28 APRIL 2015,
D. LESLEY LESLIE
A social or an asocial network?
‘And you, of the tender years can’t know the fears that your elders
grew by. And so please help them with your youth, they seek the truth
before they can die’.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
In order to learn something new in the not-too- distant past; there were
far fewer options from which to choose than there are today. We could
either ask our questions of someone who had already accumulated the
knowledge we sought, we could acquire the information first-hand
through our own personal experiences, or we could read about the
subject in a book.
If we were fortunate enough to have an appropriately enlightened
person within close range, it was relatively easy to find the answer to a
niggling question. Very common was the ‘learn as you go’ method of
discovery, which bore a strong resemblance to the ‘Let’s Make a Deal’
gameshow from the ‘60’s. When provided multiple options without a
frame of reference, one could just as easily choose a door harbouring a
dodgy answer as the one promising a happy-ever- after. But such was
Due to an intrepid army of salesmen marching from door to door
bearing books, many generations of truth-seekers have proudly
displayed collections of the Encyclopaedia Britannica on shelves in
their living rooms. This well-respected facsimile of an omniscient oracle
was first published in Scotland in the eighteenth century and over the
years, has enjoyed numerous reincarnations. In the 1930’s, its 11th
edition was acquired by an American company, then shortened and
sculpted in order to appeal to the masses.
More than a hundred Nobel Prize winners and a trove of American
presidents have committed the collective force of their intellects to the
pages of these tomes, which became the ‘go-to’ resource when writing a
report for science or social studies class. Many a student has spent many
an evening at the kitchen table, paraphrasing the references to Albert
Einstein or the process of photosynthesis in an attempt to sufficiently
impress the teacher without raising the red flag of plagiarism. But as the
lessons taught by parents, schoolteachers and the Big, Wide World
become increasingly outsourced to innumerable faceless pundits on the
World Wide Web, our teaching methodologies are correspondingly
morphing in a significant way.
Parallels can be drawn between on-line learning and eating at a fast-
food outlet, as both provide the same instant gratification. Readily
accessed, easily digested and undeniably convenient; it is simply
amazing that at any time of the day or night, one can roll past the shiny
window of the Google take-away; choose an item from its never-ending
menu and within seconds feel fully sated. In keeping with the same
analogy though, we must be just as vigilant when seeking nourishment
for our mind as for our body. It is all too easy to be seduced by the sirens
of Facebook and Twitter, who beckon with every audible notification
and render one full of empty calories but bereft of intellectual insights.
This is no different for children. As busy parents of even busier children,
it is wonderfully simple to set them up with a smart-phone or tablet and
keep them amused for hours with electronic games that provide plenty
of sensory stimulation without requiring any physical activity at all.
Waiting lines and airplane rides have never been so easy. Play-stations
have replaced play-grounds and while at one time it would have been
almost inconceivable to raise a family without access to a backyard or a
school-yard; somehow the sedative effects of computer games have
numbed the need for a space to grow.
This is not to say that the unfathomable wealth of knowledge contained
in a microchip is not to be celebrated for the force of nature it is.
Technology has paved a way for young minds to be exposed to
information in a truly awesome manner and to dispute that would be
remiss. Yet while the internet can play the role of a teacher, a play-mate
or a nanny, it falls far short when imparting the intangible
characteristics that we all hope our children will develop. Empathy,
compassion, courage and confidence are traits only founded and
fostered through personal experience. Nothing can replace the delicious
sensation of walking on a cool patch of lawn in your bare feet, or the
feeling of sand between your toes. That indefinable sense of salty
satisfaction felt at the end of a day of physical labour can never be
achieved by spending the same number of hours in front of a computer,
no matter how rewarding the project. There is no meaningful substitute
for traversing the landscape of your life simply by putting one foot in
front of the other and learning as you go.
To deny your child experiences that can only be attained through
actually ‘doing,’ would be dealing her a grave disservice and while
today’s parents must acknowledge the computer’s inherent value in the
education of their children; as with most rich repasts, it’s one best
enjoyed in moderate doses. Rather than vicariously partaking of all the
world has to offer through the pixels on a computer screen, it is
imperative that children are encouraged to travel the trails of their lives
as present and engaged participants and learn to revel in the process.
Written with love for Oliver, Everett and Eloise.
D. Lesley Leslie
D. Lesley Leslie is the author of many health and wellness books for children as
well as the adult fiction novel, KAVLA. Born in England to South African parents,
she was raised in Canada and now resides in the Middle East. She welcomes all
suggestions, comments and questions.