2012 Eugene H. Fram Chair in Applied Critical Thinking Lecture

2012 Eugene H. Fram Chair in Applied Critical Thinking Lecture


>>Bill Destler: Well,
good afternoon, everyone. I see that the time-honored
tradition that our students have of sitting in the back is
also adopted by our guests and friends, even if
they’re no longer students. But there are lots of seats
down here in the front. So for those of you who
would like a better view, we’d be happy to accommodate
you a little bit closer to the stage. I want to welcome the members
of the RIT Board of Trustees, our distinguished
guests, colleagues, students, staff, and friends. This is a very happy
day for RIT. Today marks an important
milestone in the history of RIT as we inaugurate the
Eugene H. Fram Chair in Applied Critical Thinking. And this unique —
yeah, we can clap, yeah. [ Applause ] And this unique position
signals — I think — a decisive and real
commitment on the part of this university
towards ensuring that all of our graduates — both undergraduate
and graduate alike — acquire and demonstrate
critical thinking as an essential lifelong skill. I can think of no goal that is
more important for our students and faculty than the continuous
pursuit of critical thinking and — brief editorial
comment — I think we’ve seen all too
little critical thinking in the current election season. Students increasingly
demonstrate that this is also
a key competency that our employers want and
expect from our graduates. A deeper and more profound
sense however can help our students understand themselves. There are places in the world
that are sort of real common. In short, applied critical
thinking must be vital component of higher education. Today we demonstrate that RIT
is the vanguard with respect to this, and we will
work tirelessly to make it a priority. In fact, my hope that this
is the first step toward RIT becoming known as a national —
and hopefully international — center of excellence in
applied critical thinking. It’s entirely fitting that this
Chair honors Eugene H. Fram, a J. Warren McClure Professor
Emeritus of Marketing in the Saunders College
of Business and a member of our faculty for a
remarkable 51 years. [ Applause ] Gene’s Socratic approach,
his intellectual vigor, and frequent use of case studies
made a lasting impression on generations of our graduates. Professor Fram so dramatically
influenced one of them — a former student who took
a single course from him over 35 years ago — that this
student decided to honor him by endowing this Chair. This RIT alumnus, who
desires to remain anonymous, has noted “Both my successes
were due in no small measure to Gene’s insistence
that clarity of thought is a fundamental
principle.” Please join me in welcoming
Professor Gene Fram. [ Applause ] >>Eugene Fram: Thank
you, Professor Destler. I appreciate the fine,
fine introduction. And I just wanted to also
point out that I’m very pleased to have members of my family
here who have traveled with me from California where
it’s nice and warm. And when I went outside today
I realized what a fall day in Rochester is. Although there’s no
rain — it was sunny — it was pleasant walking
and I managed to handle it after four years
on the west coast. I’m also pleased to see
the number of students that are here — and I understand there
are both graduate students and undergraduate
students here — because these students are
the ones who have curiosity. These are the students who
see what the future can bring. So at the reception afterwards,
if you want to talk any of these students, I’m sure they
will be happy to talk to you about opportunities that
you may have in your firm for co-op or even placement. Some of them are only — will
graduate in 2016 and 2015. So if you can develop
a relationship with one of these students, you have
a person who has curiosity, I assume can work very hard,
and can be the ideal colleague that you would hope for. Now, my job here this afternoon
is to talk about dreams. And I want to talk about
dreams in three respects. One, I want to talk to you
about the professor’s dream, or what my grandson who’s in Boulder called
the Hollywood Story. And that’s going to
be the first dream that I’m going to talk about. Next, I will talk to you about the anonymous
donor’s dream related to critical thinking and
Professor — President Destler, I want to promote
you [laughter] okay.>>Bill Destler: Promotion.>>Eugene Fram: Yeah. I always felt that you moved
forward in the teaching. Okay. We have the
same conclusion there. So I wanted to tell you about
the donor’s dream related to critical thinking a little
more than what we have here that President Destler
discussed with you. Then I’m going to introduce
what I call the Dream Weaver, which is Dr. Chip Sheffield,
who will launch the session with an introduction of
our distinguished guest, and also to people who
respond to our guest at the end of the lecture and at
the end of the lecture. So let me get started. When this chair was
announced during the period of the Search Committee,
the major question that I was asked:
“How did I do this? What did I do that motivated
this student, who I hadn’t seen in 35 years, to put forth
this — to endow this chair?” Well, a couple things that
occurred when I met him. I didn’t get this information
until about a month later — after it was announced and we had met personally
out in California. And he said there were a couple
of things that I did there. He was not a marketing
student, which I had assumed from the beginning, who developed a huge
marketing organization — distribution organization
of some type — but he was an accountant. And I, you know,
I said to myself: “How could I have
influenced an accountant of all types of people?” Now, some accountants are
my best friends, understand, but I don’t normally
mix with them socially. [Laughter] So that
was a puzzle to me. And then, so that was
one of the things. Because he clearly
indicated to me that he only had passing
interests in marketing. And this was the only course
that he took in his MBA program. So those were the
two major things. And the other thing
that he said to me was that he was more interested
in the process of the course, in the process of the course,
which required him to think about an area that he had
very little interest in and how the process in
itself interested and got him to do the best job that he did. On one other occasion he was
very busy, turned in a piece of work that wasn’t
his usual style. And when I handed it back to
him I said, “You know, gee, I really expected
better of you.” And he then said to me, he said, “I can still see you standing
there saying that to me today.” He said, “Whenever I take
on a task, I now ask myself, I now ask myself: Have I done
the best job that I can do?” And he says, “I see you there
all these years later asking me that question. So that’s what I did. And it wasn’t by
design; it just happened. So that’s how the
Chair was named in my name and a bit about this. Now, let me talk to you a bit
about the donor in itself, a very quite unusual person. And he’s not an accountant with
the green eye shades, you know, that you still see around every
once in a while, you know, talking about debits and
credits all the time. He’s a person who
takes college courses for credit — for credit. I wouldn’t even attempt
to do that. He takes the final
exams, the midterm exams. When I first met
him, I said to him, “Can we meet at a certain time? He says, “No. I got to study for
my astronomy exam.” And I thought he was kidding. And I found out later
he wasn’t kidding. He’s a dead serious person and he took the final
astronomy exam on this. He reads widely. We had an April meeting
with a couple of the younger faculty
here at RIT. And they would mention a book and he would casually
say, “Yes, I’ve read it.” He would ask them
questions about the book. And he has a great interest
— a civic interest — in seeing that people don’t
just accept the sound bytes but they think about
it and they consider it and they give it some
critical thinking when they hear the sound
bytes that are popping up all over the place. So that kind of describes the
person that we’re dealing with. And I’m proud to say that he and my wife have become very
good friends, Patty and myself, even to the extent
they invited us over to dinner a
couple of weeks ago. And we arrived a little early and they were preparing
a dinner. And what did I see there? A PERT chart — by
minute, when they’re going to put the bread on [laughter]. It was amazing to see. So they have become
friends with us. And we have also become
friends with Chip. Chip spent three days — I
don’t know how he survived it — with us at the end of August, talking about what
the donor’s intent is. And we enjoyed that very much and enjoyed becoming
acquainted with Chip. Now, what in terms of:
Why did he do that? Why did he pick RIT? Well, he felt RIT was a good
place — starting place — where the Chair would be
able to motivate faculty to challenge every graduate
and undergraduate student to have critical thinking
skills when they leave RIT. It would be in their
DNA, as you saw. Eventually, as President Destler
just indicated, we would hope that RIT eventually
