When instant gratification trumps thinking, our culture will ultimately fail.
Take a look at the featured image above the title. What is it? What does it mean to you? Do you even care? If your answer to the last question is ‘no’, then perhaps this read isn’t for you. Personally, I find this photo, taken by a close friend of mine – Kevin McDermott (check out more of his stuff here) – to be a work of art. An eternal remembrance of my childhood and the place I grew up. It’s haunting and beautiful simultaneously, a working of human remembrance. The photo is much more than the pond behind the library in my hometown. Alas, I digress.
I read an article written by a principal of a school where my colleague’s grandchildren attend. The gentleman writes an article once a month and posts them on the school’s website, so the community can view them. For me, the articles are rather hit-or-miss; but this particular composition struck a chord within me. I felt it the heart of our (America, though I imagine it’s a worldwide phenomenon) cultural issues, and I see it reflected in the youth I teach on a daily basis. The problem? Adolescents aren’t required to think.
With Google, nearly any answer is at the tips of our fingers. The internet is a circus of easy outs and answers, which has blended our educational culture into a series of ignorant plagiarizers and lazy workers. This easy access to answers is certainly convenient, and I’m not only blaming adolescents for utilizing it. The issue is that, when a brain is developing, critical thinking and problem solving is necessary for successful development. See, when I was in school, the internet was an infant. My research projects and papers required library visits where I (and my classmates) had to rustle through the Dewey Decimal System in order to find the appropriate book, which we then had to read (or, at the minimum, skim) to find information worthy of our final product. This meant that we had to understand how the Dewey Decimal System worked to properly use it, and our reading and comprehension levels required adequacy to successfully find legitimate information.
I’m in no way saying that there weren’t students who were far below reading level or lazy. They either squandered their opportunities themselves or had home or developmental issues. Now, students are glued to the screens of electronics, whether they be cell phones, monitors, televisions, tablets, etc. While many adults also find themselves equally as stuck to electronics (myself included), the majority of us have had ample opportunity to develop our brains.
In the article, the writer compared brain development to working out. To build muscle mass, one must consistently exercise, lift, run, and more. Many have strict regiments (the P90x, for example, or a personal trainer) and diets with the end goal of a healthy or ripped body in mind. The same, he writes, can be said of brain development. Children and adolescents develop their brains by ‘working them out’ through problem solving, reading, comprehension, and using the good, old fashioned Socratic Method. People don’t sit and ponder any longer. If they have a question, they Google it. Instant satisfaction.
So why has this been the opening to my third case for art? I write here because I see this trend in video games, too. I’ve made the case for video games to be understood as art, but I’ve also noted that, like literature or film (or any art medium), there are pieces that I would argue against labeling as art. Why? Because they offer nothing but simple and instant gratification; they offer nothing of value.
For example, Call of Duty or Battlefield both offer something – regardless, in this instance, of whether the substance is actually worthwhile – as far as a narrative. But how many gamers actually buy a Call of Duty or a Battlefield for the story? Most gamers, I would wager, seek the fast action, extremely fun, and addicting gameplay of the franchises’ popular multiplayer. In essence, multiplayer has become the cell phones or search engines of the gaming community. For what it is, multiplayer offers excellent value for your dollar – just as Google saves time on that research paper. Multiplayer requires minimal thinking, relying on quick reflexes or modded controllers for the success gamers seek. Likewise, search engines require minimal thinking or skills, needing only the ability to string letters together on a keyboard.
Of course, these are both gross hyperbole for their respective situations, but the trend I have seen in the youth I work with is frightening. As I wrote in my Death by Game Show review, I live in an America where, as the presidential election fast approaches, and the primaries reach their terminus, voters may have to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I live in a world where students don’t know where other countries are (or, sometimes, what they are), a place where Rosa Parks is forgotten or the Holocaust is ridiculed. We vilify educators and celebrate the likes of Justin Bieber. We are okay with watching Bruce Jenner become Caitlyn Jenner and ignoring those who truly struggle in the transgender community. The mass consumers believe that the production companies of shows like I am Cait actually give a shit about the ‘communities they seek to help’. If one of these shows had low ratings, you’d better believe it’d be cut without remorse. (Note: my fiancé was interested in watching I am Cait, so I have seen the majority of the first season. I am not making assumptions). Corporate television is feeding on the actual sympathy of its viewers when airing shows like these. And misrepresented shows like Bo Burnham’s Zack Stone is Gonna Be Famous, a witty and biting satire on our culture – shows with actual purpose – are canceled after a season, leaving Teen Wolf and Awkward to play in their stead.
If you’ve made it to the end of this article, I commend you. Whether you agree with me is irrelevant. What is important is that you’ve put the effort into thinking about what I’m writing. If you disagree, you most likely have a well thought out response (I hope, else you prove my point). If you agree, you most likely have your well thought out reasons. I’m not asking you to share my view on our state of affairs. I don’t care if you’re a democrat or republican, if you’re straight or gay. I don’t care what color your skin is or if you biologically need to be the opposite sex. I have no reason or right to judge you based on your own needs or desires. I am simply asking you to think. Expand your horizons. The next time you want to play Call of Duty multiplayer, try out a story driven RPG instead; or, if you want to play an FPS, try out a title from the Bioshock series. The next time you want to ask Google or Siri a question, try deducing the answer based on what you know. If you feel indignant because this article offended you, consider why. I can’t give you the answers.
Should our world be able to live with an open, thinking mind, I wonder how many of our problems would cease to exist?