Digital and Analog and Power Outages

So I asked my Ceramics I students to respond to Staley’s video, The Analog and the Digital.

The prompt… and some excerpts of their thoughts:

“I think that the world has changed on the topic of how we perceive something.  Seeing something on a screen doesn’t give you the same physical sense and feeling of what something is really like.  But computers and pottery are both works of art, even though they are really different.  How intricate and elaborate a computer is makes it truly a work of art.  Art can come in many different forms, whether it is a pot or a computer.”

“…and Chris really knows what he is talking about because that really is true, people learn how to do things much better when they are hands-on rather than listening (or at least I do).  Whenever I try to learn something, someone who can really sit down, demonstrate and explain, as well as answer my questions, is much better than listening to a recording of someone.”

“Art is something we feel.  It has a rhythm that is different and unique.  It describes our life and our relationships – because they are unpredictable and special.  Digital worlds… are patterns with many similarities, and everything looks the same.”

“I saw what he was saying as a comparison of two people.  One person is ridiculously witty and can memorize anything.  He learns a lot and does well in school to get a good job that not everyone can do, so it pays well, but doesn’t take much thinking, as it is the same process over and over.  The second person is a real thinker.  She gets good grades as well, but sometimes zones out in class.  She gets a job that requires her to come up with new, innovative ways to do things – an engineer, perhaps – and she invents a car engine that runs on air.  This becomes an international hit, and she and her company make billions.  Which person is the “analog” and which is the “digital”?”

“It reminds me of Guitar Hero or Wii or XBox.  People say they’re so good at guitar or Wii sports or Madden/FIFA, but really they are just good at pressing buttons.  You can’t be imperfect in video games once you’re the best, but in real life, when you’re the best, you still make mistakes.  And that’s what living is all about.”

“The digital is quicker, smarter, and less mistake-prone.  However, with the digital, we lose a part of ourselves that makes us unique.  We are different because of our imperfections.  For example, I am not and will never be a great basketball player, but I find that playing basketball (mostly poorly) is much more rewarding than playing great basketball on a video game.”

“I think that the analog and the digital are connected through communication.  This connection between people is made easier through the digital, but the analog component of communication is just as important.  What really matters is each other.  I think the digital makes connections between people easier – but not always more positive.”

My own thoughts?  The digital has an undo key and the analog does not.  In both worlds, our actions lead to consequences… but digital zeroes and ones can be rearranged, while actions and interactions in the physical world cannot.  I think my students get it.  But they’re facing a world in which these two worlds are very, very blurred, and I think that some of the choices we’re making in education are making things even more blurry.

Can a tweet represent mastery and understanding?  Can bubbles be filled to represent vulnerability that connects us?   Can a Presi or Learnist represent what is left when the power goes out?   (That’s a pressing question, as a hurricane-related power outage is imminent as I write this.)  Yes, the digital can capture, record, and preserve analog experiences…. but can it do so any better than memory or a journal?

My students wrote these observations in physical sketchbooks.  I tell them at the beginning of the course that I will not accept ‘loose sheets’ or emailed assignments – they are to record their observations in their sketchbooks.  I tell them that this is a real pain for me.  It would be far easier to take home a folder of papers, or sort through incoming emails; instead, each Friday I lug a crate of sketchbooks home.  But the sketchbooks represent the analog – the physical, the real, the marks without undo.  Another student wrote that he hardly writes with a pen or pencil anymore, except for these sketchbooks.  He’s allowed to take notes on his phone, so he does, and another teacher provides all the notes as videos.  I don’t mind lugging the crate.  In a way, it’s my own little statement, something to do with pencils and substance.

I’ve been watching the TV series Revolution – and I’m the first to admit that the acting is poor.  But the concept….”Fifteen years earlier, an unknown phenomenon disabled all technology dependent on electricity on the planet, ranging from computers and electronics to car engines, jet engines, and batteries. People were forced to adapt to a world without functioning technology. Due to the collapse of government and public order, many areas are ruled by warlords and militias.”  This show confronts a challenging question – what happens to us without the digital?  Is there still enough humanity left that we can hold on to systems, to society, to the connections that sustain us?

Should we be asking these questions?

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