would become a center — an international center — for
the study and the development of critical thinking,
especially for college students and college graduates. All you need to do is pick
up the paper and then say, “What do college
graduates need to have?” Interpersonal skills
— excuse me — interpersonal skills and
critical thinking skills are at the top of every
list that you see today. So these are the hopes
and dreams that we have for the Chair, that 10
or 15 years from now — or maybe sooner — if another
donor comes along and is so generous, that there would
be a center here probably with a building. I don’t know if you want
another building or not.>>Oh yes.>>Eugene Fram: Okay. [Laughter] Hopefully with
a building, but at least with a large physical
presence of people who are really interested
in critical thinking and developing critical
thinking, and that employers
hire RIT graduates because they have the
critical thinking skills that Bill Gates wants
of students, that everybody wants
of students. So that’s the second one. The third one I would
like to talk about is what I call the Dream
Weaver, the person who’s going to start putting
this all together and that’s Dr. Sheffield. And our donor’s analysis — our donor’s and my reaction to Chip is he’s a real
Renaissance person who cannot only discuss
Art History, that can discuss
venture capital. Chip holds a BS in Philosophy
from the University of Utah; a Master’s in Art History from
the University of Colorado at Boulder; and a PhD
from Bryn Mawr College. He’s been at RIT since 2003 and
is noted for critical thinking. And let me tell you: When we
say he knows critical thinking, you don’t need to go to a fact
checker because we have been through all his outlines. The search committee went
through all his outlines, his tests, and he really
knows what he’s doing with critical thinking. So let me turn the podium
over to Dr. Chip Sheffield. And it’s yours, Chip. [ Applause ]>>Chip Sheffield:
Gene, that so much for those incredibly kind words. Your friendship means
a great deal to me. And it’s been a delight to
get to know your family. And I, too, am also immensely
grateful to the anonymous donor for having the courage and
conviction to be so creative in thinking such a position. It’s my pleasure to
introduce N. Katherine Hayles who will speak tonight and inaugurate the
Eugene H. Fram Chair in Applied Critical Thinking. A distinguished Professor
of Literature and Director of the Graduate Program
at Duke University, Professor Hayles is one of the
world’s foremost authorities on the interrelation of science,
technology, and literature. She is also a leading literary
and social critic whose deep and profound insights into
electronic literature, gaming, interactive media,
cybernetics — the consequences and
implications of the relationship between machines
and human beings, and the continued
relevance in future of the Humanities
are remarkable — remarkable in my opinion
for their clarity, their coherence, and lucidity. Above all, Professor Hayles
is an extraordinary teacher who is deeply invested
in her students, as well as an exceptional mentor to younger scholars
and colleagues. Her generosity and her
kindness are legendary, as is her lambent
wit and her nimble, always curious intellect. Dr. Hayles is no
stranger to Rochester. She earned her BS in Chemistry
at RIT in 1966 and a PhD in English Literature at the
University of Rochester in ’77. In the interval in between she
completed an MS in Chemistry at Caltech, she’s worked as
a research chemist at Xerox, and is a research consultant
at Beckman Instruments — before she obtained an MA in
English at Michigan State. Her long list of honors,
fellowships, prizes, and awards would take
up the entire evening, but some of the most notable
include: The Rene Wellec Prize in the Best Book in
Literary Theory for 98-99 for her book How We
Became Posthuman ; a Susanne Langer award for
her book Writing Machines published in 2002;
she’s also a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship,
two NEH Fellowships, a Rockefeller Residential
Fellowship, two Presidential Research
Fellowships from the University of California; as well as
having held the Avenali Chair in Humanities at UC Berkeley
between 2000 and 2001. And that is just a very
small drop in the bucket. Professor Hayles’
presentation today, “Are Digital Media
Changing the Way We Think?” draws upon her latest book,
How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogensis . She’s published University
of Chicago 2012. Her talk will be followed
by two formal respondents; they are Dr. Laura Shackelford
in our Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts
and Dr. Jessica Liebermann, also from the College of
Liberal Arts in the Department of Fine Arts here at RIT. So if you’d please welcome me in
a warm welcome to Kate Hayles. Katherine. [ Applause ] >>Katherine Hayles: And I guess
we need to unmute the projector. And the tech person is to… oh
here we go. Great, great. Well, it’s a great
pleasure and an honor for me to be back here at
my alma mater. And as Chip mentioned, I graduated from RIT
in 1966 in Chemistry. And at that time RIT was
a fairly modest enterprise consisting of a few aging
buildings in downtown Rochester. And at the time that
I graduated, the Institute had already
bought the land for this campus but there were no
buildings erected as yet. Despite the modesty
of the enterprise, I felt that I received a
very good education at RIT. I felt I was well-prepared for
the next steps in my career. But, if on the day that I
graduated as Valedictorian of my class in 1966 I could
have been offered a tour of the future and come to
see RIT as it is today, I would have been astonished. More than that, I would
have been dumbfounded. And it seems to me that
the great leap in quality and quantity that RIT has
taken from the mid-’60s to the present is one of
the great success stories of higher education in
the later 20th century. And of course this
didn’t happen by itself; it happened through the
dedication and the hard work of people like Professor Fram
and all the other faculty, students, staff, administrators,
trustees, donors, and the industry partners who
worked hard over many years to make RIT the terrific
place it is today. And I invite you to join me in
a gesture of gratitude for all of those who contributed. [ Applause ] So my talk today is
based on the new book that I published called
How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary
Technogenesis . And the band of this book is that digital media are
affecting the way that we think and that increasingly
in developing countries like the US, we think
through, with, and alongside digital media. Now, I need to explain the other
term in my title, technogensis. Technogensis simply means
the coevolution of humans and technical objects. If we were to go back to
the Paleolithic Period, most paleoanthropologists
don’t consider this very controversial. They accept, for example,
that bipedalism — walking on two feet —
coevolved with the use and transport of tools. The tools conveyed such
strong adaptive advantage that it accelerated the
development of bipedalism, bipedalism made it easier
to use tools, and so forth. But my argument is that
this technogenetic spiral of coevolution didn’t end
with the Paleolithic Period, that it is continuing in the
contemporary moment as well. So to flush this argument
out, what I’m arguing is not that there is genetic
modification as a result of digital media
— there may be, but I think that case
is unproven right now — but I’m fairly confident
that there are epigenetic or environmental effects. In the late 19th century a
man named James Mark Baldwin proposed what I call —
what has come to be known as the Baldwin effect. It was essentially arguing
that Darwin’s theory of natural selection
was incomplete. And Baldwin thought
about it this way: Let’s suppose there’s a species
which undergoes a mutation, some kind of adaptation — that would go along
with Darwin’s theory — but then he said, “That species
modifies its environment. And it modifies its
environment precisely to favor the adaptation
that species has undergone, and that modification of the environment then
further favors the adaptation,” and so forth. So now let’s think about
a modified Baldwin effect where that circle is not going
through the genetic code, but is going from
the environment to the human neurological
system. And I’ll speak in a moment about the plasticity
of the neural system. But we know now that
the neurology of the human can be
modified significantly by environmental influences. And I think that’s
happening in the present, primarily through the intense
engagement with digital media. So to understand how this
plasticity of the neurology — the neurological system — works we have to say a little
bit more about cognition. Now, I’m making distinction
here between consciousness, which happens in the neocortex
and elsewhere in the forefront of the brain and cognition, which happens throughout
the brain and indeed throughout the
central nervous system. So the important point here is that cognition is a
much greater faculty than consciousness alone. So cognitive scientists
are now talking about what they call the
