Sunday, May 29, 2005

Friction Today and Yesterday

Obviously mom, there is a great deal of friction in this world. But today, rather than focussing on world friction, I want to share how that word reminds me of a time before the Internet and even before we had a TV. I'm not saying there was no world friction then, but the word for me and my girlfriends at the time (Anne and Brenda were their names-remember?) had a very different associative vlaue. We were about 10 years old and on the cusp of diligent inquiry into things we didn't know. On our way home from school one sunny spring day, we were searching in our dictionary for the F…k word. We had been involved in a strenuous debate about exactly what it was that our parents did to create babies. The F word was not new to us --we had heard it bandied about as the thing our parents did but we didn't know what exactly that meant and couldn’t find it anywhere in the dictionary we had available —this being the days of radical conservatism, when whatever we wanted to learn was very strictly controlled.

Anyway, I had stumbled upon the word friction which talked about bodies coming together to create heat, or something like that - time has a way of massaging memory ( today we call it neural plasticity, but that topic is for another discussion ) – and we felt that we were getting close to discovering the mystery. In fact, little did we know that we were engaging in some old fashioned discovery based learning, predicated on our quest to solve a problem of very real import to us: what did adults do to create babies! Today, problem based learning, situationally and contextually driven is all the rage. Go figure! Back then, it was just plain old learning.

Some 45 years later, if your grandson – now 10, were to want to solve this problem, he would not have to do much sleuthing. He could simply type into something called a Google search engine ( hey, aren’t we creative with words now?) and he would get , 2,790,000 references. In seconds he would know the answer, even if his parents didn’t want him to know, which was the case with my girlfriend’s parents at that time-remember the angry phone calls you got castigating you for having revealed such a thing to your own boy?

You want to know what we call such a child today? We call him or her a Net Gen, short for Net Generation. These children have known nothing but the Internet since they were born. They are called in academia, Digital Natives. You, were you around and predisposed to access the Internet via a computer, would be known as a Digital Immigrant. Just in case you are wondering, my generation is known as the Baby Boomers, and your grandchildren are known as Gen X. We love to label, don’t we?

We have even gone to great lengths to delineate the ways that each generation differs, but what you will enjoy most to learn is that the Net Gens are considered to be neurally rewired ( recall the neural plasticity reference earlier?) and that as a consequence they are much more visually orientated when it comes to learning. (What this portends insofar as the evolution of the species I will address later.) I would argue that all these researchers who are building careers on this specious logic take some time to recall that the brain is hard wired to the visual from birth. Just watch any baby develop. Baby Boomers like myself are text addicts they say, and I agree, but to deny us, and the Gen Xers the same genetic propensity for the visual is to insult not only our collective intelligence, but that which has informed the educational narrative from the time of the caveman.

We don’t call this business of difference of opinion, friction today-although it certainly raises my temperature when I hear such nonsense. No, we call it ‘Tension’. And on that note mom, I will take a rest.

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