Monday, January 14, 2013

Screen-Based Technology

There's a commercial I've been seeing recently starring a delightful girl "painting" a picture of her daddy on a screen of some kind while at the same time communicating with him via internet video phone. Oh, this happy girl creates this cute portrait in bold, energetic swoops and stokes of vibrant color by just dashing her fingers across the screen. She seems to be dancing as she does it, delighting in her mastery of this newest technological medium. Daddy, as well he should, looks thrilled. And Mommy, who is, I think, tidying up in the background while listening in, seems bemused.

Each time I see it, I'm drawn in, then left slightly nauseous, quite literally. I remarked on it to my wife the other night, "This ad always makes me feel a little sick." She answered, "I know what you mean, but why?"

I answered, "I don't know, but I keep envisioning young parents seeing this and telling themselves, See look how great screens are for kids. They can paint anything they want any time they want -- and no mess!"

I'm a technology skeptic, not because I don't believe that children can learn through screen-based technology -- Mister Rogers proved that to be possible-- but rather that I'm yet to be convinced that this is ever the best way for children to learn anything except how to interact with the latest screen-based technology, which is not nothing, but it's far from everything.

The real world is everything.

When I see that girl "painting," I imagine parents and teachers envying how effortlessly, and again, mess-lessly, she creates that picture; a picture that once printed out would look gorgeous on a wall, which, in fact, is where the little girl's picture winds up in the ad, there amidst another dozen likewise bold, energetic 18"X11" prints, all in full color. I know that all that full-color 18"X11" printing costs a pretty penny, so, you know, in the real world the kid's only going to see most of her work displayed on screens, although even the glossy prints will have that flat, screen-like quality to them.

The real world is everything and it is messy and it has texture. The real world drips and oozes and has grit and causes scrapes. The real world is full of preschool grey paintings that make no sense unless you were there for the whole process. The real world has fragrance and dampness and impure yellow that can't be edited back to a purer yellow. In the real world, paper and tempera paint are cheap media, narrowcasting in actual, not virtual 3-D.

Those that want screen-based technology to take a more central place in eduction have a long way to go to persuade me. I do love that that little girl gets to spend all that good time "with" her daddy while he's away on business -- that's an awesome advance over those brief, expensive long distance telephone calls we used to have with my dad when he was away. But as great as it is, it can't replace the two of them actually being together, just as it can't come close to replacing paint on paper, shovels in sand, or hands plunged in up to the elbow.

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Rach said...

That tv ad leaves me cold too. You have articulated very well why.

AlexG said...

"The real world is everything and it is messy and it has texture. The real world drips and oozes and has grit and causes scrapes. The real world is full of preschool grey paintings that make no sense unless you were there for the whole process." - Preach it, Brother man ;) Thank you so much for this post and for trying to remind others to live life, not imitate it.

Lise said...

Thank you for posting this--that ad has been driving me CRAZY, for exactly the reasons you describe.

kstrange said...

Thank you for this article. I have a technology background, but now that I have two little kiddos my opinion has changed a bit. My boys watch 2 movies a week, and play play play. We graciously received a technology "learning" toy for our boys for Christmas and honestly it still sits in the bag. I hesitate bringing it out since they do fine without it. I appreciate this post

Faigie said...

and my husband calls texting "non human communication"

Tammy said...

Funny you should post this article this week. I teach in the UK, there is a big emphasis on using ICT to "support" learning in the classroom at all ages. You will find an interactive whiteboard in every schoolroom from the youngest classes to the oldest. I am a substitute teacher and amazed at how rarely I see traditional white/blackboards in classrooms now. In addition the children will have access to lap tops or pcs. Just this week at my sons' school every class was given an iPad paid for by the parent association. This included my 3 yr olds Nursery class! As soon as I saw it, I thought of you ha ha, and an earlier post on this subject. How about a UK visit after your trip to Oz? We certainly need you!