cognitive unconscious. This is very different from
the Freudian unconscious. The Freudian unconscious
as we know dealt with repressed material, suppressed material,
and so forth. But the cognitive
unconscious is a mental faculty that constantly surveys the
environment for information. The amount of information
that can be processed through consciousness is a
very, very small fraction of all of the information
entering our brain. And so it’s the cognitive
unconscious was just that broader environmental
awareness. There’s lots of evidence
for this, and I’ll only give
us a few examples. One of these pieces of evidence
is called behavioral priming. So I’ll give you a couple
of examples that come from research done in this area. In one experiment, the
psychiatrists had a group of college students and they
were supposedly being tested for vocabulary. But in fact, one of the
vocabulary lists was seeded with synonyms for politeness;
the other was seeded for synonyms with rudeness. And then the students
left the exam room and there was a stage
situation in the corridor to which the students could
respond politely or rudely. Those students who
had been primed with the politeness
synonyms tended predominantly to respond politely, those on
the rude list responded rudely. But it goes much beyond this. People have found that if primed
with the elderly stereotype, students do less
well on memory tests. Not only that, they walk slower. So we can sort of understand
this as an adaptive behavior that responds to the environment and unconsciously
modifies the environment to bring the person closer into
step with their environment. But if we are as
humans this sensitive in ways we don’t even recognize
consciously to the environment, that means that if our
environment changes to a dense digital
infrastructure, that infrastructure
can affect us on ways that we’re not even
conscious of. And that’s exactly what I
think is happening at present. So Nigel Thrift, a
British geographer, has talked about how
our sense of space and time are being influenced
by things like GPS technologies, pervasive computing
within the environment, ubiquitous computing,
and so forth, RFID tags. And he’s called this kind of dense infrastructure the
technological unconscious, that is, the ways
in which we respond to our technological environment
in these sedimented structures that he calls the
technological unconscious. So now we have some
kind of sense of what this extended
sense of cognition is and how it might be affecting
us in our everyday interactions. But it would be helpful to have
some more specific examples of how digital media
are impacting us and particularly
our young people. So a few years ago,
when I had the honor of being a Phi Beta Kappa
Scholar, I had as part of my charge to visit
universities, colleges across the country. And I was struck by the fact that everywhere I went I heard
people saying the same thing: “I can’t get my students to read
novels anymore so I’ve taken to assigning short stories. I can’t get them
to read whole books so now I assign chapters
of books.” And on doing some further
reading it seemed to me that we were in the midst of
a shift in cognitive modes, and that this shift was
the greater, the younger, the cohort we were
talking about. So I see it now in
my college students, but you go to 12-year-olds
and you would really see it. And what does this
shift consist of? Well, in broad terms
it consists of a shift from what we might call deep
attention to hyper attention. In deep attention, a mode kind
of native to the humanities, the preference is to focus on a
single object for a long period of time, to shutout
external stimuli. So if you’re reading a
Dickens novel for example, you just don’t even hear
what’s going around you — a quality that used to
drive my mother crazy when I was a child
— and so forth. What is hyper attention? Hyper attention is a desire
for increased stimulation, the ability to shift
flexibly and quickly between different
information streams, and a relatively low
threshold for boredom. Now, when would we
begin to see something like this shift in
cognitive modes? Well, here now I can go
a bit more into depth on what I mean by
neuroplasticity. So neurologists have
known for a long time that when an infant is born, at birth that child
has more synapses — that is, connections
between neurons — than he or she will ever have
again in his or her life. And during the first
weeks and months of life those synapses
are pruned: The ones that are stimulated by
the environment spread and grow; those that are not used by the environment
shrink and disappear. Far from this being a tragedy of
an infant losing its synapses, no, it’s a wonderful adaptive
mechanism to make sure that every infant has its
brain reengineered at birth to fit its environment. So if that infant is growing
up in a technological society such as our own, from birth on, its neural structure is
literally being reengineered to fit the environment. And as that environment includes
more and more digital media, digital media begin to have
greater and greater impact on what the actual
neural structure will be. So now let’s go to
neuroplasticity. It’s usually divided into
three different kinds. Developmental. So synaptogenesis
would be an example of developmental plasticity. Synaptic modulation. Even as an older adult, my synapses are still
responding to my environment. That’s an example of
synaptic modulation. And reparative, that’s where
someone suffers some kind of a brain injury like a
stroke or so forth and begins to rearrange his neurology by
using different neural nets than he used originally. So people who have a
stroke can’t use their arm, but then they learn
to use their arm by using different brain
circuits as time goes on. Now, we’ve sort of been talking
so far about the human part of this coevolutionary spiral,
let’s now switch for a moment to go to the technical or
technical objects part. One of the theorists
who’s useful to think about this strain is Gilbert
Simondon, a French theorist and technician who was
writing in the 1950s and 1960s in France — he invented a type
of foreign self, mechanologist. And Simondon’s writing is useful
because Simondon did not think of technical objects as
static entities; they’re made, they’re manufactured,
you put them on the shelf, that’s
what they are. Rather, Simondon conceptualized
technical objects as always on their way to something else. And to kind of capture
that idea, he used the terminology
abstract and concrete. Concrete is a fully-realized
technological object that has, so to speak, reached
its potential. A hammer would be
an example of that. You can’t do much more with a
hammer — a hammer is a hammer. But he also thought
at the other end of that scale were abstract
objects that had not yet reached their potential
and had tremendous reservoir of potentiality for
future development. The digital computer
could be an example of a highly abstract technology. So through this kind of
terminology, Simondon postulated that objects weren’t stable,
they were only metastable. They only had reached a
provisional point of development that always could be developed
further, except for those that were at the most
concrete end of the spectrum. So in this way he imagined that objects are undergoing
a constant evolution in a similar way
to human beings. So now we have a way to
match up the evolution of technical objects with the
neural plasticity of humans to begin putting a
technogenetic spiral into play. So we can sum all
this up by saying that we make technical objects
and technical objects make us, and that this is a process
continuing into the present. So what is this trajectory
that we seem to be on with digital objects and
contemporary technogenesis? I think it’s not difficult to see the general trend
of this trajectory. First of all, it means
increased information density. So now we not only have
many more sources from which to get information — CNN
online, not just CNN on TV, and so forth — but the pace
at which information is coming to us seems to be going
faster and faster and faster. We see increased
use of multitasking, especially among young people. Now, multitasking is
actually a bit of a misnomer. Studies have shown that
what we actually do is focus on one object at a time. But what we call multitasking
is a quick alternation of focus on a whole bunch of
different objects. And that I think is endemic
in the way that, for example, college students
study for exams now, college students write
their papers, and so forth; they’re not just sitting
there in the library with pen and paper — no, they’ve
got their computer on, they’ve got a chat window
open, they’re maybe looking at their email at the same time. All this is happening
concurrently. An increased pace of
reading and absorption. So I think that part of the gift
of hyper attention is to be able to absorb information
more and more quickly. There have been studies of
how people read web pages, for example, through
the Nielsen Group. And this study uses eye
tracking plus aural narration by the subjects. And what they found is that when
someone starts reading a web page they read all the
way across the page. But as they go down
