Recent research has revealed that all of the computers that our children have grown up with aren’t enhancing their education. Reading when young is an important part of intellectual development, and the earlier the better. It isn’t that our youngsters aren’t getting words to read, it’s that they are getting too many pictures. All of the computer games, while endlessly amusing, aren’t providing enough words. Please allow me to explain.
When brains are developing, the processing of words is important. The reason is that after certain points of development are achieved, students need to take words and process them into mental images without the help of pictures. The ability to take words and translate them into thoughts is a skill brought about by reading, and of course, providing evidence of comprehension via tests and writing. To their credit, the online and computer games have made the people who play them very cognizant of both hardware and software. To get an idea of just how much the computer game industry is making, consider that in 2016 the “gamers” will generate $99.6 billion, with mobile gaming taking 21.3% of that revenue. The gaming business is a story all itself, but we’re talking about Johnny’s abilities here.
It isn’t that all of Johnny’s abilities are limited by games; as mentioned, reactions, hand-eye coordination, and knowledge of hardware and software have expanded with game users. The game players themselves move in grade-like advancement with increasingly difficult tasks as the operator moves up through the ranks. But problems like the inability to process words into mental images, addiction to the games, depression, and lack of social skills all come along with the fun. My favorite narrative of the addiction phenomenon of computer games is from an episode of the television show Big Bang Theory where the cute, sexy neighbor becomes quickly addicted to an online game to the point that she falls into a state of neglect, ignoring personal hygiene because she is obsessed with the game. It is interesting that the high-IQ scientists portrayed on Big Bang Theory are all quite adept and experienced with computer games and yet all are exceedingly socially awkward. There is always a grain of truth behind stereotypes. It would only make sense that people who spend significant amounts of their lives staring at computer screens lose some social contact and the related skills. Of course, the same lack of skills could be said for the geeks of the former generations who spent all of their time reading textbooks, except that textbooks, as far as I have studied, are not addictive and do not cause depression. According to some reports, several of the crazed gunmen responsible for shootings in America had practiced shooting via computer games; whether there was a relationship I cannot say. I would suggest that real firearms are not easily simulated by computer games, but they have become much more realistic of late, and there are many simulations that are used to train people with firearms.
Some of the researchers are saying that growing up with images has hindered the abilities of young people to think, and to think critically. The overexposure to graphic images has impeded the abilities of the young people to take words and create images in their minds. Certainly, the young people of today read a lot of things on their computers and cell phones, but the screens are full of images, which is quite different from the texts of old, where you had to read the words and assemble a picture in your mind. It appears that the lack of mental exercise, of critical thinking, where words were provided and the thinking was up to the individual, has created a crop of young people who are rather short in their critical thinking skills. I noticed this lack of critical thinking skills in business majors some time ago. There is a difference between learning and thinking. Learning means knowing things such as facts and knowing how to do things. Thinking splits off into different modes of thinking, like scientific, mathematical, historical, economic, or philosophical thinking. Please permit me to briefly and superficially describe critical thinking, or problem solving. Critical thinking involves examining situations, considering flaws, looking at the facts and making suggestions about how to solve what is going wrong. As such, that is a very thin definition, but I’m not writing a book about critical thinking, I’m noting the skills many of our young people are lacking, and possibility of the source of the problem, being too many images and not enough text that needs to be mentally visualized.
While I am sure that computers can aid learning, I am equally sure that having everything displayed in pictures, as well as being able to push buttons and instantly get answers, could not help intellectual development. Research suggests that in order to remember most things, they need to be gone over on an average of seven times. That means that you had to look at it, read it, or write it seven times, some people more, some people less, but seven is an average for mastery of material. I am not aware of how many times you have to look at a picture to memorize it, or how many times you have to Google something to have it memorized.
I can say that despite the millions of sources on the internet, from personal experience, most of the students do not use the internet for much in-depth analysis. The internet makes vast resources available, but not accessed very much, at least from my experience. The internet is a great source for, as I have mentioned numerous times, conspiracy theorists and other prophets who espouse doom, historical revision, and trends that they swear are happening, using every shred of evidence from increased car accidents to candlepower of the full moon to support their fatuous theories. None of the ludicrous internet theories are making us smarter, and while I do not recommend doubting every idea put forth, there are proven facts that young people, as well as everyone else, needs to accept. The YouTube videos on why an education is worthless is doing a disservice to the young and naïve; but that wouldn’t be the first time that has happened. Those that follow the advice of school being worthless will, after things that they don’t understand happen to them in the world, understand the value of an education.
The internet even had an anorexia club, where young ladies with the disorder were encouraged to continue along with the disorder, presumably with the first young girl to starve to death being the winner. I am not saying go backward, or stop the advancement of technology. I am suggesting that a few of the hours that the young people spend gaming be spent reading, mastering the ability to comprehend and compose mental images without the help of graphics. The lack of critical thinking skills seems obvious to some of us, but maybe it has always been there; I can’t make that judgement. Like most educators, we can only show them the way, it is up to them to take it.