Baroness Susan Greenfield would have been welcome at my daughter’s house one evening about six months ago.
We had returned from seeing a lovely, local, amateur theatre offering, which included a melange of tunes from well known musicals, including Les Miserables. In a two meter square area around a table, grazing from Pizza ordered on line, gathered five adults, a fifteen year old boy and a six year old boy. Three adults and the two boys had their iPads/ iPhones in their hands. An animated discussion, if not argument, ensued about which singer, over the many years that had elapsed since Les Miserables had been first performed, had offered the best rendition of “Bring Him Home”, with each speaker supporting his or her view/s with down loaded versions. Three other children were on the move around the house putting in random appearances at the table to help themselves to pizza and to voice their opinions. This animated comparison of various musical offerings, supported by argument and learned analysis of what was being offered (including from the six year old), was impressive. A seven year old girl wheeled by from time to time when she heard something to which she wanted to add her considered opinion and to say what tickled her fancy, and an 11 year old boy sang along. The two year old was very excited.
I have seldom seen such group enthusiasm or a debate backed by such immediate hard evidence.
Even Socrates, whose opinion on the value of reading and writing much mirrored that of the Baroness on digital technology, would have been impressed. In fact he should have been there with the Baroness. I freely agree that both reading and writing and digital technology in its turn modify the brain. Isn’t that otherwise known as evolution?
A second factor which supports the value to the brain of access to digital technology is the equalising factor. (I am sure, however, neither the Baroness or Socrates would like this as it might lower their respective statuses.) On this same occasion there was a perfect example of this. The seven year old girl suggested that perhaps “The Professor” should give a definitive answer as to which version was the best. She was referring to her Uncle, one of the iPhone users, who happened to have an PhD in Music. Two of the other adults (one playing an iPhone) were musicians too. But those of us who were not musicians felt a perfect right to express our opinions. This was not merely an academic exercise. We were actually hearing the contenders, and in the kind of quick succession, with part replays, not possible in a live concert format. The six year old eloquently expressed his liking of a version he had, among other versions, previously listened to on his own initiative, and he now played it with conviction as his choice – it made him feel like crying. What better accolade than that? In the “olden days” he would have had to bow down to the professor’s opinion and his emotional reaction would not have been able to be validated, as it was, in a semi public forum.
Digital technology was thus encouraging hands on development of independent thinking in the young user.
This whole episode was interactive, it was social, it was educational.
AND IT WAS FUN.
Baroness, you are missing out! (And we know Socrates would have had a ball with reading if he had given it a go.)