the page or the screen, the line lengths get
shorter and shorter. And then by the bottom
they’re simply reading down the left margin. Therefore, the worst place to
put important information is on the bottom right
corner, in case you happen to be designing any
web pages recently. But what this means is this kind of hyper skimming
now becomes endemic in the way young people
especially absorb information. There are more and more
intelligent environments as computers move
out of the desktop into mobile technologies,
into smartphones, into various kinds
of web appliances. But not only that, the environment itself is
becoming more intelligent with embedded devices,
RFID tags, and so forth. There are faster and
faster cycles of innovation which of course we’re
all aware of in the area of digital technologies. And this means as the process
of innovation gets faster, that human attention
becomes the bottleneck through which information
has to pass. And as an inevitable
result of that, we get increased
machine-machine communication. So now human attention is
at the top of a pyramid. Many, many layers deep in that
pyramid are machines talking to machines. So when you open your cell
phone and it says “searching for signal,” it’s
actually making handshakes with various kinds of
repeating towers and so forth, all machine-machine
communication underneath the awareness of human consciousness
who’s merely looking at that screen and
seeing a simple message. But that’s only one example. The Internet itself is
another great example of machine-machine
communication. So this has benefits; it also
has limitations or drawbacks. It’s perhaps obvious why hyper
attention would have drawbacks as well as benefits. One of the people who’s thought
about this is Catherine Malabou, a French theorist, who recently
published a book called What Should We Do With Our
Brain? And Malabou covers in her book many of the
issues of neural plasticity that I’ve been talking about — the ability of the
brain to adapt — but she also urges us
toward what we might call critical thinking. And she notices that the ability
to adapt is one of the demands of the contemporary
workplace and maybe for many workers not a good
demand because it means a lot of job insecurity, it means you
can be fired without notice, and so on and so forth. So Malabou issues a challenge
to us as a critical thinker: What should we do so
that consciousness of the brain does not
purely and simply coincide with the spirit of capitalism? In other words, as critical
thinkers, how can we resist or critically interrogate this
tendency toward flexibility? And so she makes a strong
distinction between plasticity and flexibility: Flexibility
is a response to the demands of the workplace; plasticity
is an inherent capacity of the brain to adapt
to change situations. And as I mentioned
earlier, she’s also aware that consciousness is just a tip but there’s all these
other levels of the cognitive unconscious
and the nonconscious below that. And she locates the capacity
for resistance in the gap, or the rupture, between
the narrating or autobiographical self,
that is, consciousness and what Tony Demasio has
called the proto-self, that level below consciousness where thoughts are
just beginning to come into awareness. And she suggests that
it’s this proto-self that should be the
focus of our attempts at resistance in
critical thinking. Now, as you can see, there’s
a problem with this argument and the problem is
this: The proto-self by definition is
below consciousness; how can we access it or activate
it in a spirit of resistance if we can’t consciously
direct our minds to do so? This I think is where digital
media have a positive role to play. That through digital media
we can invent devices and digital objects
that address all levels of embodied cognition,
including the conscious; the unconscious; and
the nonconscious. So from here I’m going to talk
a little bit about a project that I’ve been engaged
in for the last year in the GreaterThanGames
Lab at Duke University. So the GreaterThanGames
Lab is a project that tends to mobilize games for
socially constructive purposes. And my particular project
was creating an alternate reality game. An alternate reality
game is a game that plays across real-life, digital,
and online platforms. So it isn’t invested
in any of those; it plays against all of them. But my particular interest was
in being able to form a game that would link neural
transformation with pedagogical roles. In other words, enlist the
plasticity of the brain but now in a directed way to try
to achieve a purpose. But not only to enlist
it, to also be able to envision new goals and to
create links between all levels of embodied awareness. Well, this is obviously
a very tall order. And I and two colleagues
and then a team of about 12 other people worked
very hard very last spring to create an alternate reality
game called Speculation. And here I have to
say a little bit about how I became
interested in finance capital. Prior of 2008 it
wasn’t even on my radar. But in 2008 I lost a third of
my life savings in the crisis. And believe me, that
got my attention. So as an academic,
I decided, “Okay, I need to know much
more about this. I need to know much more
about what caused this crisis, what were the underlying forces, how could I locate
myself in relation to it?” And that was my motive
for getting involved in this alternate reality game. And it has as its motives
— where are we here? Why have we lost the images? [ Silence ] Somehow this has gone
way off the screen. All right. So I have to tell you the
back story of Speculation. So the back story of Speculation
is this: That we positioned it in a near-future world in
which the Euro has collapsed and with it the Euro zone. The whole time we were working
on the game we were terrified that the Euro would collapse and our near-future world
would become the present world. And in our near-future
dystopic world, a coalition of investment banks and powerful corporations
gotten together to form a kind of uber-corporation
called Medicorp. And it has offered to bail
the world out, but at the cost of taking control of
the financial system, much as the World Bank does
now with third world countries. And so a resistance
group has arisen to try to wrest control back to
Democratic organizations. And this resistance group goes
by the name of Nex, N-e-x. Actually, it was meant
to be called Next but somehow the T
got lost in a typo. So it became Nex. So the way that we
structured this game was through eight different modules
that explored these topics. So what comes before
naturalization of credit is credit
default swaps and then you see the other
topics covered by these modules. And the game was
massive in its content. And it contained a lot
of historical information about the origins of
money, how did people come to believe money was worth
something, the state violence that accompanied
the establishment of credit instruments,
and so forth. And it was meant to
connect the dots — we’re losing some
of the screen there for reasons I don’t
understand — but it involved embodied
components, subconscious recognitions,
collaborative play, and it was a transmedial
production across virtual, online, and real-world
locations. So the structure of
the game was like this. And what you see here are the
different hubs for the modules. So each module had
multiple levels in it. So you progressed from
the hub of level one through level two and so forth. And in between the modules or the hubs was a
narrative component. The narrative component
was constructed as Nex being interrogated,
had been caught, and was now in the process
of being interrogated by a Medicorp employee. And so you would play through
the game playing one level of — the first level in the
first hub, all the modules, second hub, and so forth. And the connection that
we hoped to make was between the narrative
and the game play. Now, I have to say that as
a teacher, I had a vision of how this game
would be played. And it would involve the
gamers going through all of the historical material,
acquiring dense information about our present situation,
but also about the whole history of money and so forth. And this fall I convened a group
of five bright undergraduates — terrific gamers — naive
about finance capital, so my perfect test group. And I discovered that the way
they played the game was nothing at all like I thought. It was going to be played — you know, one of those teacherly
moments when you realize that your students are actually
doing something completely different than you
thought they were doing. And in general, what they were
doing was inventing all kinds of shortcuts that took them through the game much more
quickly, but had the effect of cutting off the connections
with all of the historical and informational material
I had hoped they’d gain. So you could say that
this project was a failure or at least only a partial
success in achieving its goals. Nevertheless we had
about 3,000 players from 33 countries
participate in the length of time that it was on. And they seemed to
enjoy the game. We had a final event which
was a chat session with Nex. And they were pretty good about
