D.I.C. (Revisited)

In the spirit of saving myself the trouble of repeating myself, and given the wealth of new readers of this blog ๐Ÿ˜†, I reblog a post that may be of some interest.

One of the sobering consequences of the revolution that has placed electronic toys in the hands of everyone who can hold one is what I would call “D.I.C.”  — diminished imaginative capacity. By coining this term I join with others who seem to love to make up names, and especially acronyms, for common events and phenomena in order to seem more learned. (We need not dwell on the acronym in this case!) The electronic toys the kids play with today and the movies they see do not require that they use their imaginations at all: they are loud, graphic, vivid, and present themselves to a largely passive audience. All the person has to do is sit and watch, or play with a joy stick, and their world is at their finger-tips with all its violence and noise. And because they read far less than their parents and grandparents and visit fewer art galleries, dance recitals, or symphony performances, this is of considerable concern: it is symptomatic.

To begin with, the appreciation of all great art and literature requires an effort of imagination. Take Joseph Conrad, for example. Despite working in a second language, his vocabulary is very rich. Further, He is what many have called an “impressionistic” writer and this causes problems for many readers for two reasons. Thus, Conrad’s rich vocabulary requires an extensive knowledge of words on the part of a reader. But more to the point, Conrad leaves gaps and spaces in his writing that require an imaginative effort on the part of the reader in order to engage his writing fully. And the effort is one that a great many people are unwilling or unable to make, especially given their shrunken vocabularies of late. The same might be said of the highly imaginative Shakespeare whose language is rapidly becoming foreign to growing numbers of young people. But the list of writers who demand an effort on the part of their readers could be added to endlessly. And the same could be said for art and music: they require an effort of imagination to engage the works fully. So, the question before us is: Why should anyone make the effort when they can pick up an electronic device, push buttons, sit back, and let the thrills begin? The answer is that these folks are living in a shrunken world and they shrink as a result.

The results of all this have been analyzed and cataloged by a number of psychologists who have shown that the young, especially, are going forth into a complicated world with short attention spans and what amounts to a form of brain damage. They cannot attend to any subject, especially one that doesn’t interest them, for any significant length of time; further, portions of their brains are simply not developed. There is, indeed, quite a controversy among so-called experts about whether these people will or will not be able to cope in the future. I have written about it in previous blogs and choose not to repeat myself here. But the evidence suggests that it will be increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for these people to think their way through complex issues or use their imaginations to consider alternative consequences of future actions. And this is serious, indeed.

Moreover, I worry about the loss of capacity to imagine when it comes to great literature and great art because it means that these things will simply slide into oblivion, pushed aside by a growing number of people whose interest is focused on the immediate present and the graphic nature of the images and sounds that issue forth from their electronic toys that require no effort whatever. It may not be a problem on the scale of global warming, but coupled with that problem — and others of major proportions — it does not bode well for the future. Those who solve the problems we face now and in the future will have to use their analytic powers and, above all else, their imaginations. So, on the growing list of things that ought to have our undivided attention, we most assuredly should add D.I.C. and insist that the schools continue to require literature and art and that teachers discourage the use of toys as a substitute for those activities that will fully engage their minds and hearts.

If only the teachers would..


13 thoughts on “D.I.C. (Revisited)

  1. Hugh, well said. I was watching a piece on CBS Sunday Morning News about a world class archer who has no arms and shoots with his feet. He was born with two shoulders and maybe two inches of upper arm. His parents gave him room to “figure things out” in how to relate to the real world. They showed footage of him as a youngster doing just that.

    Letting him use his imagination and initiative was moving. It reminded me of the movie about the blind singer Ray Charles. His mother watched him learn how to navigate around a room with only his senses of touch, smell and hearing. Giving kids space to invent and participate means everything.


      • Hugh, so true. A leading educator noted innovation occurs at the intersection of different disciplines. A highly successful CEO said the best ideas come from thiose closest to the action and made it easier for those ideas to flow upstream. Sadly, we hoghlight these examples as exceptions. Keith

  2. I milk cows and care for young Stock as a ‘living’, 7 days a week, twice a day…with two night-chores off for Good Behavior weekly. That’s 50 hrs a week…no health insurance, no overtime pay, and no worries, except paying taxes. I think I’ll follow HRT’s example in protest of the Mexican American War, and let an Other pay my taxes, or take a seat with other persecuted Dissenters.

    I have a Flip Phone, but as Barn Boss I don’t allow the high school kids to bring their gadgets into the barn during chores. They seem mesmerized by the thing, and often forget where they are or what their duty IS, even when not viewing the thing, still (in thought) distracted by the eager anticipation of their next Fix of digital amazement. These are kids that forget to think in the NOW, where Life itself is Out There…somehow not Here, and thus Distracted almost past remedy….THIS I would agree of this young generation of minds.

    Hire them….train them…fire them and send them on their way if you must. It’s THEIR time to Follow the Right LEADER…once they somehow Learn what THAT means, as ever for all.


