Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Other People's Imaginations



Why do kids settle down when you put them in front of a TV? Have you ever really wondered about this?

They stop moving, they point their heads all in one direction, they stop talking, they go from output to input mode. Many call this "the time when I can actually get dinner made."

But what are they inputting during this time? Other people's imaginations.

This is one of the wonderful things about movies, they let you mentally walk around in the imagination of another person, a director or an actor or editor or designer. They let us share really deep thoughts.

But is that what kids are getting from TV? Probably not. They are having some down time.

Nothing wrong with down time, of course. We all need to shut down every so often. And kids' brains are working really hard and need to reset.

But meanwhile, they are being exposed to someone's "product," characters or personalities or things that lend themselves to action figures or whatnot.

Can they reset their brains without somebody else's imagination blathering at them? Can kids relax without having to kick their brains into this passive gear? Can they be peaceful without drowning out their own thoughts?

Sure they can, if they've got the right things around. Especially paper and pencils and comfy places to sit that have good light.

I love movies, I love animation, I really enjoy a lot of kid-oriented stories. But I also suspect that, the more we consume someone else's imagination, the more important it also becomes to create some space for our own.

Are you a 3D person in a 2D world?

I've been giving a lot of thought to screens lately - anyone with kids these days has to.

So much stuff gets piped through TVs and computers and game devices now.

But I've been wondering - why do I instinctively want my kids away from screens after they've been there for a while? It's a very lizard-brain reaction - I haven't analyzed it, but once they've been there for a bit I start to get this - stale, stagnant feeling. Why is that?



What is so different? I mean, we humans use flight simulators, and read books, and see movies, and all of that is great, and all of it is flat.

I recently realized, it's because I sense that there is a different kind of learning going on in the 3D world, and it has to do with consequences.

Real consequences, like dropping something on your foot or disagreeing with a friend or finding out something is sharp or heavy or loud.

In the flat world, the characters die and get right back up again. Stuff blows up but you don't get hit by any debris or feel the impact. You can always, always separate yourself from the action by restarting the game or walking away. There aren't any consequences.

And consequences - and the information that comes with them - are incredibly important for a growing brain.

Add to that the fact that we are pushing our kids more and more to get the test scores and be on the sports team and get the grades and go to the right college and all of this, and that sense of exploring the "dirt world" just doesn't seem to have anywhere to exist.

I watched a group of actors warm up last night. They laid down on the floor, they made noises, they rubbed their faces, they moved around and got into their bodies so they were ready to inhabit their characters.

When did three-dimensional messing around get to be devalued? When did we decide that everything of the highest value exists on paper or on a screen? How can we break out of that shell and take ownership of our glorious, lumpy, three-dimensional selves?

And is there some correlation between that and how good we've gotten at manipulating two-dimensional imagery with computers to be what we think we want? That disconnect sure seems to just get bigger.

And is there also a correlation with how willing we seem to be to give wealth to people who are just good at getting attention through the flat media, whether or not they do anything of value?

Well I'll say again, if I had my wish every schoolkid in the world would get half an hour a day minimum to simply create something in a medium of their choice. Draw, sing, hammer something. Possibly even get a paper cut or spill the paint.

Now I think I have a better handle on that awful, stale feeling I get when the TV has been on too long - and why it feels like the air comes back into the room when the thing goes off.

Zzanthia

Zzanthia (Katia) - vector artist
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