getting all of the nuances and the complexities we’d
built into the narrative. But I think in the end they
learned only a small amount about financial capital,
which of course was one of the principle
goals of the game. So right now we’re in the
process of redesigning the game to make the connections
between the narrative material and the historical material
much stronger, much clearer. We thought we were
being terribly subtle. It turned out we were being so
subtle they missed the point. So we need to make the game more
obvious, the clues more obvious. The game has a lot of
cryptographic puzzles in it, things like an audio file which is actually a
Morse code transmission but played backward. So as a gamer you have to
put it into an audio program, and then you have a reverse it,
and then you get the Morse code, and then you have to take it to a Morse code converter
to get the message. Or another example: We
had an image scrambler which took an image and
divided it up line by line, pixel by line and pixels and then scrambled
them in random order. You had to go to an
image descrambler, get the image descrambler through an evolutionary
algorithm program to match the lines up again,
and get some semblance of the original image back. These were just some
of the puzzles that we built into the game. But as I say, it was
only a partial success. So the game is launching
again right now. And if you’d like to join
in the fun, you can find it at speculation.net,
where instead of the I in speculation you’d put a 1. And that takes you to
an initial narrative, which we hope will be intriguing
and then to all the modules that you can play through. And we’re encouraging
collaborative play. So if you get stuck on any one
puzzle or part of the game, you’ll have lots of comrades
playing the game with you who can give you good hints
and help you along in the game. So with that, I’ll conclude and
thank you for your attention. [ Applause ] >>Okay, so I want to
just thank Dr. Eugene Fram for inspiring this event, and
thank Chip Sheffield as well for getting us off to a great
start, and of course Dr. Hayles for giving us so much
to think about today. I highly recommend her
new book how you think — I’m sorry, How We Think . And I just wanted to
mention in the introduction to the new book, Dr. Hayles
sort of points to several shifts in contemporary scholarly
and intellectual production and circulation and
connects them in a really nice sort
of concise mapping. So she points to shifts
— this kind of turn — to problem-based inquiry, the
use of computation-based methods in academia, collaborative
interdisciplinary research, as well as undergraduate
research and really concisely illustrates
how all these are related to this broader shift in
modes of academic production in relation to digital media. I was thinking during your talk, in thinking about
the relationship between digital media and
traditional humanities, scholarship, and teaching,
I think Katie Hayles’ book and her talk today are just
a wonderful kind of proof of concepts about what the
digital humanities can provide — one of many, of
course, approaches. So I think during her talk you
can see Dr. Hayles combining research results
and methodologies from cognitive science,
psychology, and neuroscience; all joined from all
those fields to think through this question
of attention. She provides insights
into technological change, drawing from science studies,
cultural anthropology, and also philosophy
of technology. As a literary scholar I have to
appreciate that she also brings into this mix literary
and artistic explorations of these questions and thinks
about how they, you know, both add to the way we
think about these questions, but also make us more
self-conscious and aware of some of those issues as
she describes it. And then lastly, Dr.
Hayles I think today — and in her work — directly
connects these questions to the questions that I
think that most — many — academics are asking today
is: What are we as scholars and intellectuals supposed do
about some of these shifts? How are we to, as she puts it, interweave in the
technogenetic spiral? The effect of this approach — I think this sort of
multidisciplinary, multidimensional approach
to the question of attention in Hayles’ talk — really,
really changes the way we think about some of these questions
in some crucial ways. So I know when I hear the
word “attention” these days — and obviously because
I’m a teacher, probably because I watch
too much bad news — but “attention” immediately
brings to mind for me things like people increasingly
running into stationary objects, texting while driving, and then
also there’s this perennial problem of a lack of
attention in the classrooms. And I think what’s
really wonderful about Hayles’ multidisciplinary
approach is the way in which she complexifies the
way we think about attention and that it directly
contributes to new possibilities for intervening, engaging
students’ attention, thinking about the role
that attention plays in our reading practices,
in our lives. I know that this complexity
facilitates an in-depth reframing of technological
and social changes that are also often
feared and divisive. And so I think it’s
really important that we change the way
we ask these questions so we don’t fall back into the
sort of reactionary responses to some of these shifts. And also, you know, follow
I think, Dr. Hayles’ lead in seeing this as
an opportunity. I mean, it’s really
an immense opportunity to rethink educational
practices, to rethink, you know, basic concepts such as attention that we might think
we understand but clearly there’s a lot — at least in terms of the
new research in nonconscious and unconscious attention. There are a lot of dimensions to
something as basic as attention that we just don’t understand. All right. So I had two questions
for you, Dr. Hayles. And they’re both kind
of requests for really to hear a little bit more about
what you eloquently describe as technogenetic processes through which we
make technologies and technologies make us. And I’m curious in
particular in hearing more about how you think they unfold in the contemporary social
fields and what this means for how we might pursue —
as scholars, as citizens, as students — certain kinds
of technogenetic interventions such as the wonderful
alternate reality game that you pointed to. So the first question
is just to hear — I was curious what
the importance is of understanding the
evolutionary dimensions to these processes; so why
does that matter to think about technological
change as a part of evolutionary change
or related to it? Also, in light of those
evolutionary processes, does technogenesis
require distinct strategies that are cognizant of
evolution’s tendency to work through methods of
boot-strapping, adaptation, environmental pressures,
and provisionality, as opposed to a kind of
top-down engineering? That’s a common distinction that
neuroscientists, philosophers, and biologists think about
evolution is it wasn’t designed, you know, wholesale
overnight; it had to be sort of built up over time. So I’m wondering if that
impacts how we can intervene in these processes. And then the second question —
and these are kind of, you know, you can answer both and or
either or, they’re optional — the second question
is just in talking about this technogenetic
feedback loop between technical
beings and living beings, you illustrate how quote,
this is from chapter four of your book, “both groups
change together in coordinated and indeed synergistic
ways,” end quote. And I think you really
eloquently describe those relays. But what I was interested
in hearing a little bit more about from you is why we
then see such discrepancies between different kinds
of literacies today, conflicts between
digital-born scholars and print-based scholars. And even I’ve had a similar
experience teaching digital games in the classroom and
realizing as my students were up playing a game, realizing that I was actually the
illiterate in the room. So I’m just kind of curious
about how you can explain some of those discrepancies in
relation to this broader process and whether there’s an issue of
social power, cultural authority that enters into that. I will. [ Applause ] [ Silence ] >>I’ll let our friend
try to fix the screen. So we will pause on the answers to Dr. Shackelford’s
excellent questions and pose yet another question and
perhaps a provocation. [ Pause ] I’ll just start whenever. From the perspective of many
people in the RIT community and Katherine Hayles’
articulation of Comparative Media Studies
is a refreshing diagnostic of precisely what we do
here in our brick city. [ Silence ] Figuring out the media. RIT’s strengths in the fields
of science, technology, engineering, gaming,
and mechanics have long fostered an environment that
respects practical application in its pedagogy,
foregrounding problem-based inquiry, project-based research,
and experiential learner. On this techno-savvy
scene humanistic inquiry at RIT has thrived in part
by making fruitful use of emerging technology such as
digital media to reinvigorate and redirect its base
principles and methods and to motivate new
avenues of interrogation. Furthermore, as Dr.
