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Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Web – A Maze of Letters and Numbers

I’m still reading I’d rather be in the Studio!: The Artist’s No-Excuse Guide to Self-Promotion by Alyson B. Stanfield and probably will be for some time. It is one of those books you read and re-read. After reading a passage you digest, try your hand at it and come back to refine your thinking post-experience.

Something Stanfield wrote has me doing a lot of thinking. She mentions, in passing, that everything you do online is “text-based.” As teachers/librarians/parents/members of society we talk about, often bemoaning, children’s lack of attention these days. Often times the reason for this is attributed to digital media and the access to video games, television programming which caters to the rapid fire of visual stimulation. The internet is often thought of as a vast warehouse of multimedia which is dominated by visual and auditory stimulus. In truth, the dominant paradigm is actually text. Everything is linked through the use of text. Everything must be searched for using text – alpha numerically. The common way of searching does not involve drawing a shape on the screen and having the computer search for everything which shares that shape. It involves typing in words which will be used as search terms. Think of how difficult it would be to narrow down searches if they were done by shape, color or sound. Perhaps using SMARTPHONE technology would allow you to take a picture and search for iterations of that picture. That might be more successful. Still, it seems to me the tagging we do is more efficient than pictorial searching ever could be.

The old adage “a pictures is worth a thousand words” is alright as long as you do not expect my 1,000 words to be the same as yours. A picture of any celebrity will inspire admiration in some, loathing in others and a perplexed look in someone who has no context for the individual. We interpret visual stimuli based on our own experiences, values and needs. Let’s face it, when a teenage girl and her parent go shopping one of them will look at a skirt and think it is too long. The other will think it is a wash cloth. Visual images are not static in interpretation. Truth be told, neither are words.

I’m willing to be educated about the possibilities of visual search engines. My search on the web didn’t show me anything which I thought looked close to giving the kind of results we now get with text based search engines. I’m sure Steve Jobs is working on it.

Ultimately what this means is – writing really matters in a digital world. Content is the base, the backbone, the jumping spot. Years ago I was talking to a family member who is very tech saavy. He told me that he had thought about starting a website and then realized that a good website has to have more than cool stuff. A meaningful website needs to have a purpose. It needs to have content. So do we in creating one. Content is the stuff which holds all the glitter together. Without it even beautiful images are adrift. Looking on Bing’s Visual Search I was struck by this. The photograph of Queen Elizabeth II without the text “world leaders” could possibly be link to biographical information about the Queen, the royal family or great hats. The text clues us into the values that the designer used when the page was formed. In creating content critical thinking is imperative. Text sure helps.

Our efforts toward strengthening ELA skills in students should not waver in the face of the digital paradigm. No. Our resolve to maintain high expectations for reading and writing throughout this time of technological growth must not be shaken. The format for many of the things we take for granted will change. The degree to which this comes to pass is really anyone’s guess. However, whether interacting with bound books, ebooks or web content, students need the skills of reading for comprehension (not just decoding), writing and creating content using their critical thinking skills to be successful players in the digital arena.

2 comments:

Cindi said...

If I confess my shame, perhaps my better nature will overcome the cause of it: I have been avoiding reading _I'd Rather Be in the Studio_ since it came out because I am sure that if I read it I will have to be grown up and budget my studio time responsibly and, dare I say it, I'd rather be in the studio.

Your thoughtful comments have both shamed me into this confession and intrigued me that maybe I'll finally read the book. (next year?)

purple glasses club said...

Hey Cindi,

You always bring a smile to my face. The honest truth is that Alyson Stanfield's book is simply inspiring. I think if you picked up the book and read it, you would find that you wanted to do the things she suggests. Just not all at once.

Isn't that the point? You do one thing at a time. You can read a page at a time, think it over, take one baby step. When that is either accomplished or second nature, you can take the next step.

Don't put it off until next year. Ms. Stanfield makes it easy to get your hands on the book right away. I had renewed the copy I was reading several times and decided it was one book I needed to own. By purchasing the book from her website you also get an immediate download of the book. So you can start reading in approximately 3 minutes. The physical book arrived less than a week later.

By the way, if you are on twitter, she tweets as @abstanfield. I find her tweets interesting and inspiring. I'd highly recommend looking her up.