  3. Dr. Curtler,

    It is often said that virtual video experiences have actual negative consequences. However, a cursory review of the available research suggests a more nuanced assessment.

    I won’t bore people with the citations, because they can easily be found, but several general outcomes of extensive video viewing and gaming seem warranted:

    1) Playing video games changes brain structure. This is no surprise because everything we do changes our brain structure, to some degree, due to neuroplasticity.

    2) Extensive video gaming specifically affects the visual-spatial areas of the brain, and in a positive way, if one regards improved visualization and spatial recognition as good things. Both of these are essential to creativity.

    3) Very extensive video gaming, in a small percentage of cases, changes the pleasure centers of the brain. The result can be addictive behavior tied to video gaming.

    4) The more one plays video games in a virtual reality, the less one engages with people in everyday reality. This is especially true with more extensive time spent on video gaming. The result can be relative social isolation and a reduction in the number of non-game-playing friendships.

    5) Video gaming is largely sedentary, of course, which can lead to a reduction in physical fitness, especially when combined with a poor diet. I have not yet seen research on the dietary habits of gamers and non-gamers, but a poor diet would appear to be a greater physical burden on those who are more sedentary .

    6) Video screen engagement substantially alters social interactions. Just watch any group of cell phone users during lunch time. Also, this appears to affect in-home family meals, as well. Cell phones are particularly intrusive in this respect.

    The types pf things I have summarized here are based, as far as I can tell, on research among adolescents and adults. More and more, experts familiar with the research are urging caution about allowing younger children unlimited access to video screens.

    I think this is a wise precaution, if for no other reason than the developmental importance of physical and social engagement for young children.

    As for the general assertion that engagement with virtual video reality necessarily results in lower levels of creativity, that does not seem to be supported by the literature I have seen.
    There are different types of creativity, of course, just as there are different forms of intelligence, but I would suggest that a nuanced approach to this entire discussion might well be in order.

    And this is from a teacher who barred the use of electronic devices, unless medically necessary, during class time. Passing strange…

    Again, thanks for an interesting and provocative post.

    Regards and respects,

    Jerry Stark

    • Many thanks for the informative comment! I would NEVER assert that video games “necessarily” result in lower levels of creativity. But the evidence I have seen (and your notes support this) suggest there is a strong correlation between extensive use of electronic toys and diminished imaginative capacity.

      • Dr. Curtler,

        Because we were talking about electronic toys, I didn’t mention television.

        CONCERNS: Extensive TV watching is associated with a number of less desirable outcomes and no positive ones: it is a sedentary activity; it reduces time engaged in social interaction; it accustoms watchers to the passive reception of visual and verbal information (the bane of college lecturers!); watching more than 20 hours of TV per week is directly related to poorer school performance among children, adolescents, and college students.

        One of the biggest effects of TV watching is that it is time spent NOT doing something that might be developmentally positive. In effect, it is a lost opportunity cost in our daily lives.

        CONTENT: It is intriguing that the content of what young people watch is far less important that how much they watch. (The notion that violent TV shows, movies, and video games contribute to violent behavior is nonsense, according to credible research. What contributes directly and most significantly to violent behavior is prior exposure to violent behavior, either as victim, perpetrator, or observer.)

        CONTEXT: And it gets a bit more crazy. The research on the effects of TV viewing has, in recent years, been greatly complicated because it is more and more common to find people who are watching TV AND using one or more video devices — at the same time.

        Maybe it a good thing that video gamers watch less TV. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

        Regards and respects,

        Jerry Stark

      • Interesting comment about the lack of correlation between watching violence and becoming violent. I would have thought that, like all animals, we are creatures who learn by imitation. Accordingly, watching repeated acts of violence would seem to lead to (contribute to?) the tendency we all have to be violent people when the occasion arises.No?

      • I should add that watching or participating in virtual video violence is associated with being “amped up” immediately following the participation. But the same thing can be said for attendance at school pep rallies and some sporting events, rock concerts, religious revivals. etc… It is simply not difficult to get young people amped up. Adults, too, sadly.

        The relationship between states of agitation and actual engagement in violent behavior is another thing altogether.. The same goes for the notion that exposure to violent video experiences creates a desensitization to violence.

        For a short time after participation in virtual violence in the laboratory, subjects tend to be less responsive to additional video violence. The contention that this further creates a tendency to accept violence outside of the the laboratory and away from the video gaming experience is strictly conjecture.

        Generalizing from controlled laboratory conditions to conduct in everyday life is highly problematic and simply speculative. And social surveys do not even legitimately attempt to address causality; they are limited to studies of statistical association between events.

        And this does not even include the entire (major) problem of prior violence in the experience of research subjects, for it is extremely difficult to control for such background effects. People simply don’t open up about it, in most cases.

        Young people in this society who are exposed to real violence, in their families and in their communities are legion. It is in their experiences that the roots of violence reside.

        The problem in this society is real violence, not virtual violence — either as cause or effect — but it is easier to blame video games than it is to examine the structure of violence in and around our own lives.

        Twas ever thus…

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