Hayles suggests, the interventions offered
herein are certainly pedagogical resulting in courses and
curricula that are adaptive and timely, but also
constructive in the world at large, putting forth
students and projects that are not only cutting
edge in their technology, but also intellectually prepared
to engage with the social, political, economic,
psychological, and philosophical dilemmas
of contemporary society. At its best RIT’s humanities and qualitative social
sciences are ahead of the curve in their recognition of
the deeply imbricated and symbiotic relationship of
humanity and machine, cognition and tools, attention
and materiality. At RIT today, faculty
who research in the digital humanities
collaborate across disciplines and colleges to develop
these kinds of comparative media
programming at all levels. Freshmen level courses such
as Imagining Rochester, which teaches comparative
reading modalities such as the triad of close,
hyper, and machine reading that Hayles crystallizes;
minors such as Visual Culture, housed in the Fine
Arts Department, and Digital Literature
and Comparative Media, housed in the English
Department, each understand its principle
media as constituted by, in, and through digital media. Majors such as the newly-crafted
Digital Humanities Program born of a collaboration of over 30
faculty members, three colleges, and the university
press and libraries. And finally, NEH proposals
for graduate programs such as Integrating
Societal Complexities into Geospatial Support
for Disaster Management, produced by faculty
from four colleges and spanning seven disciplines. For many complicated reasons,
however, academia and RIT along with it remain siloed
into distinct disciplines and requires research of
its faculty and curricula for its students that emphasize
disciplinary distinctiveness. One question I have for Dr.
Hayles, then, is programmatic. This is some of Dr.
Hayles’ language from her most recent book. How might an institution
ripe with pockets of digital humanities
inquiry and even less with cross disciplinary
collaborations that reflect your discussion
of historical, contemporary, and future comparative
media studies? Expand or reorganize
structurally so as to further emphasize
the necessity and gains of such a dialogic and
dialectical aspect — that’s the technogenetic spiral. To use your own words,
how might an institution such as RIT develop
courses, curricula, programs, or centers that function
like your technical objects as temporary coalescences
in fields of conflicting and cooperating forces? The next thread I would like
to pull is a disciplinary one. When I listed some of the
disciplines that make RIT strong and technogenetically
sophisticated, the disciplines of the arts were not noted. As a scholar of visual culture
my bias is towards the visual. And as faculty at RIT, I
know that it is in the visual and performing arts that some of our most provocative
interventions into the digital
humanities are being made. Thus I would like to add a
fourth term to your triad of reading modalities:
Again, close, hyper, and machine reading
— aesthetic reading. My next question then is rather
a provocation, a provocation to track the opportunity
for the technogenetic spiral to join aesthetics in
animating academic discourses in a positively,
productively, destabilizing way. Briefly and for examples,
in the realm of Philosophy your elaborating of technical objects provides
a riveting counterpoint to Immanuel Kant’s diagnosis
of the condition or beauty. Kantian Aesthetics turned on
a perceived paradox of art, the idea of purposiveness
without purpose or intentionally produced — though produced —
to have no intention. Dr. Hayles’ assessment of tools
and their role as catalysts for change — cognitive
and material — open up provocative new avenues
for Kantian notions of beauty and the sublime, as well
as for Cartesian notions of perspective in art criticism. The opportunities for
social, political, and economic impact have
been addressed already in Dr. Shackelford’s
questions but these, too, are critical spaces opened up by
the bringing together of human- and machine-centered views. In the field of Art
History and Criticism, scholars such as James Bridle,
Bruce Sterling, Ian Bogost, and Matthew Battles work on what
they call “The New Aesthetics,” providing powerful examples that
correspond with your discussion of embodied material objects. In their formulation
we are using aesthetics to wave at machines. We are learning to wave at
them and they are beginning to wave back in earnest. So those were examples from
the world of fashion– the term used to refer to the
appearance of visual language of digital technology and the
Internet in the physical world, as well as the blending of
the physical and virtual. So this is an eruption
of the digital, reveling in seeing the
grain of computation in the aesthetic morality. These images illustrate
this idea. These are works of art
by various artists made out of plywood, sculptures
in Vancouver. An Orca by Douglas Copeland. Large structural sculptures. These are a variety of pieces — architectural and
painting pieces — that are made to work off
both the idea of pixelization and digitization in the
aesthetic architectural scene, and also the use of
Google Maps as a new way of perceiving our
world, unlike good, old fashioned Cartesian
perspective. And this on the other hand,
is in fact a not work of art, but a NASA satellite image
revealing actual agricultural patterns from space. And yet, now we read it as
if it were a work of art. Finally, your extension of the
notions of neural plasticity and the adaptive unconscious
provide fertile ground for a final provocation. In your article Traumas of Code you take
these theoretical moves to the practical level of psychological trauma
and human suffering. Visual culture participates in
shifting the discourse of vision as unmediated towards
one that is photographic. The photographic image mediates
our vision, structures it, and co-substantiates
it, and vice versa. So bringing your evolutionary
discourse of adaptive technology to the realm of the
unconscious you offer code as the correlate
unconscious to language. As someone whose work
tackles trauma in the visual and who works with notions
of unconsciousness in code in the linguistic
theory of semiotics, I wonder how you might bring
the discourses of digital code and human language to the realm of visual imagery
in human experience? [ Applause ] [ Pause ]>>Katherine Hayles: Well, I’d
like to thank Laura and Jessica for those wonderful responses. And I’ll try to be very
brief so that we have time to turn it back to you and
let you ask any questions or make any responses
that you care to make. So this is a very rich set
of questions and responses. And I won’t be able
to touch on everything that you presented here,
but I’ll start with one of Laura’s questions
and work through to one of Jessica’s provocations and
then we can turn it over to you. So Laura asked what we can
do when we become aware that digital media are having
these kinds of effects on us. And there are two
prominent responses. One is the response that
Nicholas Carr records in his book, The Shallows , where Carr is essentially
noticing the same thing I was talking about —
hyper attention — although he doesn’t
call it that; he might call it
attention deficit instead. And Carr is bemoaning
this effect. And he writes very eloquently
about the day that he decided to turn off his computer,
to go in the other room, to pick up a book, to
not worry about email, and just to spend
a leisurely day or two days immersing
himself in that book. And I have to say that I’ve
had the same experience of turning off my computer,
go in the other room, picking up a profound book like Quentin Meillassoux’s
After Finitude and just enjoying the
challenge of that book. And I think there’s
a place for that. But as basic professionals
there are limits to how many times we can turn
off our email and retreat to the other room and let the
world go by however it would. The other response is the
one that I was exploring in Speculation, and that is
to use the poison as a cure. So if digital media are
the poison in the sense that they’re affecting
our attention span, then to try to create a game
that would go into digital media and make its intervention
in that way. Another sort of dilemma
that’s often posited for us that Laura alluded to is:
Are humanists who feel that the digital is a threat? People who are raised with
print, immersed in print, have their skills based
in print methodologies, and who see the digital as a
threat to their competency, to their professional
authority, and so forth. So very often we get this
parsed as the digital versus the print — that you
are either on the side of print, like Burketts [assumed spelling]
is, or else you are on the side of the digital and then
you think print is going to become obsolete. What I observed is
quite the opposite. What I observe is a burst of
creativity in the print medium in response to the digital. Writers who are taking
