what kind of life would we be living. Would we get the same opportunities. Steven Speilberg snuck onto a lot and knew how to use the tools of his time to create himself into an icon. Aren't we that are in this new realm of technology just doing the same?

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Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff

Perhaps we are all future Spielbergs, Avrom. (At least *you* are, clearly.)

The difference, of course, between his situation and YouTube Nation's is that Steven Spielberg became a professional filmmaker. He was a singular case, on one side of the screen while literally billions of people were on the other. He got access to the Paramount lot, which was a very exclusive place.

With the Internet, each of us is in the Spielberg position as far as the technology and reach - which may actually mean that *none* of is in a position to leverage it. Maybe we really are in the "here comes everybody" scenario. ...

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joey Chang February 10, 2010 22:22

as a filmmaker, I cannot help notice the footage in Korean schools( I am from Boston - Now live in LA, CA No comments, so far, seem to be irked, I mean really mad at the digital divide that 2nd graders use computer in korea, and I doubt there are more then a hand-full of USA 2nd graders with computers in their classes ( much less teach moderation in class- that would be un-american) Even in public high school here ...(continue reading »)

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Mark Bauerlein
Mark Bauerlein

On the note of reading decreasing, the young man in the film who claimed to read Romeo and Juliet online in five minutes is an astounding moment.

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dAvid 2 DyVyZyO February 3, 2010 16:39

Marvellous. In 1972, I read Catcher in the Rye rifling the pages like a 200 page animation. What an adventure! RIP JD. ...(continue reading »)

Brian February 3, 2010 17:26

Hmmm, you've been able to do this for a long time, pre-technology, with "Cliff Notes. What's the big deal? ...(continue reading »)

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Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff

Let's go there for a minute, Mark and others. If a young man believes he can "get" Romeo and Juliet in five minutes over Sparknotes, what's the difference between that and my own experience "getting" Great Expectations with the movie, or with Cliff Notes, thirty years ago?

Is it the technology's fault - or is the educators' fault for not figuring out what to teach about Romeo and Juliet that makes it clearly not about the plot skeleton?

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Lorraine Mockford (LoriVonne) February 4, 2010 19:12

My introduction to Shakespeare was my grandmother's copy a children's book by Charles and Mary Lamb -- from the 1800s. These were plain English (well as plain as English was in the 1800s)synopses of the major plays. While it took slightly more than 5 minutes to read Romeo and Juliet, I did get the gist of it and I feel that I was more than adequately prepared for a more indepth study of the work in High School. In university ...(continue reading »)

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Mark Bauerlein
Mark Bauerlein

If we take the young man's statement seriously, the difference might be this, Doug: he really seems to think that he "read" the play. Back when I was in school as an English major, most everybody resorted to Cliff''s Notes once in a while, but we always understood that we hadn't actually read the play in doing so.

Does the young man's statement indicate that he reduces the existence of the play to a 5-minute message that he can "get"? Is this the direction of digital communication--so much toward information that all you need any more is the gist, the kernal, the core sense?

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Darrell McIndoe February 3, 2010 14:22

There seems to be a problem here of conflating someone's performance in a documentary (which is what a doc interview is) and what he/she may actually think. That student may actually believe he "read" the play, but I'd say it's much more likely he was performing for the camera and was quote-mined. If you talked to him one on one, post this film, I'm sure he'd recognize the distinction. ...(continue reading »)

douglas rushkoff February 4, 2010 11:00

Indeed. I think he meant he "got" the play - or did the modern equivalent of reading the play. That he satisfied his assignment, by reading the condensation. His comment wasn't without some embedded irony. ...(continue reading »)

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Your Stories
Your Stories

Greg Bukata told our production that he hadn't read Romeo and Juliet so he "read it online in five minutes." This idea -- that students no longer have time to read -- sparked debate in the Digital Nation roundtable. Are students still reading books? Is it possible to get Shakespeare in five minutes? Digital Nation "Your Stories" took to the streets around NYU to hear what students have to say about reading and multitasking. Watch more stories about life in the digital age, here.

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Philip Rosedale
Philip Rosedale

Hi! Although sequentially reading the individual words comprising an entire novel is a wonderful and complete experience (I'm 41 and spent a big part of my childhood reading everything I could well before computers were available), the most recent research in how the brain is probably organized suggests a better fit between the way we 'read' in the digital world of today and the way we actually store and manipulate information internally. The magnificent sense of 'getting' Great Expectations has to do with fractal/hierarchical memories that are simultaneously evoked and span different levels of abstraction/cognition. So each of us a has a different (but fairly similar) high level 'memory' of what Victorian women were life, for example. That feeling can be instantly evoked by a small trigger - like reading any part of that book. The act of coming to deeply understand the text is the act of connecting and storing a bunch of associations that become your memory of the book. This actually fits pretty well with the cliffnotes + chat + a couple of pictures + a couple of blogs model that compresses a long text into a few minutes of what are effectively short evocative hyperlinks.

I think what causes stress and is worthy of discussion is that the process of reading all the words and the process of assembling these rapid associations can produce different patterns of understanding. But what personally find remarkable is that we've created a system of intake (the internet) that actually can so enormously speed the process by being more similar to our actual thinking and memories.

