Why Technology Doesn’t Dumb Down Your Experience

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I’m seven years old using the computer at my grandmother’s house: Windows 97, the first computer I’ve ever used. I can hear the clattering of dishes downstairs and the chatter of family members, my mother’s distinctive laugh. The house is warm and dusty, as most Canadian houses are. It is old though, and it smells of twenty five years of families moving in and out, each leaving behind mixtures of their scents seeped into the worn brown shag carpets and the beige paint on the walls. The blinds on the window are slightly open, and daylight slants in, illuminating the dust drifting in the air. In front of me the screen glows green as I guide a little mouse through a maze to find his piece of cheese.

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The cats are chasing me, closing in for the kill. I must get to the cheese before the cats catch me. Downstairs my mother calls my name. The cats are mere pixels behind me. The smell of roast beef wafting up from the kitchen makes my stomach growl, but I ignore it. “Dinner’s ready!” My mother urges. Du na na na… the tell tale signal of death reaches my ears. The cats got me first. Oh well. I jump up off the springy desk chair and head downstairs for dinner.

This is my response to Steven Faulkner’s “Read the World“. Honestly, I’m a little bit offended by the assumptions he makes about my generation. He claims:

My students are bored with this world. They ask to write of zombies, vampires, and elves.  Perhaps they are bored with my world because they haven’t climbed trees and played in dirt, roamed the wild  meadows, experimented with machinery, pounded a new house together with their own hands. They watch television, they gabble on their ‘smart’ phones, they click through the galaxies of the internet; they experience the world remotely, and too often their nonfiction seems remote. 

[…] But even if one’s childhood was carefully arranged by furniture, constantly lit by fluorescent lights, leveled and landscaped by developers, and dumbed down by smart phones, a student can start experiencing the world any day of the week.

First of all, my life has not been “dumbed down” by smart phones and technology, and even if I am using technology it does not make my experience of the world remote. Even though I am on my laptop right now I am still sitting in a room, in my house, in Australia, in the world. I can hear the humming of the freezer and the cars whizzing by every so often on the street. I can hear the collective squawking of flocks of rainbow lorikeets, and the slow guffaw of the currawong. I can smell the flowers of our late-blooming poinciana tree. And I can feel the salty air settling on my skin. All of this while the slow trickle of my fingers tapping on the keyboard reaches my ears. I’m still here, experiencing this, and just because I’m on the computer right now does not mean I haven’t gone out there and “experienced the world”. 

The memory I shared is special to me, because I loved that simple little game. When I think of that game I don’t recall a remote memory of myself numb to the world. When I think of it I get a warm feeling that reminds me of my childhood, of my grandmother’s old house, of the way things looked and felt to me back then, of the warm sunlight drifting in through the windows. The memory of me playing that game is a special childhood memory just like any other special one. Yes I’ve spent summers biking around in the forest with my friends, jumping into the river, and drawing with chalk all over the street. I remember the scummy taste of algae when the river was low, and the part on the dirt bike track that I was always scared to go over because it was so steep, but I did it anyway. I remember the dusty feeling of chalk all over my hands and my legs and my face because we crawled all over the place as we drew. These memories are all special too, but they don’t make my memories with technology any less special. I never experienced them “more” than I experienced my time with my Nintendo 64 or my Gameboy or my favourite TV shows. I experienced the world around me in every one of my memories, even the ones with technology. And I think I could write a damn good story about the excitement I felt as I pulverized my friends in Super Smash Bros. (I always won), or hurt my thumb trying to tap “A” as fast as humanly possible just to win a mini game in Pokemon Stadium (my friend always beat me). I even have a pretty funny story about my friend and I playing golf on Sega Genesis, and my three year old sister stumbling into the room and pulling out the power cord just when we got to the thirteenth hole (the furthest we’ve ever been in that game, to date).

So I’m sorry Steven Faulkner if your students’ non-fiction bores you, but please don’t make the mistake of blaming it on the technology in their lives. Don’t tell them to go out and “experience the world”. Tell them to pay attention to the experience they are having right now. One only needs to notice the experiences in their lives in order to write about them; the experiences themselves do not need to be changed.

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7 thoughts on “Why Technology Doesn’t Dumb Down Your Experience

  1. With due respect to Mr. Faulkner, that quote is rather snooty. Genre discrimination is rather foolish. Just because a story takes place in a fantasy world, or a science fiction one, that doesn’t mean the story has no real-world value. Same thing with exposure to technology: just because we were exposed to different technology, that doesn’t discount the experience.
    Lovely read! 🙂

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    • Agreed! I once had a professor tell me that all great works of fantasy and science fiction are great because they reveal something true about the real world. Thanks for reading 🙂
      -Justine

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  2. Great points! I think, just like everything else, technology has the ability to both limit and enhance our experiences. And since technology has played a huge role in shaping our world, I think you could argue that without technology you’re not experiencing a large part of the modern world.

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  3. Such good points! While I firmly appreciate the beauty of nature and moments when you’re not glued to a smartphone, I find it funny that Faulkner thinks that we are “bored” because of technology. I would disagree and say by embracing the world we live in, the one of technology, people have only grown. Just think of the advances and capabilities people have now because someone’s passion for technology sparked a movement. If anything, technology has allowed us to grow further.

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