the digital, sort of as the images Jessica
showed of the pixilated shoes and the pixilated models and so
forth, taking it as a challenge and an opportunity to rethink
the print medium and to begin to explore the unexplored
potential of the print book as a medium. Now, that has disciplinary
consequences. As Jessica alluded to,
universities unfortunately tend to be siloed, where you
have people operating in their disciplines
and not talking to people in other disciplines. RIT I think is a great
exception to that, but that’s pervasive
in academia. And so I think that a move
forward in this direction is to start from my home
discipline, literature, and begin to think about
literature not as a print medium but that print itself
is a medium. And so a collaborator and I are at the moment editing
a collection of essays called A New Paradigm for the Humanities
Comparative Textual Studies in which we put together essays
on the scroll or the book world, the Medieval manuscript,
Renaissance handwriting, on up into computer games
and put them all together to explore commonalities
and differences between these different media. So recognizing that print
is a medium opens the door to thinking about it in
relation to all the other media, including visual media. And I think that’s a way
to overcome that tendency to silo the then distinct
disciplines and begin to reconceptualize how
curricula are formulated. The typical way a
curricula are formulated in English departments, for
example, is through periods. You have 18th century
prose for example, 19th century novel
— through countries. So you have British,
you have American, etc. and through genre. And I think those
categories are obsolete. I think we should go back to the
drawing board and begin to think about curricula based on
comparative media studies where we now take the medium
platform as a opportunity for interrogation
and construct courses and curricula along those lines. So that’s a very
discipline-specific answer, but since Laura and I are both in English Literature
departments we can have this disciplinary conversation. So I would like to thank them
and also welcome everyone now to join the conversation in
whatever way you would like.>>Yes? Question? [ Silence ]>>Katherine Hayles: And Laura
and Jessica, I wonder if you’d like to join me up here
and participate as well in the emerging conversation.>>My question is
based on this forum. I understand you. But my question to you is this: There seems to be a
genetic desire of people — too many people —
to stay connected. They seem to be lost if
they’re not connected through the digital stream. And I find it sometimes
amusing, sometimes worrisome. It goes from texting in
cars to people talk to each other in high school corridors. Why are people so intensely
concerned about being connected? Why can’t we just sit quiet
for a moment and think? [Laughter]>>Katherine Hayles: Well,
thank you for that question. I don’t know if everyone
was able to hear it, but basically the
gentleman was commenting on something we’ve
probably all noticed, how young people stay
glued to their smartphones, no matter where they are — they’re walking through
the forest and there they are texting
on their smartphones. Well, I think that probably the
human species was always drawn to information. And now that information is
more available than ever, it becomes a very powerful
attractant that we can think of the human species
as infovores; they always want
more information. And the one thing that
anthropologists notice about human societies,
including tribal societies, is that the most
popular activity across all societies is
gossip and social connections. And so you combine information
technologies with gossip and social connections and you
have a almost fatal attraction there for humans. So on the question of
what to do about this, I think there is a real
problem with getting lost in the real world through
the attachment to the screen. And some of my colleagues
at Duke are working on projects — that I think
Jessica also alluded to — are combining virtual overlays
and real place locations to kind of do a geospatial annotation of what you’re actually looking
like, its history, its context, etc. That at least
has the benefit of bringing the real world
connected to the screen. That sort of is another
example of using digital media, trying to intervene
in this situation. I suspect it’s absolutely
useless to tell people “Leave your smartphone at home.” [ Silence ]>>While Chip’s walking over
there I will just let you know if you are a Rochestarian, there’s an artist
doing an eco-art-tech out at the University
of Rochester. And we’re actually doing
one for the Rochester area. And the idea is that you do
do play on your smartphone, but as you’re wandering around the Rochester
environment it sends you back to the real world and asks
questions that force you to put it down and look
around you and interact.>>Hi. I’m curious, just trying to understand what you
mean by technogenesis. You know, I remember
reading a study a while ago that taxi cab drivers on campus
became very sophisticated and through a process
of neural plasticity. But, you know, because
they navigate all the time. But there’s no suggestion
that the genetics among all of the taxi cab drivers is
changing as a result of this. So am I — so I understand
that what you’re really talking about is that we’re kind of
bypassing the genetic code and technology is transmitting
changes one generation to the next?>>Katherine Hayles: Yes,
that is what I was proposing. It may be that in the long term
there will be genetic effects, or at least some kind
of genetic drift. But I’m unable to find
any convincing evidence for that at the present. So what I was suggesting was that these adaptations were
happening through a combination of environmental influences
and neural plasticity. That is, it’s not going
through the genetic code; it’s going through changes in
brain structure after birth in relation to the environment. I think there is beginning
to be a little evidence about how the epigenetic
and the genetic might relate in this regard, but I
think that those kind of studies are still
in their infancy. [ Silence ]>>I have more of
a proposal that I’d like to hear your feedback
on rather than a question that I’d like answered. I would like everyone to think
about rather than finding a way to get everyone to put down
their phones and come back to real life, I would
like to think of a way to get the information
to people that they want through their phone, but get
it them without their phones so that we can still get
the best of both worlds: People won’t be staring
at their phones when they should be driving, but they’ll still get
those social connections and gossip that they crave. What do you think about
that kind of direction?>>Katherine Hayles: And how
would they get the information without the smartphone?>>From the brain. [Laughter]>>We’ve got a lot of
biotech people here.>>Katherine Hayles: Well, science fiction writer
William Gibson imagines that in the near future
there will be neural implants where you just kind of jack
a device into your brain and suddenly you know all
about art history for example. That seems to me very much
a science fiction fantasy because knowing art
history is much more than just having the
information; it involves context and all these other things. So I think your proposal
is intriguing but I guess to have a reaction I’d have
to know what the mechanism is.>>A better example I guess
would be putting hands-free devices built into your car so
you don’t have to hold the phone or push buttons when
you ask your car to call a friend for you.>>Katherine Hayles: I think
we’re close to that now. Well, part of the problem,
of course, with cell phones and driving is not only
that you’re using your hand when you should be
driving, but also question of what you’re focusing on. So I don’t think that putting
the cell phone on automatic play in your car would solve
that particular problem.>>Okay. >>So kind of touching on that
and what you said earlier, there’s a distinction between
access to an absorption of information and
actually understanding it and doing something with
that; so how do you see that distinction in
where we’re heading that, how digital media affects that?>>Katherine Hayles: So the
question is the difference between understanding
and being absorbed in something; is that correct? Well, this is where the issue of critical thinking
was come in, isn’t it? So if you are absorbing
something, you’re not necessarily
thinking critically about it, you’re simply reacting to it or
you’re being impacted about it. And I think that it’s really
important for students, for example, who enjoy
playing computer games to think about designing computer games. And when they think about
designing it, then they go from the reactive mode
into the proactive mode where they actually begin
thinking about: “What do I want to accomplish with this game? How can the design help me
achieve that accomplishment?” and so forth. So I think what Jessica
