Saturday, January 10, 2009

I'll Show You the Life of the MindTube

In his December 24, 2007 New Yorker article Twilight of the Books, Caleb Crain (an N+1er) wrote something that has stuck with me:

It is easy to notice inconsistencies in two written accounts placed side by side. With text, it is even easy to keep track of differing levels of authority behind different pieces of information. The trust that a reader grants to the New York Times, for example, may vary sentence by sentence. A comparison of two video reports, on the other hand, is cumbersome. Forced to choose between conflicting stories on television, the viewer falls back on hunches, or on what he believed before he started watching. Like the peasants studied by Luria, he thinks in terms of situations and story lines rather than abstractions.


I haven’t had time to think of a counter-argument to this, but it feels as though Clive Thompson touches on this problem in his January 2009 Wired column on YouTube:

A bigger leap will occur when we get better tools for archiving and searching video. Then we'll start using it the way we use paper or word processing: to take notes or mull over a problem, like Tom Cruise flipping through scenes at the beginning of Minority Report. We think of video as a way to communicate with others—but it's becoming a way to communicate with ourselves.


I’m not sure if he’s completely right, but my hope is that if students now entering university are less inclined to read, their fluency in other mediums will compensate for this to a certain degree. I’d like to see a compelling argument that says certain modes of thought that we associate with reading might be able to reproduced through video. I’m not entirely convinced of this (for example, I consider Everything Bad is Good for You pure shite) but being optimistic about YouThink is more helpful than my preset of ‘the world is dumbifying.’