Saturday, July 10, 2010

seeds / media

this weekend to come, according to the weather forecast: "extreme temperatures". lots of sun, with local thunderstorms building. otherwise, no rain. i decided to let the lawn grow untouched until the heat wave is over. it is still green, and as the heat goes on, the grass now growth stems which carry seeds.

from grass seeds to the seeds of technology and books:

in June, i came across an opinion piece in the New York Times:
"Mind Over Mass Media" by Steven Pinker, on the virtues of new media, and ways to deal with their negative side effects. here's a bit:

"The effects of consuming electronic media are also likely to be far more limited than the panic implies. Media critics write as if the brain takes on the qualities of whatever it consumes, the informational equivalent of “you are what you eat.”
Yes, the constant arrival of information packets can be distracting or addictive, especially to people with attention deficit disorder. But distraction is not a new phenomenon. The solution is not to bemoan technology but to develop strategies of self-control, as we do with every other temptation in life.
The new media have caught on for a reason. Knowledge is increasing exponentially; human brainpower and waking hours are not. Fortunately, the Internet and information technologies are helping us manage, search and retrieve our collective intellectual output at different scales, from Twitter and previews to e-books and online encyclopedias. Far from making us stupid, these technologies are the only things that will keep us smart."

yesterday i received the link to an opinion piece that takes a counterpart take:

"The Medium is the Medium" by David Brooks, which sums up the results of 2 recent media studies among pupils. in the first study, "researchers gave 852 disadvantaged students 12 books (of their own choosing) to take home at the end of the school year. They did this for three successive years. .. They found that the students who brought the books home had significantly higher reading scores than other students. .. In fact, just having those 12 books seemed to have as much positive effect as attending summer school," while a second study showed that "the spread of home computers and high-speed Internet access was associated with significant declines in math and reading scores."

for me, the most interesting line of the second piece is the one about the physical presence of books in a home. there is something about books, i always felt this, and this passage gives an explanation i hadn't thought of:
"But there was one interesting observation made by a philanthropist who gives books to disadvantaged kids. It’s not the physical presence of the books that produces the biggest impact, she suggested. It’s the change in the way the students see themselves as they build a home library. They see themselves as readers, as members of a different group."

the critical point of the second piece for me is: the way it reduces a medium to the medium, and leaves out the human aspect mentioned in the first piece: that it is up to us how we use a medium. just like it is up to us how we use a supermarket, or deal with having 100 tv channels, and all the other aspects that come with living in an environment of product and media abundance.
which doesn't make the question easier: how to reach a state of self-control in a world that is brimmming with entertainment and leisure?

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