Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Digital generation gap

Among the various threats and opportunities dNYel had been discussing earlier, I'd like to throw in one more item that is BOTH a threat and and opportunity: the kids have gone digital and they think differently from us pen and paper types.

One of this year's GP essay questions was something about how technology has negatively impacted our skill levels. The bias to this question is from the fact that old schoolers like us took great pains to practice and train in the skills we wanted to be good at. Whether it was music, art or sport there were no shortcuts to developing the necessary muscle memory and the right kind of sensitivity to make it work the way we want.

But with technology, anybody with an interest and some patience can learn to use so many easily (often freely) available digital tools that can turn an amateur attempt into something approaching a piece of professional expression. For instance, music doesn't have to be 'original', it can be sampled from existing tracks and remixed with a GarageBand tool; a backyard lot and a few enthusiastic teenagers can become the platform for the next YouTube viral hit. You call THAT skill?

But really, who's to say it isn't? We oldies are conscious of the distance between audience and performer, but to this generation, there is hardly any difference between one or the other. Easy access to all these tools that were once only available to those who could afford them (i.e., the professional studios) has closed the gap so significantly it's almost pointless to make the distinction now.

What I'm getting at is that with so many opportunities for the kids to express themselves these days, it's still our job to return them to the table and focus on writing an essay or make sense of a given piece of writing. I suppose it's necessary. It's not so much that the exam only seeks to reward pen and paper skills, but it's the only opportunity they might have to create something original, by themselves, of themselves.

As we are in the process of figuring out our programme for the next batch of J1s, this digital mindset is one more thing to be aware of if we're going to engage them in any meaningful way.

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