and Laura were both talking about integrated an experiential
learning is a really important component here when we
think about the impact on students taking it from a
passive mode into an active mode where they’re actually in
control of producing things and then in that way can bring
critical thinking to bear.>>I have a question. Relative to brain plasticity
and the game that you developed, it’s was too bad a lot
of people took shortcuts; they really didn’t go down
into any depths of derivatives and [inaudible] and
all that stuff. I’m just curious when
looking at frontal lobe and the frontal lobe
cortexes does it operate — left side, right side, you know
that theory of neurology — did you find anything within
that game, or did you measure at all the effects that it may
have had on the hippocampus of the brain in general? Because whether you’re in
a digital world, or analog, or as you’re crossing
over between them, your hippocampus is going
to remain central to that. And I’m just curious if you
saw anything developmentally in that way either
enhance, increase capacity of the hippocampus
within the brain?>>Katherine Hayles:
Well, I’m not well-versed in the medical literature so
I can’t respond specifically to the hippocampus and its
role in gaming and so forth. But there are a couple of books that I can mention
on a related subject. One is by James Gee who
has a spirited defense of computer games, arguing that computer games teach
practical and valuable skills. And then the other
book I could mention is by Steven Johnson called
Everything That’s Bad for You is Good for You . And so he talks about
pop culture, TV series, computer games, and so forth. And essentially his
argument was down to saying that in popular culture we’ve
seen an increase in complexity, nuance, and interconnection. So he uses sitcoms
from the 1960s where you had a linear
plot line and, you know, A followed B followed C, to
the late ’90s and the 2000s where we get multiple plot lines
intertwining and complexities between them and so
forth to argue basically that our entertainment
is getting more complex and that our IQs are
increasing as a result. So he talks about
the Flynn effect where some studies suggest
that starting at about 1960, 1970 there was an
unexplained jump in IQ. And his argument is that our
more complex entertainments were a direct result of
this jump in IQ.>>Yeah. Well, what I was
looking at with the — relative to hippocampus was
hippocampus is your memory and, you know, dementia
and Alzheimer’s. And you’ve got this whole
new digital technology now that these new generations
are going to come through now. It will be curious to see in the
long run what effects that has on that facility of the
brain relative to — you know, today we
study Alzheimer’s and those related diseases
with proteins and enzymes and what those effects
are having on the brain. But it should be
interesting over time to see how this media
affects the memory recall of the hippocampus and does
it enlarge it, enhance it, you know, and make it better
whether it’s genetic or not? You know, just by
way of stimulation.>>Katherine Hayles: Yeah. I think there have been
some studies showing that dementia can be helped
with increased brain activity. So the Japanese, for example,
want their elders to do Sudoku on a daily basis and so forth. And if we can extrapolate rather
responsibly from that result, we could say that increased
information density should actually help things
like dementia. At the same time, the issue of memory is complex
and distributed. So increasingly when I was in
graduate school we were supposed to have everything inside our
heads and you were expected to have an encyclopedic
command of your subject; now that’s completely changed. And increasingly it’s recognized that external memory
is a valuable resource and supplements and
extends internal memory. And it’s perfectly acceptable
to extend your memory through prosthetic means
like digital media.>>I think we have time
for maybe one last question if there’s someone
who can’t wait. [ Silence ] >>During development of
your game, did you or any of your team research
Curtis Squire and see any of the educational
video game research that he’s published about? I know you mentioned
a few other authors, but I didn’t hear
his name come up.>>Katherine Hayles:
I don’t think so. We were so busy trying
to create the game that we didn’t have an
opportunity to do that kind of research, but we’re sort
of returning to it this fall. And thank you for the reference. I’ll check on that. [ Silence ]>>Kate, thank you
for revisiting us. You’ve been generous in coming
back on a number of occasions. And a couple of years
ago we had a conference here and spoke on future readings. And I’m curious, you know,
a lot of the responses to digital media have been to
sort of put down the phone, right, and go find a book, but
I’m wondering how you might — what you might prescribe
in terms of writing? Not so much in terms of
reading off the screen, what sorts of activities in
terms of composition would you like to see integrated into
the curriculum for our students as they move forward the
next five years or ten years?>>Katherine Hayles:
Well, this is a topic that I’ve thought a lot about — how might we change
our writing instruction and our writing practices. And I think the days
of requiring students to write paper essays
are limited. Some teachers may
still require that. But increasingly I think
the tendency now is to go to multimedia composition that
uses a variety of animation, video clips, along with
prose and so forth, and to craft well-developed
projects. So these really aren’t called
essays anymore; they’re projects and they’re often collaborative
rather than single. So I think that’s
a growing trend in composition studies
in particular. I very much think
it’s a good trend. At the same time I
think we want to hold onto traditional
humanistic strengths. So the idea that writing
and reading well are central to any kind of professional
career remains, I think, as true now as it has ever
been, maybe even truer and that we need to make sure that our students have
strong print literacy as well as strong digital literacy. Print literacy, I think, is
not sufficient for the future of students, but at the same
time it remains crucial. So now the challenge for us as
teachers is how to achieve both of these goals at once
when it seems hard even to get print literacy. But I think there are lots of
innovative ways to do that. And I’d like you to
invite you to comment on this as you both…>>I guess just from
my own experience one possible way of
approaching that without, I’ve very rested in
writing, But without sort of, you
know, throwing the baby out with the bath water
I’ve designed a narrative across media class. And so we take basic concepts of
narrative from literary theory. We begin with short stories, but
then we move to graphic novels, digital games, and so forth. And that’s — at least in
my personal experience — teaching a really productive way
to sort of both sort of ground that exploration
in print cultures and in humanistic
traditions, but also explore in a really creative, interesting way how those
assumptions are changed, challenged in really
interesting ways by these different practices. You know, what does
interactive media in a digital game add to how
we understand storytelling and so forth. that would be one
example I would give.>>Katherine Hayles: Yeah. My students are snickering
at me right now in that room. But my classes are
all project based, but they’re also
project portfolio based. So you do need to
write print material. But then that develops
into the next level, develops into the next level. So we then move into more
interactive and digital kinds of technologies,
even if that’s — interactive can just be
oral presentations as well. So it comes together in
a large portfolio model. But the thing that I laugh
at time after time is that the students
often come back saying, “A paper would have
just been easier.” [Laughter] It’s extremely
difficult to get yourself across. And so often even if
they do a rather sort of collaborative graded project, they end up doing a
written statement explaining so they know that I know
exactly what they did.>>I think this is a superb way
in which to end and conclude. I would like to thank
Laura and Jessica. [ Applause ] I certainly thank all
of you for being here and your excellent questions. And Professor Hayles, thank you for an absolutely
fantastic inaugural talk. We hope we’ll have you back. It’s incredibly reassuring
to know that you appreciate
your alma mater and haven’t forgotten
where it all began. This is inspirational
to some of our students. We have a couple of small
tokens of appreciation. One is from the Administration for you that’s a
card and a present. You can open this later. [Laughter] And then I have
another small present for you, a mouse pad with the RIT logo. [Laughter] [ Applause ] Thanks very much, everyone.

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