In his column today, David Brooks
offers a thought-provoking (he's good at that) contrast of off-line as compared to on-line learning. Here's a key passage:
When people in this slower world [off-line] gather to try to understand connections and context, they gravitate toward a different set of questions. These questions are less about sensation than about meaning. They argue about how events unfold and how context influences behavior. They are more likely to make moral evaluations. They want to know where it is all headed and what are the ultimate ends.
We short-story and novel writers — well, most of us, anyway — live and work mostly in this slower world. Video game-writers, on-line interactive plotters offering multiple pathways, and E. L. James
are challenging the model, obviously, creating experiences rather than narrative. Which is fine, I suppose, and inevitable, but has its cost if it occupies all our attention. Brooks goes on,
The online world is brand new, but it feels more fun, effortless and natural than the offline world of reading and discussion. It nurtures agility, but there is clear evidence by now that it encourages a fast mental rhythm that undermines the ability to explore narrative, and place people, ideas and events in wider contexts.
I'm still an old-fashioned, Second Millennium guy, wedded to narrative. Not just in my fiction, but in my thinking and writing about social, political and (occasionally) scientific matters. And so is David Brooks. I think the world will always need such thinking for us to have some idea of where we're headed and how we got here, instead of just jumping to each new experience that seems exciting. It's a minority view, but you on-liners are going to need us when your games crash.