Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What in the world are we doing? While technology hurls us headlong into a proposed glorious (or dubious) future, the actual human organism advances at a snail's pace. The evolutionary changes in the human organism are such that if one of us were to be directly compared with one of our ancestors of over 10,000 years ago, very little difference could be found. The structures within the brain would be the same.

Life has always been experimental. Failed experiments fall to the wayside, while the fundamental organism trods on through time. At no time, however has life been more experimental, and some of us have concerns about the risks we present to our children. Scientific experiments usually try to control certain variables so that the implications of other variables can be determined and understood. As we hurtle head-on into our technological age, there are no fixed variables to help us to predict or even understand our fate. The education of our children is perhaps the least scientific of all our endeavors, and perhaps the area in which our culture is most at risk.

My old college economics professor said that the real cost of something isn't the money spent on it, but what you have given up in order to have it. The real costs of our computer driven educational model isn't the amount of money being spent on it but that we have allowed it to take the place of other kinds of time tested and proven processes through which hand-brain learning has systematically developed human intelligence.

When I was a child, my hands were always busy manipulating a wide variety of materials, digging in the earth, folding paper, braiding string, yarn and hair, hammering and sawing, and in the place of these diverse manipulations, we have substituted the keyboard. None who have had the chance to see a young man or woman of today using a keyboard will doubt that they too, are engaged with the world through their hands. But, there is a difference. The keys are designed to be free of texture, and temperature neutral to prevent obstruction of input into the digital process. In gaming, motions are purposely a-rhythmic, requiring what some have described as twitch mechanism to gain success. This is quite unlike the varied textures and the rhythmic and soothing hand motions one would find in braiding or various forms of textile work, or other crafts. And as any woodworker or student of woodworking or of any other craft can tell, to have tangible, tactile, hold-in-your-hands and touch consequences to your actions is to commune and connect with the miraculous. The digital world can't come close.

There is a saying in woodworking, that if the only tool you have is a hammer, all the world's challenges look like nails. The current situation is that while the computer can be a wonderful and effective tool, we have placed it in our children's hands to the absolute and certain neglect of all the other tools from which our culture was derived. If the computer is the only tool our children have, will they begin to see all the world's problems as issues to be resolved through a change in data entry? We already live in an age of media spin in which facts are twisted and retold in ways to shape our opinions contrary to the hands-on common sense we might have acquired with real tools working with the actual substance of the material world. The message of modern times is this: If you don't like the way things are, don't change them. Lie about them over and over until you get someone to believe you and then maybe you will even start to believe them yourself. And yet, there is still a real world out there, and those with hands, brains and hearts can discover things.

The image above is a stone hammer used by native Americans. Found in gardening our front yard, it had been shaped by hand to fit the hand and was probably used in the grinding of small seeds and nuts and perhaps in the softening of hides. It was only by holding in my own hand that its use could be discovered.

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