Tuesday, April 3, 2012

After Dark, April 3, 2012

Wrong Question
Does the internet make you stupid? and other time-wasters
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

I was watching a talk/discussion show and they decided to debate the question "Has the internet made us stupid?"

I was thinking not about answers to this one but about the multitude of questions people my age are always asking and which have already been answered. And, sure, we don't like some of those answers but we continue to debate them amongst ourselves. (And the world turns...)

An anecdote seems called for.

Lovely, I thought. For you.

When the first Kindles came out I wanted one for no other reason but that it was a spiffy new gadget and I like gadgets. My SO got me one for Christmas. I could carry it in my bag, on trips, on the bus and in a few seconds of download time be reading a book I had just seen reviewed on TV or in the New York Times. Meanwhile, the SO had just bought the new Michel Tremblay book and as he watched me buried in my Kindle, he said, "I don't get it! I like the feel of the book in my hand. I like the smell of the ink in a new book. I like the sound it makes when you open it." Lovely, I thought. For you.

Two months ago the SO had surgery and before long, cooped up in the house, he was going nuts with boredom. He now had an iPad which he used for email and Facebook. I told him to download a book (bizarrely, he had never done this) and told him that Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware series were good, easy reads. (I had to include the "easy" because he is francophone and books in English are a slog.) He downloaded a book. He asked, within minutes, "What does this word mean?" (This question is what ends most bilingual relationships.) I taught him about touching the word on his iPad and getting the definition instantly. I also showed him how to take an address or place-name in a book and apping off to Google Maps/Street View to see what that place really looked like. Eight weeks later, he has downloaded and read nine books in the series (this for a guy who MIGHT read one book in English a year).

Of more interest, I have heard him tell friends, on the phone, he could never go back to reading books the old way. Now reading a book is a true learning experience - a good one (not like the ones the nuns force-fed us back at school).

So the next time a group of 40-year-olds are debating "Do we need printed books?" tell them this story. To use the new technology in the right way is to render the question moot. 

People, smart people, have already found a discreet, unobtrusive way to text and Tweet from inside theatres during a play.

Tweet Seats? Horrors! End of the world! The centre cannot hold!

Fact is, reality has already moved beyond the question. People, smart people, have already found a discreet, unobtrusive way to text and Tweet from inside theatres during a play. Soon enough, what they know about how to do that will be known by everyone and there will be no debate about Tweet Seats...it will just be. I know this because my friends and I don't go to films nearly as much as we used to because we enjoy the ability to pause the film, go for a pee, get a snack, sit in a La-Z-Boy and even discuss what we are watching while we watch it. The success of the Twitter/TV relationship (Tweeting immediate impressions of Mad Men's premiere, say) was an indication we've moved away from cinemas and made films more like TV.


Well, no... Theatre has never been radio, TV or film. Theatre, dance, opera, orchestra performances, are closer to the experience of going to church - a shared spiritualism with a rite-leader/priest, if you will. Some plays make us laugh together, cry together and even chat together. (Twitter simply broadens that chat.) But it is this big group together sharing directly with artists that is the source of this art's greatness and longevity. So relax, theatrephiles.

But back to that niggling question: Is the internet making us stupid? 

Hey...for decades we thought there were alligators in the sewers

It's too late. You prove your dinosaur-hood simply by asking. It's there, it's central to the lives of one and a half generations. These generations can - as many of us are learning to do - read a book on their device, touch a word, go to the internet to see a picture of that word, understand it more fully, perhaps surf on beyond that picture and - in a few clicks - grasp ideas (and thrill to them) that drawers and drawers of Dewey-decimal cards and stacks of books only barely suggested.

But what about all that crap/false information?! Hey...for decades we thought there were alligators in the sewers and thousands of trees had to die to prove to us this was not true.

I think, ultimately, what perturbs me about questions like the one at the top is that they reveal two things: how little trust we have in young people; how little faith we have in the gifts we wish to give them...

...like the theatre.

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