Yesterday in seminar we discussed Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg’s Personal Dynamic Media…the story of the Dynabook. There were passages that struck me…I was saddened by this one…”A mathematical formulation…once put down on paper, reminds static and requires the reader to expand its possibilities.” Why shouldn’t humans have to expand the possibilities? Why shouldn’t that be a requirement? To suggest that you can make a tool for which humans are not required to expand possibilities is to suggest that humans are weak and that you are God who can anticipate needs that mortals cannot.
But perhaps that’s too strong. Historically, I tend to gesticulate wildly and metaphorically at this time of morning, at this point of coffee-loading, so you’ll need to overlook this physical evidence of bulging catecholamines… the fourth shot of espresso leaning into the wall of middle-aged sleep deprivation.
So let’s turn away from that for the moment.
We discussed how something like an iPad or a laptop is different from a traditional book…how children liked the dynamism of the thing. After seminar I met my family, including my 5- and 8-year-old daughters, at a local restaurant and I asked them what they thought about the whole thing. Here’s how it went…
Mom: So, me and my classmates were just talking about reading books versus playing on an iPad and which one is more fun. What do you guys think?
|My 5-year-old’s unsolicited “visual notes” of this conversation|
Sydney (my 8-year-old): Well, I like books but iPads can do so much more.
Mom: Tell me more about that.
Sydney: Well, sometimes kids like to play games with each other and you can do that on an iPad. You don’t even have to be in the same house. I can talk to my friends in a game. And I like reading stories on an iPad because you can move the characters in the story to different parts of the screen and different things can happen. You have control over the story and can make things happen that way.
Mom: Do you like iPads or laptops better and why?
Sydney: Definitely iPad because…well maybe kids don’t like having to move the mouse all the time, they like touching the screen.
Mom: So you like touchscreens. What else should computers be able to do?
Sydney: Draw pictures! Make videos!
Mom: So we were saying that kids might like to make their own games. Would you like that?
Sydney: Yes! That would be great. I would make a game with animals and I would let them go on adventures and the kid would have to tell them which adventure to go on and the kid would be able to see all the surroundings. Like maybe India or Japan or something like that.
That sounds fairly consistent with what Kay and Goldberg have to say.
The medium is the message.
That’s from Kay and Goldberg, page 394 of the New Media Reader. And it makes sense to me. I see it as a challenge. Note that Sydney’s game is not structurally creative, although the idea of a third grader in Mechanicsville wanting her classmates to learn more about India or Japan makes me do a silent fist pump into the air. But I wonder how we can model different learning structures for kids–how do we get them to think outside the box. Or is there an outside of the box for game making beyond multimedia?
|What happens when|
|a 5-year-old is asked to|
I’m still waiting for my holodeck…to a time where I can transport my kids to ancient Egypt rather than just dress them up as priestesses and have them embalm and wrap a Barbie mummy (a hairdryer makes for an awesome desert environment…just saying).
|do a self portrait on an iPad|
Or how about when we invited friends over to build the Great Wall of China across the living room and staged a Genghis Khan battle with pillows and balloon swords (The space helmet was put to good–if anachronistic–use).
I don’t know that computers have exactly gotten to where we want them to be yet–but that’s ok. They let us do some things better, and I think Sydney hit the nail on the head when she started out with collaboration…the fact that she and her friends can connect in a play environment even if they aren’t in the same house. Since I couldn’t take my kids to Norway with me earlier this month, I took the iPad instead, and made them a game. No, I couldn’t make an “app” but rather I bought them their requisite souvenirs and then sent them short videos each night with clues–they were supposed to try to figure out where I had bought them their toys (and what they were).
So, by saying that an iPad should encourage us to make our own apps by having a programming button on it (an Build-An-App App) aren’t we ignoring the other possibilities in which an iPad is just one tool in building a bigger, multimedia game? A case in which a real game is living an experience as closely as possible, at least until the holodeck is invented–I suspect that THAT will be the real Dynabook.