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Jason Archibald February 3, 2010 16:01

I think you are looking at the issues too narrowly. It may be more efficient to read a summary and have a quick chat about something than to read an entire novel in terms of being able to report on what the book is about. However, reading the novel and producing one's own understanding of the work exercises the mind and increases the individual's ability and patience for doing such things. If I need a jug of milk, it's faster ...(continue reading »)

Anthony Landreth February 16, 2010 22:37

What is the evidence that you're referring to? I work in a memory and learning lab and would be curious to know who published this research. ...(continue reading »)

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Mark Bauerlein
Mark Bauerlein

If it's the case, Philip, that a "deep understanding" of a text nicely follows the "cliffnotes + chat + a couple of pictures + a couple of blogs model," then why bother reading all of Great Expectations at all? Why not just work with the condensations?

Apart from that, there is a faulty premise here. You refer to brain activity as "store and manipulate information internally," but the novel is much more than information. It also possesses literary language, irony, moral ambiguity, psychological complexity, . . .

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franz hespenheide February 4, 2010 21:13

and emotional response ... The Cliff notes can't evoke the overlay of the context of the novel with the readers' own life and experience. You can get the facts right but lose the meaning of the novel to your own life. We learn by metaphor, but It seems to me that without emotion and a period of catharsis afterward for reflection and digestion, we won't learn anything. Perhaps that's why our public memory of our own history is so short ...(continue reading »)

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Philip Rosedale
Philip Rosedale

You don't want to use only condensation, if possible: The full text (if you have the time) will construct the most accurate/similar set of patterns in your brain to others who have read the novel. In other words, you'll have more in common with someone who also read the full text, and therefore be able to communicate more clearly and deeply. Any specific 'condensation' (set of summary experiences) will not capture as similar or as close an image as the full text. The neat trick is that you can get surprisingly close in 5 minutes with the cliff notes.

As to irony, moral ambiguity, and the like... the really amazing thing about the brain (at least many/most researchers would agree at this point) is that it reduces everything to an associative memory. Information, nothing more (or less). The word 'irony' evokes a cascade of memories, some of which are feelings, etc. The meaning of irony is the sum of those memories. It's different for everyone, too! But there is a collective average in all our minds, which is the best raw definition of what the word/pointer actually means.

BTW, MP3 audio files also don't sound quite as good/true as the original vinyl/CD/live performance. But the human condition is greatly greatly improved by the incredibly expanded fast and cheap access we now all have to music. The benefits enormously outweighed the costs.

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Steven February 3, 2010 16:10

you speak of evoking memories and patterns... and that is fine for those of us who have the patterns to evoke... but what about the young into whom we are trying to instill those patterns? If we read simply to evoke what was already present in our psyche, then your "quick and dirty" methods would be fine. But the reason we would choose to use these texts in education is to broaden the student's minds beyond their experiences. I don't ...(continue reading »)

Paul Calzada February 5, 2010 20:49

My concern is someone being led to believe that a summation in some way is an adequate substitute for a work of art, which is what literature is. If I could share with you a few seconds of sound clips and tell you the Ode to Joy is about the sublime happiness of love, would that in any way take the place of listening to Beethoven's 9th? If I told you the Mona Lisa is a picture of a smiling ...(continue reading »)

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Your Stories
Your Stories

Rita J. King's Second Life avatar, Eureka Dejavu, talks about books and storytelling in her response to Digital Nation.

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Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff

I'm loving your posts, Philip. They remind me of things I've thought about yet never stated out loud - evoking the cyberian explorer, willing to go forth because, well, because it's forth.

And then Mark's are doing the same thing, flipping me back to the kid who invested his life in learning the classics as the classics, reading Shakespeare's complete works straight through - twice in one year - in order to try to "get" what the man was doing before attempting to direct one of his plays. It was torture, yet divine.

I am fascinated by the notion of people "groking" ideas through resonance points rather than full immersion in a linear narrative - as if by touching one point in the fractal, one gains a sensibility for the whole thing. And I fully believe that such a process, engaged in honestly and with a new kind of rigor, might yield results surprising to traditionalists. From my own experience, I can confirm that it engenders a kind of lateral thinking and pattern recognition that generate a profound sense of connection to the material. Though I'm sure that exercised without any intellectual discipline, it also allows for profound forms of faking it and false insights.

Still, there is a value set implicit in all this. As Philip suggests, a word "means" whatever the average of what people think it means at a given moment - which is precisely why Google might now be putting "live search" results on its pages, raising the comments in Twitter, Facebook, and social networks to the level of the other, more considered yet older datapoints in its archives.

Are we moving into a more democratic "now"? And does this very now-ness devalue the collective memory and inertia of the human project preceding this moment? Or is it a more honest and genuine reflection?

Or, expressed in another way, is it enough that mp3 gets to more people - even if its fidelity to the original is so inferior? Does it help more people connect to what matters in the music, or does it simply lead more people to engage with its surface textures and forget the rest?

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Maureen February 5, 2010 21:23

I read books because I enjoy the words that are written. Just like someone likes to see the nuances of a painting. Learning is not the process or the goal but a happy result when something meaningful is well done. I read "Revolutionary Road" this last year when the movie came out. It was great and each page I felt a sense of discovery with the characters and plot. I saw an advertisement for the movie showing the female lead ...(continue reading »)

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Avrom and Bubbe
Avrom and Bubbe

What an excellent point. I definitely recall watching the movie to get me motivated to even try to read the book. Growing up I have always read books until now. My love hate relationship with books happened when it came to teachers forcing us to read and learn about the books. When the element of discovery and fun was taken away and instead being forced to read all of a sudden reading lost it's flavor. Since I am always connected I would like to find a good book to sit down and read but finding the time and energy with everything that is going on is making it very tough. Perhaps many years from now when I reach retirement age I might be able to sit down and enjoy a book. Then again knowing me I am always on the go and will probably be fascinated by whatever technology that decides to deal it's hand at that time.

