Last week Haruki Murakami gave a talk and reading to a ballroom-full of people at the University of Hawai`i, Manoa. Amongst jokes and personal revelations about his writing process, Murakami spoke of one possible detriment to society’s current glut of information (my paraphrase):
Instant and broad access to information negates imagination.
As an example, Murakami spoke of his short story “Tony Takitani,” and its roots in a tee shirt he found at aHawai`i swap meet in the ‘80s. Murakami began to imagine who this Tony Takitani was, and created a story about the man that he envisioned. Were he to have found this tee shirt in 2007, he could have looked Takitani up on the Internet and discovered that he ran for a Democratic seat in state government and this tee shirt was for his campaign.
Would this access to knowledge have prevented his imagination from blossoming, and been the end of the story? While the answer is unclear and debatable, this argument is certainly provocative.
Though at first seemingly unlikely, it also connects to a current educational discussion about laptop programs. Punahou School, where I previously taught in the Academy and now occasionally substitute, is phasing in a laptop program to its Academy, I believe this year. This has engendered expected uproar among those teachers who are techno-phobic (and I don’t mean scared of electronica music) as well as those, myself among them, who think of a classroom as a place where kids can get off the computer, interact with students and teachers—and books!—use their imaginations and critical thinking to learn both as individuals and a group. They can ask their teacher a question, which the class can then discuss, not stare at a computer while sitting next to other students starting at their computers.
Surely this doesn’t wholly categorize how laptops can be used in the classroom, and exploring new ways to educate students in this ever-changing and increasingly technology-driven world is a promising endeavor. And as long as teachers aren’t being forced to teach, in my case English, via laptops during class time, then it is a suggestion to which one should, I think, be open. But are laptop programs the way to go? Are they effective in preparing kids for this world, or do they simply present more barriers to effective learning—from repairs and glitches that steal time from lessons, to new avenues for cheating and not being “present” during class time?
I read an article in the New York Times today, about a teacher at Liverpool High School in Liverpool, New York, who urges students not to forget books, magazines, and academic journals even though they now have ready access to the Internet via their leased or provided laptops.
“The art of thinking is being lost,” he said. “Because people can type in a word and find a source and think that’s the be all end all.”
Amongst the findings from other laptop programs around the country, including that laptop programs are cost prohibitive without producing measurable increases in learning outcomes, this is certainly a strong argument, similar to Murakami’s, for providing opportunities both in education and life that foster imagination and critical thinking.
Perhaps this is best accomplished the old fashioned way–with only pen, paper (recycled, of course), and a young mind?
Hi Nick,Thanks so much for your response and experience with laptop programs. I, too, think technology and the Internet has opened doors to new and creative means of communication (my blog being one I particularly enjoy!). In addition to my own writing, I also teach writing online, so definitely see this in action every day; and in on-ground courses I make use of an online message board to supplement student learning outside and inside of class.I agree that the success or failure of a laptop program has a lot to do with planning, administration, teachers, and students. My concern as a teacher doesn’t come from access to and use of technology in curriculum, as I absolutely think student access to computers is essential, and have always integrated computers and technology into the classroom in terms of classtime projector work/lessons and outside use of programs and grammar sites, Etc.; however, and this may be particular to me being an English teacher where a lot of lessons are discussion-based, I don’t want to welcome students to my class on “The Great Gatsby” and be looking at 20 students looking at their screens and run a lesson around computers instead of the text.So it’s more about how laptop programs are implemented (for instance, are teachers forced to use them in class, as described above, because a school has to justify cost?), not that use of technology is bad overall. I just like the classroom as a space where students do their own thinking in the moment, reasoning out conclusions of their own. Then they can write about their experience on a student blog when they go home. :)Thanks again for your comments. I appreciate them.
Hi Cinda,Thank you for your suggestion! I’ve bookmarked his site so I can have a closer look, especially as I do like Murakami, and though I used to live in Europe, I’ve not heard of Carroll.
While it is true that in some cases, the explosion of easy information leads to literary laziness, I think, overall, the Internet has been an enormous boon to the imagination, education, and self expression.As a first example, I present your very own blog site. This has given you, personally, a fantastic vehicle for self expression that did not exist even five years ago. Currently, there are 200,000 blogs being created every day.E-mail, in general, has stimulated millions of not so literate people to hone their writing skills—some to the point of becoming professional authors. I, myself, write several long form “articles” a week. This has certainly had a dramatic effect on my writing skills. My wife, primarily through the Internet, has learned enough to write a 240 page genealogical history.My children, who are both extremely literate, have found the information age, an essential vehicle to their self expression. See http://dailysedative.com and http://blogrevolution.com , two of my son’s websites.To counter the failure of the school systems mentioned in the NY Times article I give, as an example, my town’s school district’s success with using computers and the Internet in hundreds of ways to promote curriculum. See http://westport.k12.ct.us/ as a start. A school district’s failure with laptops may be more a failure of their administration, than of the laptops themselves.Lastly take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org as a resource impossible, even a few years ago.
If you’re a fan of Murakami, you really should be reading the work of Jonathan Carroll too. People are constantly comparing the two of them, but because Carroll is an American who has lived in Europe most of his life, he is less well known in the US although huge in Europe. Jonathan Lethem calls Carroll “one of my heroes” and Pat Conroy said he is the most imaginative writer of his generation. Start with SLEEPING IN FLAME or have a look at his websitewww.jonathancarroll.com for a sample. Just a suggestion.Cinda Crider