Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Horrigan Tripe Cycle

Just read John Connell's fantastic riposte to another shockingly-bad Baronness Greenfield-penned piece.

A particular favourite extract from her piece:

"A second difference in the young 21st-century mind might be a marked preference for the here-and-now, where the immediacy of an experience trumps any regard for the consequences. After all, when you play a computer game, everything you do is reversible. You can switch it off or start again. But the idea that actions don't have consequences is a very bad lesson to learn, when in life they always do.

And in games the emphasis is on the thrill of the moment. This type of activity can be compared with the thrill of compulsive gambling.

The third possible change is in empathy. This cannot develop through social networking because we are not aware of how other people are really feeling - we cannot pick up on body language when we are communicating through a screen.

As a result, people could become almost autistic. One teacher wrote to me that she had witnessed a change over the 30 years she had been teaching in the ability of her pupils to understand other people and their emotions. "

Isn't that just special? There's so much to unpick of it, it's almost hard to start... but never shy of a challenge... here I go...

Firstly, "A marked preference for the here-and-now"- what utter, utter tosh. She's likening the consequences of particular styles of computer games with the preferences of an entire generation. Effectively writing off all other experiences with one swish of her pen. We've played games for centuries. If anything, many games these days allow for longer game play and a further delay of consequences - which, using her argument is a positive thing.

Secondly, game playing as akin to compulsive gambling? Evidence? Links? Causality? Que? Also, what point is she trying to make? That the thrill is equivalent to the thrill of compulsive gambling? The emotive aspect of this is odd. She's not referring to gambling, but to compulsive gambling. The compulsion element is obviously there for a reason. Then, somehow the "thrill" of the two is the same. It's obviously, to her mind, qualitatively different to the thrill you might get from other activities. But how? Why? Or is it lazy writing to point score and set up the link in your average Daily Mail reader's mind as follows:

"Hmmmm, compulsive gambling. Now, that's bad. I've heard it's an addiction. It can lead to the break up of relationships. Of families. It's damaging our kids. It's bad. And the thrill someone gets from that is the same as social networking. So... social networking must be additive. Which means... *penny dropping* social networking is the work of the devil!!"


Thirdly, in this oh so special extract... her point about a lack of empathy from those communicating online because we're not aware of how people are feeling. I'm imagining that at some point during the last couple of decades Baronness Greenfield was involved in a 'being shut in a cupboard and cut off from all current research into online community' accident and is unable to track down any of the studies into just this area. "We cannot pick up body language when we are communicating through a screen"... unless you're involved in video conferencing... or using various other cues which are emerging to express emotion and feelings online.

And lastly... the gargantuan leap to the final conclusion... "people could become almost autistic". Ta da! Based on her comprehensive research of "One teacher wrote to me". Y'know. That last one isn't even worth unpicking. It's too easy. I'm just going to let it stand on it's own.

"People could become almost autistic"

Thank goodness for "leading neuroscientists" showing us how to read situations correctly. *sigh*

PS The reason for this post being called "The Horrigan Tripe Cycle" is that sadly, or maybe unsurprisingly, these are the attitudes I come across all the time in terms of resistance to technological change. There are several stages of this resistance:

  1. Ignorance
  2. Denial the new technology is important
  3. Observation of adoption whilst feeling increasingly out of touch
  4. Random accusations about the perilous consequences of adoption
  5. Grudging acceptance / grumbling in a corner periodically.

Inspired by the Gartner Hype Cycle, I'd like to call this the "Horrigan Tripe Cycle". :o)
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