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Avrom and Bubbe
Avrom and Bubbe

Just had to mention that during the airing of the film once our part of the segment aired we couldn't help but check the laptop to see if there were new subscribers to our newsletter. Like clockwork it started and before we knew it the emails started pouring in. This shows you that while the movie was going on others were also hooked in to their computers. During the film the graphics mentioning pbs.org encouraged everyone to forget about the movie and turn to the computer. What does that say about our attention spans of today? In the film there is talk of "instant gratification" and "every urge answered". Let's take something common like being stuck in an elevator. Normally the experience does not include social interaction but take what happened to our friend Jeff Pulver along with NBC's Ann Curry as evident by the link located here.

The final video when they finally get out of the elevator the first reaction by the rescue team is if this is going to be on youtube? As more digital natives and immigrants gain access to technology any opportunity can be used for social interaction. The important question is how you are going to use said technology if you were ever stuck in such a situation. Will you have the discipline to do the right thing.

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Richard Arkule February 3, 2010 21:39

I had to stop watching after the second segment. This is really awful, poor documentary. I look forward to every new Frontline story, but this is just flatline banal. ...(continue reading »)

bill reagan February 4, 2010 16:46

I know what you mean about digital muti-tasking. I have been working online successfully and was unable in the real world. One thing I do is sell Electronic Cigarettes and have numerous other ventures. My so called ADD has turned out to be a multi-tasking benefit. ...(continue reading »)

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Avrom and Bubbe
Avrom and Bubbe

A response to Richard Arkule. It is interesting how you mention that you had to stop watching the film after the second segment due to everything being banal. Does this have to do with the over stimulus of technology in society today? That you feel that the film just does not add anything to the technological discussion. I have managed to survey others that have mentioned how the film has it's high and it's low points but to be declared banal is reaching. As far as tech movies go if it was just focused on one part of technology and seeing how our general society is today. The major accomplishment of this documentary was the ability to recognize that if you are making a movie about technology to be open to allowing others in the tech universe the opportunity to participate instead of providing that after the movie has already completed. The movie took a real risk deciding to reach out and based upon video submissions to actually choose to include a bunch of others including the one that spoke about how he deleted people on facebook as an act of dealing with a relationship issues as portrayed in this clip. Many stories and memories that may not have been otherwise captured to emphasize this new frontier we are growing up in with constant gold rushes as new technology becomes available.

Many colleges and universities are going to study this topic and recognize as a historical account of where we were in society during the year of 2010. By collecting these images we can see where we went right or possibly even where we went wrong and learning from the past is always important otherwise we are doomed to repeat it. This is why if you watched the whole movie I could understand your argument otherwise if you don't have the patience to sit it out. (and yes even I admit that the war part of the movie was tough to watch.) Then you can have sound arguments as to why the whole movie was worth turning off prematurely.

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Eliza Eddison
Eliza Eddison

I know you told us to stop discussing the piece, but I have one final reaction: The piece felt like you were painting by numbers, and was forced. The classes you chose at MIT to exemplify our addiction to technology were 1. a class where the professor instructed them to bring laptops to class for the day you were filming. (Side-note: that was a humanities class, notoriously disrespected on this campus for MIT's entire existence) and 2. a programming class. A Java class designed to teach you how to use a computer to solve problems. Of course the room was filled with laptop screens -- the class was teaching them how to write code! Also: my peers reacted to it the way I think our parents' generation reacted to their parents' disdain for rock 'n roll: with confused frustration and an eye-roll to indicate that they just didn't understand. Not to mention that it only gave one side of the story and was fairly boring.

My perspective on the future of our digital world is more for what we are losing. My peers don't write letters and don't need to hold books to read them. Take this with a grain of salt that I go to school with people whose vocabularies are not very broad but can integrate by parts in their head, but I have great respect for the physical presence of a book. I mentioned this opinion in one of my interviews that you chose not to use, but I think part of reading a book is holding it in your hands and feeling the weight of the world you are about to enter between your fingers. I love the smell of old books with spines so delicate you have to sit up straight at a desk to read them, and I fear that many of my peers do not share that love.

But at the same time, I can keep in touch with my best friends from high school without ever talking to them, but rather letting my mouse wander to their Facebook page. In different time zones with different schedules, we might never get a hold of each other on the phone, but I can see that they're happy and safe and having the adventures a college student should. I think the pros outweigh the cons -- no, the world will never be the same. But no one's dying to go back to the world before the industrial revolution, which I'm sure was met with great resistance at the time by older generations. (The only time it ever seemed remotely negative was when I read The Grapes of Wrath) Why fight this revolution?

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Rachel Dretzin
Rachel Dretzin

First of all, let me say how happy I am to see so many people commenting in our forum. This was the purpose of the Digital Nation project: to generate these kinds of discussions and take the documentary one step further in a way that only the web can do. I'm really pleased, because we hoped the documentary wouldn't be an end point but rather a conversation starter, an argument-inciter, an engine of discussion, disagreement, and process. And as Doug is going to continue this forum on a monthly basis, I hope you'll all continue to participate in the conversation.

I also wanted to respond to those among you, especially the MIT students, who felt that the documentary didn't fairly portray the situation at your school. As a producer, it's always hard to hear that someone was disappointed in the way their story was told. Unfortunately, it does happen, because we have to pick and choose only a few minutes to use on screen out of hours of footage we shoot. We always do our best to be fair and make sure we show the essence of what a person tells us, but inevitably, some people aren't happy with the end result.

