Observing Thinking

Observing Thinking
Observing Thinking

Sunday, November 13, 2011

November 13, 2011 Is Texting Evil?

In the Parade magazine that came within your Oct 9 Press Republican was an interesting article “Generation Wired” by Emily Listfield in which she examines how children are being affected by wired (and wireless) technology such as smartphones, music players, video games, the Internet and the various permutations and combinations of all of them.

To quote the cover, “Being connected 24/7 is changing how our kids live.  And it may even be altering their brains.”  This raises the  important question: is it altering our brains in a positive or negative way or both? In his article, “The Waking Dream” by Kevin Kelley,  Editor-at –Large of Wired magazine, he writes, “We already know that our use of technology changes how our brains work. Reading and writing are cognitive tools that change the way in which the brain processes information. When psychologists use neuroimaging technology such as MRI  to compare the brains of literates and illiterates working on a task, they find many differences --- and not just when the subjects are reading. … If alphabetic literacy can change how we think, imagine how Internet literacy and ten hours a day in front of one kind of screen or another is changing our brains.” Kelley goes on to make the case that, overall the Internet is a good thing --- in some cases it may be a terrible waste of time, but like dreams, perhaps it might be a “productive waste of time.”!

Regarding texting, Listfield quotes Dr Sherry Turkle, director of  MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self and author of “Alone Together”  as writing, “Kids have told me that they almost don’t know what they are feeling until they put in a text”.  Listfield uses this example as a negative  cost of technology but I can envision it as a plus, as a benefit and not necessarily a cost. Let me explain:

When I was working as a Professor of  Computer Science, much of my research was on developing teaching  strategies to facilitate development of problem-solving skills in students, particularly in freshman as that would have the maximum benefit for the student over his and her college stay. I decided to use  a combination of computer programming (in a simplified language called Logo) and writing exercises as my pedagogy.  The main idea was to combine the discipline of writing with the discipline of computer programming which uses both a priori  and  a posteriori reasoning to solve problems. As explained by Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_priori_and_a_posteriori)
'”’a priori knowledge’ is known independently of experience (conceptual knowledge), and 'a posteriori knowledge' is proven through experience .”
In a nutshell, a priori reasoning is “armchair reasoning” (you don’t have to get up and go door-to-door  to ascertain  the number of  married bachelors in the greater metropolitan Plattsburgh area)  while a posteriori is experimental reasoning, the basis of all science so you can’t just solve the problem in your head.

But just as important as logical, scientific thinking for problem solvers is writing.  Writing is arguably the best method  for clarifying our thoughts. When I have a hard problem that I am struggling with I find that I can begin to make progress by sitting down and “writing myself a letter” describing first how I feel (usually frustrated) and then what the problem seems to be and finally offering myself suggestions for its solution. It’s a wonderful pump priming process. By first slowing down enough to really pay attention and examine the problem, I gain clarity. And as I gain clarity, I also gain confidence, perhaps the single most important behavior of good problem solvers. When I look down the hill on my skis and say to myself, “Oh No, I’m going to fall” I most certainly will. But if  I say, “This should be fun” I have a good chance to make it the bottom in an upright position.

This is why I think that texting can be a  positive outcome of  technology. So long as the kids are texting (and not while they’re driving), they are writing and writing clarifies thinking. And (in addition to “Love, sweet Love”) clear thinking is what the world needs right now.

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