Tag Archives: Books

Reshaping Writing, Reshaping Self or: Just Calm Down, Katie

 

you may not be able to do this with the internet but you can put this on the internet

I love ‘traditional’ (read: 19th century) novels. In my most angsty teenage years or the most alienating months at my first “real” job, my best days were gobbled up by absorption in Dickens, Hugo, Tolstoy, and Doyle. I’ve also broadened my reading horizons to include other living authors, too, such as Zadie Smith, Muriel Barbery, and Alice Munroe, most recently [shameless name-dropping!]. But despite this broadening, just pass me Anna Karenina and leave me alone to read in peace (gosh-darn-it!). I don’t like technology-novels or Twitter novels. Those are not novels.

And then there are two inescapable, contrary things to my love of “traditional” reading materials: (1) my uber-accepting stance on open media and (2) my digital essay (a WRITING project). In these two things, I advocate: free materials! Open education! Unhampered access to learning! Embracing all the digital things but think about how to do them well! Abandon paper publishing for the present and future! Write and communicate using online mediums and language!

But books.

But Dickens.

But the deckled-edged novel in bed with tea all day.

NOT Tweetbooks. NO. THOSE ARE NOT NOVELS.

I decided to learn more about the way that authoring texts (literary, in this case) is changing since I recognized that I needed to come to some sort of conclusion about what I really thought about this subject before I could both address the potential arguments against my project and stare my ideologies in the face. I came across Alex Clark’s article in the NewStatesman (online, appropriately), “Anxiety of influence: How Facebook and Twitter are Reshaping the Novel,” which promised to be the sort of thought-piece I needed.

Clark brilliantly takes on those among us who fear that the Twitter-novel might replace the ‘real’ novel (really, a 19th century construction) by addressing the issue of the “essential self.” This self is influenced by the digital world that we live in, and it is what makes us both accept new technologies and fear the erasure of old technologies. This essential self is troubling:

“We know that our apprehension of things isn’t inherently stable – consider the way time seems to speed at some points and drag at others, for example, or how our emotions can suddenly flip-flop – but we hold to the idea that there are as many ways of processing the world as there are people in it and that our subjectivity is what separates us from one another.”

Clark continues: “It is foolhardy to define the purpose of the novel or the job of novelists or, more accurately, to suggest what the novel and novelists have, so far, been like.”  Instead of defining these terms, Clark determines three ‘poles’ which comprise interactions in the digital world that novelists are trying to trace: “ourselves, our society, our language.” Instead of panicking and wondering what we’ve ‘lost’ or how we’ve ‘lost’ it—which, it seems, are always worries connected to our understanding of how the self develops and maintains identity—Clark asks us to consider: “What happens if the poles get uprooted, knocked over, repositioned?” (emphasis is mine).

Perhaps, Clark contends, those who are worried about this infiltration of digital technology into the novel and loss of the old forms are worried instead about technology just becoming another gimmick or obvious plug in the pages that we know and love. Perhaps we will just mold the old novel-forms to fit some new or flashy ideas. This is not the case, though. Instead, the novel is being re-formed.

Clark goes on to list several ways that technology becomes an actress or plot-point in novels, how writing online has created a new language, and how the structures of the novel have adapted to platforms like Twitter. These things are scary, Clark says, but scary things are not always bad things. Novelists have always (are always already) created within these three poles as they create the thing that we think of as novel. Novel is reshaping culture at the same time as it is being reshaped by culture:

“Cultural Jeremiahs have tended to see that reshaping as a threat to the novel. Yet we have not ceased to produce stories; we have yet to dispense with metaphor and make-believe to explore what can’t be encompassed by straightforward documentary record. The novel of the future will be different from the novel of the past but the same heart will beat behind the screen.”

We’re not losing ourselves (or our strange sense of selfness) in this changing novel. People still write these things, people still read these things, ideas are still created and distributed, communities still exist around them, lives are still changed. It’s okay to love these old forms, too, but just to claim that they are the best way of creating novels and disseminating ideologies is reacting in fear.

Instead, it’s better to consider “how” and “why” writing is changing/is changed by the digital world. Let’s also consider what kind of place we—and our projects—can take in this digital space, which will also require our willingness to change the way that we think about reading and writing and creating practices.