This is an unusual film for me, because I was a correspondent as well as producer. I made this decision in part because I wanted to share my own take on how the digital world was impacting me, my family and those around me. I also knew my take was different than Doug's and I felt that conversation was helpful for our film because this is a world that we all see so differently. Take the comments on the forum - I find it so interesting that everyone sees sections of the film differently - that while some of you really responded positively to certain parts, others disliked them. I think your conversation is just more evidence of how early it is in the game and how much we bring of ourselves to the table when we talk about these technologies. That's why I decided to be as transparent as possible in the film itself about where I come from, and what I bring to the table.

So, in the interest of transparency, here's a little background about what may be the most controversial part of the film: the scenes at MIT.

We chose to film at MIT not because we thought it was typical, but because we figured MIT students would be the most wired, and perhaps the most intelligent that we could find on any campus. We were curious about how they were using digital media.. and frankly, we figured that if anyone could handle constant multitasking, it was them.

My team spent numerous days at MIT, talking to many students and professors and visiting classes, and the overwhelming majority of what we saw and heard from them was exactly what the program ended up portraying -- that MIT students are incredibly wired, that they multitask constantly, in and out of class, and that the majority of them find it difficult in many situations to focus on only one thing-- a book, a lecture-- for an extended period of time. We also found (and this was terribly interesting to me) that students are not apologetic about their work habits, but on the contrary, that they consider them necessary and at times, even laudable.

We heard something very different from several of the professors we spoke to at MIT and elsewhere. It was this contrast between the students and professors' perspectives that I found most interesting, and it's what informed many of my choices in deciding what to include in the program.

We filmed in at least four different classes on the MIT campus, and found lots of students using laptops in all of them. Although our focus in the program was not on the density of laptops in classes, but on how they are being used, in one case - with Professor Jones, we did request that the teacher of the class ask those students who normally bring laptops to their classes bring them to his class on the day we were filming.

Although one can debate whether we should have made this request, the scene we filmed in Professor Jones' class with students on laptops didn't change our take away of our time at MIT. In fact what I found was that students at MIT bring laptops to lots of classes, and they multitask on those laptops, as the students themselves readily described in the documentary. The issue of whether this kind of multitasking is positive, negative, or a bit of both, is something that's being heartily debated on this site and elsewhere.

I'd love to continue talking...and welcome any and all thoughts. I can't thank all of you enough for your participation.

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Henry Jenkins
Henry Jenkins

Elizabeth was certainly not alone in thinking the section did not fully capture what is vital and interesting about the ways MIT students relate to digital technologies -- even if we focus only on issues of multitasking. I wrote an extended discussion of this sequence on my blog this week, which I have meant to share with this forum as well. Here goes:

One of the passages in the film that annoyed me the most was its depiction of contemporary MIT students as the advance guard of technological development and yet as somehow failing in their classes because of an over-reliance and over-confidence in their multitasking skills. I wanted to share some reflections of my own perception of the MIT students, given how prominently Sherry Turkle's concerns about these students played in the opening segments of Digital Nation. I know Sherry well, I hold her in great affection and respect, but on many points here, we've come away with different impressions. I should note that I taught at MIT for 20 years, arriving there before digital media hit most of the country, and leaving only six months ago. I also for 14 years was a housemaster in an MIT dorm so I saw these students in the classroom and where they lived.

Let me start with the concept of "killer paragraphs," a phrase used by one of the MIT students to describe his writing. I recognize the point of the piece was that they had difficulty connecting paragraphs together to form a coherent linear essay. On that point, I think we can all agree. But I think the student who described himself as writing "killer paragraphs" was getting at something that is easy to ridicule or dismiss, yet may be a significant shift in what constitutes good writing. The writing of MIT students has to do with the production of densely written, carefully argued, powerfully presented, meaningful chunks of information. They can and often are really "killer" in that they condense together a great deal of information, they have a core insight which gets introduced and developed in a half a page to a page of prose, and then they move onto something else. It is to the traditional college essay what Hemmingway was to Hawthorne. They take you through all of the steps of the argument; they support it; they anticipate and head off potential criticism; they draw on both the readings and their personal experience. Some of the paragraphs make you weep for joy. Yet, they have difficulty connecting them together to form larger units in part because they learned and rehearsed their writing on discussion lists, where they acquired skills at compression and where extended development is apt not to be read or dismissed as long winded. (Trust me, my own verbosity is often held up to me as a reason why I am "not really a blogger.") I am not ready to dismiss this as bad writing, but I would work hard to make sure they could create a larger framework through which to connect their ideas. ...

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Jillian Lang February 10, 2010 12:00

While far from being an MIT professor (or student), I share many of these observations of myself (and my students). I identify with the technology focused individuals discussed in this documentary in almost all of the aspects looked at (multitasking at work and in class, gaming, Facebook, etc), but find it very easy to get absorbed in a good book when no computer is near (e.g., on a recent vacation in Cuba) or to go without any technology for a ...(continue reading »)

Will February 11, 2010 8:38

i like the all the changes being made but like all things theirs some downsides to all of it ...(continue reading »)

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Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff

Thanks all, for your candor and commitment. We're all taking everything you've said on board. I'd hate to waste the collected brainpower on a discussion of our film, though, and hope I can impose upon you all to share some of the bigger topics you all are currently considering.

One way we tried to pose it in the movie was, "are we tinkering with some essential part of ourselves, and what should we keep in mind as we move forward?"

This does *not* necessarily need to mean, "are we shortening our attentions spans" or "have we killed our capacity to read?" Although for some people -- particularly parents and high school teachers -- those questions will probably come up.

