Turkle has exploded my mind

I was absolutely blown away by Sherry Turkle’s “Video Games and Computer Holding Power.” As someone who hasn’t seriously played video games in 25 + years, I knew that I had friends who are addicted to gaming (one almost failed out of college during his freshman year), but none of them has ever articulated why…Turkle’s interviews opened up a new world for me.

Jarish was perhaps my favorite; an adolescent searching for meaning in real life can create his own through gaming. He wants to use the “boring physics” he’s learning in school to develop his own program. Frustrated by manufactures sealing the game in a cartridge, he envisions a world where he would have access to the program so he could modify it and make it his own, a world which would be governed by rules, but he would be the designer of those rules.

There were also stories of both youth and adults looking for a sense of control, finding an almost meditative state through gaming, focusing so hard on the task at hand that they can’t be distracted by life, combining conscious problem-solving with the muscle memory of athletics. All of these things reminded me of why I love (and some might say addicted to) physical activity.

I find that meditative state through long runs or bike rides. During swim practices, I’m too busy calculating intervals to think about anything other than swimming. Rock climbing is so addictive because you’re faced with a problem (bouldering routes are actually called problems)and it’s that combination of thinking through how you can solve a problem and building muscle memory so that you can do it smoothly. Just like Jarish, I think about how I can use physics (though I would never say it’s boring) to my advantage…I finally get it. Just like I need physical activity to center myself, to know I’m in control, to release the stress of the day, gamers have their outlets in fantastical worlds.

Of course, Turkle also realizes that sometimes, gamers prefer the simulated worlds over the others and if kids are substituting gaming for traditional role play (you play teacher, I’ll play student), they may be missing out on opportunities to develop empathy.

Could this be solved with games which encourages kids to play together? Games where the script is loose? Where shy kids can have a chance to build a community?


Our copier just decided to stop working when we have 1500 exams to print. Argh. Technology.

Oh..it’s been a stressful week, but then I realize that life is good here in Blacksburg. Remembering the victims of Boston (and of course our own anniversary of April 16th) put everything in perspective.

So what is this post doing here on the New Media blog? How is our relationship with media shaping these events? Google person search is letting families find each other, wow..Technology.

Will the media coverage and all the posts on social media lead to a copy cat phenomena? Or will it lead to a sense of solidarity and connectedness?

And what about digital forensics? Authorities are asking for all the spectator footage, but it turns out that we don’t have a centralized system for folks to upload these videos and the mass amounts of digital video and images taken by spectators as well as by government and business cameras will need to be collected, processed into one format, then watched and coded manually…by HUMANS. What? We don’t have an algorithm for that? Where are you, technology?

Have we turned into cognitive “heel strikers”?

It’s finally spring in Blacksburg, so that means that after months of neglecting my Vibram Five Fingers “frog shoes” as my friend calls them, it’s time to bust them out again for some minimalist running.  You might have seen folks wear them around campus or heard about the Barefoot Running movement popularized by Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run.

Basically, McDougall was a recreational runner who would quite often be injured training for small distances and wondered how, with our fancy shoes designed to prevent injury, we seem to suffer from running injuries at a greater rate than the Tarahumara Indians who run 100+ miles in sandals. While there is still some heated debate about this topic, the idea is that humans evolved to run long distances and by creating these comfortable, cushioned shoes, we’ve actually put ourselves at greater risk. If you run without shoes, you’ll notice that you’ll automatically hit with a mid-foot or fore-foot strike (landing with a heel strike is incredibly uncomfortable, so you naturally shorten your stride and let your arch do the work it was “designed” to do. With the advent of shoe technology, we can comfortably hit with our heels first, which, according to the barefoot movement, causes a jolt through our joints and puts us at risk for injury. They also argue that the arch support we obtain from the shoes weakens our arch muscles (now they don’t have to do the work) and thus puts us at even more risk.

Is there an analogy with our mind? If shoes with arch support weaken the arch due to lack of use, does my GPS weaken my spatial relations ability? Does having every phone number in my address book weaken my ability to use my working memory and store/retrieve things from my long term memory? Are we going through our cognitive world with a heel strike?

What a textbook could be

Last week, Ralph was kind enough to lend me a copy of Simply Physics, an introductory physics textbook that his father, Terry Hall, wrote in 1980, the year I was born.

A clear example of how Simple Physics uses clear, simple diagrams which encourage thinking about how to design experiments to test physical phenomena.

A clear example of how Simply Physics uses clear, simple diagrams which encourage thinking about how to design experiments to test physical phenomena.

As I fingered through it, I knew that this book was different than our text now. First, it’s small: less than 200 pages, as compared to our current book which is a order of magnitude greater. What also struck me were all the simple images of lab equipment and the ties to how you could test these fundamental physics ideas in the real world. Now it seems that texts are filled with these ridiculously long passages of text, complicated images, and almost no discussion of how you could design experiments. In fact, eye-tracking software has actually shown that students spend more time looking at the distractors in these complicated images than the relevant picture. For instance, if there’s a truck on an incline plane and the truck driver is standing near the truck, people divert their attention to the driver rather than the truck. Simply Physics keeps it simple. It’s about the physics, the experiments and practice problems for students to try on their own. Hmm..if Terry Hall wrote Simply Physics in the world of new media, what could his book do?

Last class, Janine and Nathan challenged us to create a metaphor for future new media, and Bob’s Dream Machine seemed to strike a chord within our group (Ralph mentioned guitars..I can’t help myself). This got me thinking…what if we could take a book like Simply Physics and make it an interactive simulation (go ComputerLib!) which anticipates our thoughts and reasoning processes in order to provide us with a targeted laboratory experience?

The screen opens with a virtual piece of lab equipment (let’s say it’s a pendulum bob) and shelves of tools/meters/watches/probes etc. You begin to play with the equipment while eye tracking software and mouse tracking software record how you observe and interact with the pendulum. It then asks you to state your observations and based on these inputs, it presents a few open ended questions to guide your thinking towards important relationships. What do you think would happen if the length of the string were longer? Like a good inquiry based teacher, it won’t let you try it until you give a prediction. You enter your prediction, then change the length of the pendulum and record your new observations. If there’s something that you notice (it swings faster at the bottom now than it did before) but you didn’t notice that the whole swing took a longer amount of time, it might say, “What do you think would happen to the period of the swing?” You give it your prediction. “How can you test this?” You have to realize what equipment to grab, get it from the virtual shelf, and try it…Students can create their own experiments (motivation!) and be prepared for a more elaborate lab experience in the classroom setting.

Could this be the future of pre-lectures? I think it would beat Khan Academy.