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x3- Books and Video Games as Interchangeable Vice

Davidson’s book got me thinking a great deal about how I experienced learning as a child and what it would have been like if the tables were turned.  As an elementary school student, I was “the bookworm.”  I carried at least one book on my person at all times and was caught reading Goosebumps under my desk in my first-grade math class on more than one occasion.  Eventually, the school librarians gave me a special dispensation of sorts where I was allowed to take out five or six books per week while everyone else only got to take out two.  I read to the exclusion of almost every other activity, and my teachers and parents encouraged me to read as much as I wanted.

My younger brothers, however, were a different story.  Although they were never opposed to reading, in grade school they would have much preferred to play video games.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, parents and teachers looked upon video games with skepticism, which Davidson attributes to concern stemming from the Columbine incident (147).  Much to my brothers’ constant irritation, video games were a privilege at home- you had to ask Mom’s permission to play them, and you were restricted to an hour or so of playing time.  There were no Call Of Duty-esque games in the house until about 2006, when the older of the two was about fourteen, and even after that, both boys had very restricted gaming time.  In the absence of homework or chores that needed to be done, they’d be told to go “read a book.”

Davidson asserts that “games have been considered an important tool for teaching complex principles and honing sophisticated forms of procedural thinking,” and that such activities can teach players to recognize “all parts of a problem, all possibilities for winning and for losing, [. . .] and the best set of responses (procedures) to maximize success” (146).   Science has apparently proven that they improve multitasking abilities, hand-eye coordination, teamwork, and metabolic function, (149-50).  I was not aware of any of this, to be honest.  I’ve never been a gamer, and I don’t see the attraction.   However, now that I understand a bit more of the science behind how games work, things make a bit more sense.

It makes sense now that both of my brothers are great with team work and have a more positive view of dealing with other people.  On the other hand,  I loved the isolation and pure imagination that came with books, and am typically a bit more apprehensive of working with others.  Where I love endlessly discussing strange theoretical ideas and minutia, both of my brothers enjoy and are skilled in the application and processes of creating a cohesive product.  All three of us are skilled, but in markedly different ways.  Of course, all of this begs the question:  Do games and books attract people of a certain personality type, or do they have a heavy hand in creating them?  For space’s sake, I won’t go into that.

In the above clip, from the 2006 Doctor Who episode “Tooth and Claw,” the Doctor encourages his companions– including Queen Victoria herself– to arm themselves with books and knowledge in order to defeat the werewolf-like creature that is terrorizing Torchwood Estate.  In this context,  the books are defensive mechanisms, preparing the Doctor and his companions to deal with the aggressions of a dangerous enemy.   If books were demonized even half as much as video games have been, education and childhood for children around the world would have been markedly different.  If those tables were turned and books were limited and seen as a vice because they were regarded as dangerous and violence-inducing, the Doctor, Rose Tyler, and Queen Victoria might have been in a very different sort of situation.

I was fortunate to have teachers who understood how important reading was to me, and more than one of them made a point to encourage reading, response, and analysis as a part of their curriculum.  My third grade teacher created an optional advanced reading activity group for about twelve students, in which we read different books and had our own special binders for discussion and response.  Davidson seems to agree with my opinion that reading is one of the most important ways to encourage imagination and curiosity in learners of all ages, calling the kindergarteners “the luckiest children on earth” (98).  Not only do they they have the privilege of quiet time to spend reading whatever they choose, but they have an educator who recognizes and encourages independent, self-directed learning.

On page 129, Davidson poses the concept of a year-end “boss-level challenge,” a project (or several smaller related projects) produced from the cumulative learning and particular skills of each student.  It makes so much sense that I’m astounded it hasn’t been implemented more widely in the mainstream.  Instead of testing arbitrary and generally irrelevant knowledge, such a project would give students a platform to develop useful skills like reasoning, communication, the importance of community outreach, and research.  Basically, it sounds like a masters’ thesis for kids that is almost more applicable to real-world situations than an actual master’s thesis.  Whether the project incorporates the skills and ideas they learn from books or video games, all that matters is that it would measure their useful life skills and arm them to be productive contributors to society.

I realized that I never actually got to talking about a classroom educational experience, but I will say that I wish this book had been around when I was in elementary school.  If educators had realized the apparent potential that video games have for developing skills applicable to the classroom and real life, I feel like I would have had a very different and more diversely enriching school experience.  I wouldn’t trade my love of books and the enrichment that they’ve contributed to my life for anything.  However,  Now You See It has forced me to consider the value of video games, which I have generally viewed as useless and a waste of time, and think about how learning would be different if it was books that were considered dangerous vices.