With apologies to Sam Cooke and the haunting song he wrote about the struggle for civil rights, a change gonna come. Let’s start with a video that’s gone viral in the last day or so (another sign that the change has already come):
Anyone who has interacted with a touchscreen device can relate to the experience the little girl in the video is having. Once your tactile sense has been activated as a point of interface, it’s very difficult to experience a screen the same way anymore. I’ve found myself trying to swipe ATM screens, old cell phone screens, and more. It’s a wholly different thing for a toddler, who has never experienced the print medium as a primary form of interaction with information to move in the opposite direction. What does it mean to start with a dynamic tactile-feedback sensory experience and move to a less dynamic, primarily visual experience. A magazine is a tactile experience as well, but the sense of touch is subdued by the highly visual nature of our interaction. An iPad, or similar device, integrates the tactile and the visual in a way where they are not separate, but rather dependent on one another.
This video is really one anecdotal spot on a much larger map and I would love to see some research on toddlers and their media experiences, but I think that intuitively it’s enough evidence to serve as a probe in the McLuhan sense. How will the world change as a result of this type of perceptual bias? What expectations will future generation have about their interactions with information? The visual, imagistic culture of the television era has pushed us to only trust what we can see with our own two eyes (even if its an illusion of mediation and the invisible environment it creates). The tactile-visual culture is one of experience. It will no longer be enough to say “seeing is believing,” but rather we will become a people that says, “experiencing is believing” (even if the experience we’re having is the illusion of mediation and the invisible environment it creates).
My cause is to move our systems of education/learning in a direction that both accounts for these changes and uses them to move in a positive, progressive direction, but also to understand the things they dampen and subdue in our culture that ought to be preserved. The idea is part McLuhan (City as Classroom) and part Postman (Teaching as a Conserving Activity – Building a Bridge to the 18th century). Balance our education strategies for generations of people growing up seeking experience (tactile-visual) as the primary mode of perception, while targeting important conservative (in the sense of conservation) modes of education to deal with the things we lose (literacy, deep reflection, patience, focus, etc…).
Oh, yes. A change gonna come. Gotta pay tribute to Sam Cooke for ripping off his title. Beautiful Sam Cooke….