The face-to-face myth

Writer Susan Pinker published a nice article on The New York Times titled Can Students Have Too Much Tech? It is a bit biased, in my opinion.

First, let me say I haven’t yet read her bestselling book The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter, in which she –according to the reviews I saw– explains why face-to-face contact and communication is better than technologically mediated communication. I am eager to read the book, and I want to immediately say I sympathize with her position. I, too, believe that touching and looking in the eyes another human being is “better”. But –that’s the point– what does “better” mean? In what capacity or sense is it better to communicate in close intimacy?

Certainly in many ways, we’d answer. But not necessarily all. If I’m angry, for instance, it may better to have a mediated contact. It depends, but again, I tend to sympathize: True, let’s say it is better, in the sense we all intuitively understand. However, when the telephone was invented, people screamed that it would have ended all intimacy.

So, I look at claims like these with some skepticism. The thing with Pinker, I think, is that she confuses Obama’s just and fair call to “protect a free and open Internet” and “extend its reach to every classroom and every community,” with “more technology in the classroom […], a policy-making panacea.”

All Pinker arguments would be OK if she had separated the two things. One thing is Internet access in every classroom and another altogether is to have more tech in the classroom. The former implies a recognition of the Internet (and more exactly in our case, the Web) as the most important technology the humankind has produced after the printing press, with all its fantastic and revolutionary impact on all aspects of life. We are just beginning to understand this and to make good use of it within the educational framework. But we still use such great tech the old way, so we keep lecturing students instead of devising new and human-rich forms of interaction among students and faculty. We lecture and we record lectures on iPads. Wow. Progress?

The latter means exactly that: using devices which are connected to the Internet but disconnected from the educational experiences our students seek and deserve. Experiences, not lectures, not games, not videos. Until we keep reusing new technology the old ways, there won’t be any real substantial progress, and education’s problems will live on.

In a review by Stefan Stern on the LA Times (with the even-more-biased title, To truly interact, try it offline), it is noted that “Citing a wealth of research and reinforced with her own arguments, Pinker suggests we should make an effort — at work and in our private lives — to promote greater levels of personal intimacy.”

Alone 3

Certainly true, but there are many studies that suggest young people well connected online have deeper social skills and establish truer friendships than people who are not. Thus, the Internet and the Web may actually promote intimacy in many instances. Sure, if you asked me if I would prefer a skin-to-skin intimacy with my spouse or a “virtual” one, which one do you believe I’d choose? But this doesn’t necessarily mean that other forms of intimacy aren’t possible. What counts is intimacy, and definitely the medium to live intimacy changes it. Also, Pinker in the same article is quoted as writing:

In a short evolutionary time we have changed from group-living primates skilled at reading each other’s every gesture and intention, to a solitary species, each one of us preoccupied with our own screen.

This is more or less the same position of Sherry Turkle (in her book Together Alone), and this we must be worried about, meaning we ought to find a balance in the use of high tech in education and in other walks of life. Technology is always a double-sided coin. Nobody would say today that writing would impair our memory, but Socrates actually did. Martin Luther hated books, and some dislike ebooks.

Image by Ales Motyl, License CC BY-NC-SA.

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delicious Zeitgeist (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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The Moon

The stars about the lovely moon
Fade back and vanish very soon,
When, round and full, her silver face
Swims into sight, and lights all space


The full moon of these days prompts me to revisit my old memories of the great Sappho, “Violet-crowned, pure, sweet-smiling Sappho” (“Dolce-ridente Saffo coronata di viole”, “Divina Safo, dulce sonrisa coronada de violetas”), whose poems I love. Here is to you, tenth Muse, and to our own full and blue moons.

(Translation of The Moon by Edwin Arnold, from Greek Poets in English Verse (1983).

Anacreon Sappho Eros and a Female Dancer by Lavallee Poussin, 1790. Detail.

Anacreon Sappho Eros and a Female Dancer by Lavallee Poussin, 1790. Detail. Some rights reserved CC by-nc-sa by Mary Harrsch.

Of course, the Internets invite me to find translations in all languages!

Le stelle intorno alla luna bella nascondono di nuovo l’aspetto luminoso, quando essa, piena, di più risplende sulla terra… (Translation by  Salvatore Quasimodo).

De la hermosa luna los astros cerca
hacia atrás ocultan luciente el rostro
cuando aquella brilla del todo llena
sobre la tierra…

(From Ciudad Seva)

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Art & Science and Teresita Fernández

I just learned (What It Really Takes to Be an Artist on BrainPickings) that artist Teresita Fernández, recipient of a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship for her work (see her monograph, Blind Landscape) made an outstanding commencement speech at Virginia Commonwealth University about being an artist. (An exposition of her work, As Above So Below, is open at the  Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art until March 2015).

Teresita Fernández

I love the fact that –apart form all she says being glorious– all the words “art” and “artist” can be virtually everywhere exchanged with “science” and “scientist” without losing one bit of the sense she makes. Fascinating. In the following two fragments from her keynote, I did that exchange, and put the changed word in bold. Enjoy.

More than in any other vocation, being a [scientist] means always starting from nothing. Our work as [scientists] is courageous and scary. There is no brief that comes along with it, no problem solving that’s given as a task… A [scientist]’s work is almost entirely inquiry based and self-regulated.


[…] rest completely assured that what you don’t know about something is also a form of knowledge, though much harder to understand. In many ways, making [science] is like blindly trying to see the shape of what you don’t yet know. Whenever you catch a little a glimpse of that blind spot, of your ignorance, of your vulnerability, of that unknown, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to stare at it. Instead, try to relish in its profound mystery. [Science] is about taking the risk of engaging in something somewhat ridiculous and irrational simply because you need to get a closer look at it, you simply need to break it open to see what’s inside.

Art and Science: Two sides of a same coin, namely, making sense of our universe and mind!


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Ambient noise can be nice and useful. Here I have two noise generators which may be great apps. The first has a wonderful name, Coffitivity, and generates the sounds from a coffee shop.  And you can download an app for iOS or Android. It’s great: One can choose Morning Murmur or Brazil Bistro. Enjoy working while you feel surrounded by this chatting delicious barista sounds!

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 8.05.18 PMThe second, Noisly is a more general noise generator, one which will “Mix different sounds and create your perfect environment”. Rain, for instance, or thunder. You can work distraction-free, also thanks to a second app that comes within the same page: an editor with markdown and word count which saves text locally or allows to download it.

This and more I discovered on ProfHacker: Tools I Use – Online Noise Generators.


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