It does mean, in the bigger sense, how are we changing what it means to be human? Is everything changing across the board? What it means to be connected to another person, what it means to think, the notion of "originality," our allegiance to institutions, our understanding of what it means to be a member of the "crowd?"

This is just the first in a series of Roundtables, and as a facilitator of this space more than a documentary correspondent, I'm interested to find out what conversations will be most productive as we press on. Another way of asking it would be, Henry, Philip, Avrom, Marc, Mark, Jeremy and Eliza: what question are YOU asking yourselves about our digital future? And what are your even half-baked answers?

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Curtis February 6, 2010 3:47

To all that made this insightful documentary possible I want to give my praise to you and Frontline. However, your score will have to be graded a resounding "INCOMPLETE"! I watched all of the various segments with great interest and the thoughts just kept running through my mind at an endless pace. The most glaring, I thought, were the fact that the internet does not, at this time, encompass all of the senses that we as humans are able ...(continue reading »)

cliff barney February 6, 2010 16:15

to me, the most interesting segment of the film was on virtual reality and second life - the most practical, along with the drone warplanes and the virtual therapeutics- uses of digital technology explored. these were not even mentioned in the foregoing discussion. but to me at least, the discussion of so-called multitasking is itself a distraction, and the arguments over reading and learning are all self-serving and without a social dimension. but the use of vr in meetings is ...(continue reading »)

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Mark Bauerlein
Mark Bauerlein

I don't know what digital technology entails for human nature and human being in the coming years, Doug, but I am certain that an important element is being lost: the habit and practice of linear, deliberative reading and writing. Two weeks ago at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Google boss Eric Schmidt asserted just that, stating "The one that I worry about is the question of 'deep reading,'" and worrying that "instantaneous devices" cut into "reading all forms of literature, books, magazines, and so forth."

This is a profound loss, and it needs to be opposed, not assimilated. But the opposition shouldn't be a blanket disconnection. Instead, we need to preserve some non-digital spaces and times in our lives, realms in which the cut-off is intentional and habitual. Part of that involves home customs such as 15 minutes at the breakfast table with a print newspaper (not an online version) and an hour of reading time after dinner. ...

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Chris Lorenc February 5, 2010 16:03

Thank you. As a writer and teacher, I've been waiting for someone to say something as intelligent as this on the subject. ...(continue reading »)

Alicia Testa February 7, 2010 9:03

Entering the teaching profession has become completely fascinating in this regard. We need to be careful that fostering technology and media literacy does not overshadow the importance of other skills; such as deep, meditative, critical thinking which requires long term attention and deep engagement, vocal discussion and physical interaction that is necessary for healthy human growth, and the ability to deal with uncomfortable situations and feelings with a certain amount of patience. The problem with new technologies is that they ...(continue reading »)

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Henry Jenkins
Henry Jenkins

Reading this, Mark, there is very little on which I would disagree here. Anyone who has visited my apartment, where every wall space is filled with a book case, would know that I am a deep and passionate lover of books and of traditional forms of reading. Heck, I've publish 13 books myself and so if I was a "bibliophobe," I would also be a profound hypocrite. And I would certainly want for there to be space for contemplative reading available to every student in America, just as I think there needs to be a way to insure that all Americans have access to networked computers. I stress in my white paper for MacArthur that reading, writing, and traditional research skills are foundational and that new media literacies have to be understood as an expansion of those basic competencies and not a replacement for them. Indeed, one of the first projects our team undertook was to develop a study guide for reading Moby-Dick. We offer some new ways of thinking about the novel, the ways it built on existing texts, the ways it can function as a resource for our own time, but we were pushing teachers to go back and engage with a serious piece of literature as part of the classroom experience of all children.

Having said that, I also believe strongly that young people need to acquire a range of basic skills and competencies dealing with the affordances of new media. There's a danger in turning them loose on their own to develop these skills -- especially given some of the risks that Digital Nation identifies. It's vital that we identify best practices and productive relationships with new media tools and processes and that we model these through the classroom. This is not about introducing computers for tech's sake or doing so because we don't think we can hold their attention otherwise. It is about recognizing that a significant body of research is finding ways that learning is enhanced as young people deal with the resources and opportunities represented by digital media. ...

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Cody February 8, 2010 19:12

I think the digital world is great. Gaming can teach us a lot of things about the real world. Also technology can sometimes give us less stress on work and school by making things easier. ...(continue reading »)

Zachary April 21, 2010 17:30

I'd have to agree with you Cody, gaming can teach us a lot of things. They may not be like being taught in the real world teaching but it can give us a general idea of what can happen in the world. Technology can relieve stress very much. Whether you gaming or just surfing the web. the only downside to technology is that soon tech is the fact that technology might take over our jobs. ...(continue reading »)

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Avrom and Bubbe
Avrom and Bubbe

Well the first question about the digital future that comes to mind is what is going to be the next Twitter and Facebook of the world in the future? Will we be seeing everyone with their own website as those currently engaging in school joins the rest of us in adult life? What will be the future of movies? Yes we have avatar out there making 3-D the in way of looking at the world but is that really enough? Will holograms be the wave of the future, or is there some sort of virtual reality helmets that will become all the rage? Technology is there and can be created but price and ease of use along with the coolness factor are going to determine what future technology is going to look like, feel like, and be like. I am curious to see what everyone's opinion are of these questions I set before you.

