Thursday, November 20, 2014

Haptic Learning and De-Skilling

A really well-written blog post has been making the rounds over the last few days that addresses "de-skilling" the arts.  I suggest you go read it, it is not that long and it is really well written.  A friend posted it to my FaceBook page asking what I thought about it, and I thought I should put my response over here as well to make sure I could get to it again:

"Well, I have a lot of thoughts about it. I think it is very well written, and presents the situation in a refreshingly neutral way. Of course I (like many of my colleagues) do my fair share of fist-shaking and rending of garments and bemoaning the loss of haptic experience. But the reality is that generational experiences have always differed (in the "I don't see what is so all-fired exciting about this new-fangled 'pencil' all the kids are talking about! It's just a phase. Who needs that kind of flashy gadget?!?" sense).

I am interested to see how the generation that I am teaching now figures out to process the world. I process a lot through touch, you see. The feel of material in my hands, the way a plane feels when it moves across the top of a piece of wood, the vibration of the back of a guitar through my skin and against my rib cage. This is how I process the world, and it makes sense to me.

But then it makes sense to me that there are whole steps and half steps on a piano keyboard and nothing in between, but a Japanese musician would take real issue with that. They would be aware of quarter steps between each whole note and the sharps and flats on either side, and they are perfectly correct given their understanding of and filters on the world.

So what does this mean? Who knows? But we have been genetically humans for many hundreds of thousands of years, and have had new-fangled inventions like writing and clothing and farming and steel and electricity and houseplants and rugs and ice cubes for a tiny tiny fraction of that. So NONE of us know what it means to us to have computers.

All I can do as an educator is guide my students as best as I can to a broader understanding of the world they are moving through. I do that by showing them how I work with my hands, but often they show me their ways as well, and I think we are both bettered by that process.

In the end, I guess I think two things: We can not put the digital genie back in the bottle even if we want to. And progress is always made by engaging in thoughtful conversations across boundaries. In this case it is across generational boundaries, I think."

 There is a tendency to be over-glib on FaceBook, but the underlying sentiment is one that I have been thinking about quite a bit over the last year as I have been tasked with leading a group of faculty who are putting together a First Year Curriculum for the Design School at the university where I work.

More later I hope.