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Philip Rosedale
Philip Rosedale

It seems possible that some of the fears that we have about the impact of technology on people and specifically on learning, reading, and kids may change dramatically as the technology itself continues to rapidly build and change. For example, we may find books to be more readable and accessible than ever in an age where we can hold a Kindle (model X) in our hands and quietly read all the world's great books at our leisure on e-ink screens that in a couple more generations will surpass the grain and quality of ink printed onto paper. I'd much rather be able to read Nabokov on one of these devices than need the money to amass a houseful of expensive books. Or, stranger yet, imagine sitting under a beautiful tree in a virtual world, reading that same book. It may be that the age of the cathode-ray-tube-as-screen (which makes reading in the traditional way very hard due to eye-strain) is the real problem, not computers or networks. But that is only the briefest moment, now all but passed, in the emerging story. It is kind of like that comparison to MP3... understand that in a couple more storage cycles we will be able to store every minute of human music ever recorded in a device the size of an IPod, uncompressed. The tradeoff of quality to quantity is a temporary thing. Certainly the quick holographic view is novel and narcotic, but we will soon be offered everything, and if there is any lasting competitive benefit to us of traditional reading (and I suspect there is), we will go after it. ...

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cliff barney April 5, 2010 14:13

" It may be that the age of the cathode-ray-tube-as-screen (which makes reading in the traditional way very hard due to eye-strain) is the real problem, not computers or networks." does anyone else feel, as i do, that the presentation of text in this conference, in a light puce font on a white background, is hard to read whether on a crt, flat screen, paper, or any other medium? there is not enough contrast. what's the problem with good old ...(continue reading »)

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Mark Bauerlein
Mark Bauerlein

Remember, Philip, that for every voice you can cite over the ages complaining about the dangers of books one can find dozens of voices hailing books as a cornerstone of civilization, a personal inspiration, an illumination in a time and place of darkness, and so on. Henry's opening paragraph is a wonderful testimony to them, and his final remarks are wise counsel in an evolving balance of habits--a complement of them, really--in the years to come.

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Avrom and Bubbe
Avrom and Bubbe

I was speaking to someone earlier about this today and we both came to the same conclusion. It is going to be tough to see religious institutions develop bibles and praying books that are built in religious institutions that use digital technology. Yes currently said items are available but could you ever imagine for example in a synagogue reading from a digital virtual tablet instead of the same scroll that is delicately hand written for many years in a prescribed manner that has never been changed. There is a reason why tradition is a very important part of human existence, and as long as we hold true to those traditions and experiences even though everyone feels that we are going to lose the ability of accessing printed material, in some areas of society even in 2030 we could never ever see that come into fruition.

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Clifford Nass
Clifford Nass

One of the problems with judgments about the effects of media is that there is little systematic evidence.

For example, there is a great deal of discussion about whether writing has changed, including the notion of "killer paragraphs" vs. sustained writing. I have looked for systematic study of this question, and cannot find anything.

Happily, the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford is coming to the rescue. During this quarter, my lab will get the detailed grading of 90 students for three writing assignments. Independently, I will be measuring the students' level of chronic multitasking. This will hopefully enable us to at least have strong evidence to answer the question: "Do students who chronically multitask write differently than those who don't?" ...

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James Paul Gee
James Paul Gee

What sort of humans will digital media make us? As we approach this question there is a lot to be learned from the long running study of literacy. Literacy is itself, like digital media, a technology for meaning making and social organization. In the mid 20th century scholars argued that literacy made people modern, rational, humane, and smarter (and lowered the birth rate). In famous work, Eric Havelock had argued that alphabetic literacy had transformed ancient Greece into a more rational society, giving birth to logic, philosophy, science, and democratic politics.

Later scholars, however, argued that literacy has no uniform affects on society and that what happened in Greece was more specific to the overall context of Greece at the time. After all, modern Germany was one of the most literate cultures in history--especially in the sense of "high culture", the arts, and literature--and gave rise to the Nazi movement. As George Steiner said, what Germany taught us is that "the humanities don't humanize"--or, perhaps, we should say, they don't necessarily humanize. ...

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Marc Prensky
Marc Prensky

"Are we tinkering with some essential part of ourselves?" Doug asks.

No offense, Doug, but posed like that it's a trivial question, because the answer is "of course." That's what tools do. Clothing tinkered with our essential nakedness. Horses, cars and planes tinkered with our essential on-footedness. Medicine tinkered with our essential 'be sick a lot and die at 35'-edness. Eyeglasses tinkered with our essential 'old people can't see close'-edness. Given the slowness of evolution, our best strategy to improve as humans has always been to tinker, relentlessly and continuously, with the essential parts of ourselves that can be improved.

Anyone want to go back?

We also tinker with our brains and minds, which some consider even more "essential" parts of our humanhood. Here again, there are already plenty of tools which most accept without question: Aspirin tinkers with our essential tendency to headachy-ness. Mediation tinkers with the essential tendency to loss-of-centered-ness. Alcohol tinkers with our over-inhibitedness. Mushrooms and LSD tinker with our 'connection to the universe'-ness. Marijuana (used almost universally In most creative professions) tinkers with our limited imagination. Adderal and Ritalin tinker with (and enhance)our ability to perform mental functions. (A group of eminent brain researchers and ethicists recently recommended in Nature giving these drugs to all healthy people.) ...

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Mark Bauerlein
Mark Bauerlein

That's an interesting take on books, Marc, and while most works could, of course, be abridged, I'd hate to see a single word removed from Inferno, Paradist Lost, Essay on Man, Middlemarch, Souls of Black Folk, The Sound and the Fury, The Comedian as the Letter C, . . .

On the "Bauerlein classroom," too, I'm ready to volunteer, and one of the things I do with freshman writers (I teach mostly freshman and sophomore courses by choice) is disallow the use of a computer on first drafts. An old method, yes, but remember that the nondigital space I proposed has modest reach--only one room in the school and only one period in the school day.

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Marc Prensky
Marc Prensky

I'm certainly not saying change the originals. I am saying start with bites (bytes?), particularly tasty ones, and eat the whole thing only if and when you want to. Every once in a while a Roberto Benigni comes along and makes us want to dig into Dante further. I'd start my students with him.

BTW, do you (and your students) read Dante in Italian? Remember, in translation *all* the words have been changed.

On writing without computers: Speaking purely personally (n=1), when I was in business I used to drive my secretaries sick with change after change as I altered and hopefully improved my writing each time I reread it. They all cheered when I got a computer. ...

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Clifford Nass
Clifford Nass

All,
One of the problems with judgments about the effects of media is that there is little systematic evidence.

For example, there is a great deal of discussion about whether
writing has changed, including the notion of "killer paragraphs" vs.
sustained writing. I have looked for systematic study of this question,
and cannot find anything.

Happily, the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford is coming to the rescue. During this quarter, my lab will get the detailed grading of 90 students for three writing assignments. Independently, I will be measuring the students' level of chronic multitasking. This will hopefully enable us to at least have strong evidence to answer the question: "Do students who chronically multitask write differently than those who don't?"

It is a separate question whether the differences in writing are good or bad; that's not a question addressable by social science.

I think that it's very important to distinguish between statements which are provable (within the constraints of social science) and value judgments about whether the proven statements are good or bad or both for society. The issue of whether people read or write differently because of media is demonstrably true or false; what we should do about it and how we should feel about it are hugely important but also different.

I'll keep you all informed as these results come in, hopefully within the next couple of weeks.

Take care,
Cliff

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Al February 20, 2010 16:45

Mark: I like the approach you took and I await your results. I'd like to use them in class with my undergrads if you don't mind. Thanks, Al atessmer@emich.edu ...(continue reading »)

Jason February 22, 2010 20:58

I first noticed that I can't sit still for five minutes without some connection to the internet when we got our wireless network. It got worse with the iphone and now I tell people that I have "digital onset" A.D.D. In fact, I was watching this video while playing a game of solitare, and chatting on facebook via iphone all the while the news was on tv. I've noticed that if I have 30 seconds of free time, I'm ...(continue reading »)

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Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff

So many great thoughts. I'm most activated at the moment by Mark Prensky's ideas:

I get that longhand writing is useless to you. But I also get that my own writing process has changed since I moved from yellow legal pad (my first book, Cyberia) to Microsoft Word to Scrivener to Google Docs. If DragonVoice (speech recognition software) ever starts to work, I suppose my brain-to-word flow will increase again. Great for the volume of my output, but the artificial slowness imposed by longhand forced a certain contemplative process to occur.

Indeed, I should be able to simply type as slowly as I want to - or to pause between sentences. But somehow that option doesn't seem available to me. It's as if the technology (and people behind it, from audience to editors) are demanding I adopt the new pace.

And - for some reason - the contemplation required of earlier writing technologies are now not just unnecessary, but unvalued, even abhorred. I see this everywhere from politics to entertainment. As if thinking itself were an effort to defend obsolete literate culture. It feels to me as if the baby is being thrown out with the bathwater. If thinking and consideration were once elitist activities, now they are no one's.

Perhaps it does come around, eventually. I see that in kids' culture and technology as much as you do. I wrote the first defense of all this stuff, back in 1994 with my book Playing the Future. I argued that we push through, much as Philip describes, compensating for the technology's lacks with other activities or even more technologies. Watching a thousand episodes of a Gundam series or playing a videogame for a year requires a long attention span - or at least something that most adults haven't developed.

But I am not seeing as much of the contemplative, soft, textured engagement emerging from digital culture as I would have expected by now. And I'm not sure if such an extended break in continuity will allow for these more organic and analogue forms of experience to resurface.

Text took a few hundred years to take hold. There was time to adjust. to refashion certain values into new forms. The Israelites took the Torah on the road, but spent a few centuries putting it together before they did.

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Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff

The public conversation is still going strong over there on the right - and I will attempt to dig deeper in and keep up with you all. Over time, the interface and connectivity between the Roundtable discussion and the public dialogue will improve.

Meanwhile, as a way of bringing this first Digital Nation monthly Roundtable to a close, I thought I'd share some of what media theorist Marshall McLuhan may have had to add to our discussion. These quotes are from an interview he did with Playboy magazine in 1969, twenty years before we even had an Internet.

"In the past, the effects of media were experienced more gradually, allowing the individual and society to absorb and cushion their impact to some degree. Today, in the electronic age of instantaneous communication, I believe that our survival, and at the very least our comfort and happiness, is predicated on understanding the nature of our new environment, because unlike previous environmental changes, the electric media constitute a total and near-instantaneous transformation of culture, values and attitudes. This upheaval generates great pain and identity loss, which can be ameliorated only through a conscious awareness of its dynamics. If we understand the revolutionary transformations caused by new media, we can anticipate and control them; but if we continue in our self-induced subliminal trance, we will be their slaves."

and then, on the seemingly opposite side of the discussion:

"Because education, which should be helping youth to understand and adapt to their revolutionary new environments, is instead being used merely as an instrument of cultural aggression, imposing upon retribalized youth the obsolescent visual values of the dying literate age. Our entire educational system is reactionary, oriented to past values and past technologies, and will likely continue so until the old generation relinquishes power."

So maybe the disagreement in this forum means both sides are right?

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Marc Prensky
Marc Prensky

As usual, McLuhan was prescient. But I see nothing "opposite" in the two quotes. The first quote says new technologies upset the old people and they ought to "get with" them. The second says they typically don't. That, in my opinion, is one side of the argument (the correct side, as I see it), i.e. the "old" people are helplessly (and, worse, aggressively doing damage by being) stuck in the past. Where do you see McLuhan taking any other side,

Doug?

Best,
Marc

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Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff

This part sounded like a warning to me - a warning as clear as anything Mark Bauerlin may have said. "Anticipate and control" in order to avoid the "trance" of "slaves."

> This upheaval
> generates great pain and identity loss, which can be ameliorated only
> through a conscious awareness of its dynamics. If we understand the
> revolutionary transformations caused by new media, we can anticipate
> and control them; but if we continue in our self-induced subliminal
> trance, we will be their slaves."

And this part sounded media deterministic - more like "just get with the program" it's all gonna be all right if we can just dispose of our allegiance to the literary model of the past, and all of its embedded
repression.

> Our entire educational system is reactionary, oriented to past
> values and past technologies, and will likely continue so until the
> old generation relinquishes power.

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Marc Prensky
Marc Prensky

My reading of the quotation is that if people (like MB, but let's not use him as a scapegoat), see only the "entrancing" side of technologies (i.e. the harm they do) and don't strive to understand (and thereby anticipate and control) them so that their own goals get accomplished through them (and not by just going back, as in the second quote), and if these people focus instead only on their own personal pain and loss (e.g. "I love books--I would miss them") rather than on moving forward to the new stuff, then we have a problem.

McLuhan's point is that it is not the technology that causes the upheaval, but rather the movement and change, and that's what the "old" folk can't abide. They can't let go of books and say "today we tell the same stories in movies or games, or other media." Books (at least some books), told the stories very well, and this is not to negate that there is good in the books, but they are fast becoming an earlier way for an earlier time, just as unamplified, unenhanced music is (like it or not). I just re-read A Tale of Two Cities, and frankly, I think I could have gotten just as much (perhaps more) out of the classic comic, or a movie, or a good manga version, i.e. pretty much anything that that contained the story (sometimes nail-biting, but any medium can do that) and the only two parts worth remembering literally (i.e. the first sentence and the last.) Certainly the guillotine, which plays a gig role, could have become much more effective in media other than words.

Our same stories get retold and reinterpreted over and over again in the media of their times by the creators who figure out how to use those media effectively. (Some new stories get invented, and some of the best old interpretations survive thanks to recording techniques such as books, records, CDs DVDs or other media.) It's nice that we can still hear the original Beatles, but what survives, and what should, are their songs, however one interprets them.

All this said, it is kind of useless to bring old dead people (like McLuhan) into the conversation and then to fight over what they meant. Woody Allen got it right--either get him there there to speak for himself, or leave him out of it. :-)

M

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Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff

Well then I guess you won't be writing footnoted dissertation anytime soon, then...

;)

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Marc Prensky
Marc Prensky

Dissertation, absolutely not. Books and articles, yes. Footnotes, occasionally. ;-) There's clearly a place for recalling things that have been written and said in the past (which, if used, should certainly be noted.) There's clearly a place, too, for academic type writing, although it's not something I do or aspire to (for which I get both criticism and praise).
I have no problem with introducing what others have said as points of departure. My point was that using McLuhan or anyone else to bolster arguments about things that they never experienced, particularly given that they are no longer there to represent their (possibly changed) positions, is artificial, at best. This is precisely because it typically depends more on our (differing) interpretation of what they meant, as the discussion showed, than on what they actually said. I was trying to say that I would rather talk about the merits of the argument at hand than discuss our varying interpretations of McLuhan (or anyone else.) I didn't mean to take us off-track.

That said, I do love a great quote. I heard this one, from Seneca (of Rome, not NY) last night:

"As is a tale, so is life. Not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters."

Yours in brevity (and peace),
Marc

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Mark Bauerlein
Mark Bauerlein

I'm a cultural conservative, Marc and Doug, so I regard the voices of the past, those who have survived the test of time, to be a steadying influence in the rush of information, sounds, images, and words that more and more threaten to overwhelm and confuse us. McCluhan's term "upheaval" I take as a warning, and the voices of the past assist in working through the "great pain" and "identity loss" that each revolutionary change brings about. Yes, the "old folks" resist the changes, while the young tend to embrace them. But that generational division, in fact, is, I would say, a healthy response. We need both sides in order to cultivate the benefits of the new and filter out the damages of the new. In fact, each group helps curtail the excesses of the other--old folks rebuke the ignorance and self-involvement of adolescents, and adolescents curb the rigidity and resentment of the elders.

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Nicole March 2, 2010 19:57

I found this documentary so fascinating. I am amazed about the advanced technology there is, and how much it has impacted the much younger generations (I still find it adorable when I see a child around 3, gabbing on a cell phone like their mom or dad would.). I definitely think there is such a strong balance between letting our technology run our lives to allowing technology be part of our lives. I grew up without a computer, and it ...(continue reading »)

Aaron April 20, 2010 17:43

I think that the war video games are a good idea. The DRONE idea is also very good beacause no one get hurt from our army. The ARMY I think is doing this so people get interested into joing the ARMY. The place where the simulations are held looks really fun. They have fun simulation hummves and helicopters. I think without technolgy in the war alot more peolpe would die. Another good idea is that it lets stress levels go ...(continue reading »)

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