Every day the amount of digital media we encounter increases. Through the internet we can read the news, watch tv and movies, listen to music, play games, and communicate with others. Our cell phones have transitioned from merely a portable phone, to sending text messages and e-mails, and now with smart phones they have become a portable computer and communications device. In fact the first computers took up many rooms of a building and are now nothing compared to the average smart phone which can fit neatly into someones pocket.
I remember having to explain to my parents when I was younger how to connect the red, yellow, and white adapters from my Nintendo to the TV, even though they were color coded. Then when they got wifi and had problems with it I had to explain that when the tech support person on the phone mentioned an “internet gateway” he wasn’t talking about the Gateway brand of computers with the box that looked like a cow. These days my dad has a laptop, iPhone, and iPad and has no difficulty using them. My mom is a music teacher and uses her laptop for all of her work. The more people are around digital media and devices the more they are able to easily use them.
With that said the truth is that the world around us remains analog and our digital media and devices reflect this fact. We prefer hearing sounds relating to a mechanical action when using a device even if it has no real mechanical parts so we have designed our digital media and devices to reflect this. The most successful devices use sound effects which have a tactile resonance and an origin in the real world. We click on a website link and we hear a sound like we pushed a physical button. Video game system controllers vibrate when the game implies that you would feel impact if it were reality. When turning off an iPhone or swiping the screen to unlock it, the sounds of vice grips opening up can be heard. Any good touch screen device will have realistic sounds synced up to play when objects are selected.
In essence our connections to the digital world must have real world origins. The world we live in is analog and when the digital interface is completely devoid of tactile or non-synthetic sounds we can still operate them, but we are not as happy. We are more likely to respond to digital media and devices which fall in line with this rule, and if creators of digital media hope to be successful it is a rule they must follow.
This project was to put up signs in a public place and see what happens. I made six different signs of all different colors with words saying “By the time you finish reading this sentence you will have imagined” then the sentence ends with something like “a taco” or “a sandy beach”. The point is to make the person reading the sentence imagine the thing at the end of the sentence merely by suggesting that they will. Its a very dry sense of humor thing. I commute to school and my other classes ended up being cancelled for this week so I had to find a place close to home to document the project. I live in a suburb of Arnold, Maryland and so the only public places available that aren’t homes are in the shopping center by my house and gas stations nearby. The other places nearby have security and asked me to leave. In fact every business I went to either ripped down my signs or sent me away. As if there was something offensive about them. So what I ended up doing was finding an electric breaker on the corner of the street by a grocery store. Lots of people drive and walk by it every day. I put them up on Tuesday evening.
Then it decided to rain all day on Wednesday which caused all of the signs to lose most of their color. Plus someone took the sign ending with “Bears Fighting” that was brown. I then replaced the signs Thursday and I will see what happens to them.
Some interesting points are made about generations growing up with computers and digital distractions all around them in Chapter 5: The Dumbest Generation. I got kind of carried away with my last post because I already knew a lot about the topic so I will keep this one short. I think that while there are real concerns with not switching off from our digital devices and spending more time in nature and with face to face normal human communication, the way the world has developed the advantage lies in staying connected digitally to each other. While it is true that some people spend all their time playing games, watching videos, or wasting time for hours and hours on the internet, Many people use their time online constructively by working and learning. The educational system especially has been greatly improved by online courses and providing help at home for students. The fear that this generation will be increasingly unable to focus on one thing at a time due to excessive multi-tasking is up for debate. What we do know is that human beings are very good at adapting to their environment especially when it is what the person grows up with. If the environment is not very connected and requires focusing on one thing for a long time then we adjust to that kind of schedule. If on the other hand the environment is very digitally connected and requires multitasking then we are able to adjust to that schedule. Whether or not the fears proposed by the book are true remain to be seen and will be proved or disproved over time.
Digital Nation was a very interesting program in the sense that it explored some topics which are largely ignored in our day to day life. For instance in Chapter 3: South Korea’s Gaming Craze, the topic of video game addiction is introduced. Most people who play video games to an excessive extent would quickly dismiss the notion that video game addiction is even a real thing. The problem with this dismissal is that there is real life science that proves video game addiction.
Our brain tells us what to do largely based on risk, reward, and reinforcement. In caveman days the risks were generally higher than the reward. Using food as the example and unless there was a nearby source of food such as plant life, the males would go hunting for an animal and there would be different levels of danger based on the size of the animal, how many animals were there, and how difficult it was to kill and bring back the animal. Many times early humans would be killed trying to hunt and this would put the risk level at its highest point. Upon success in the hunt the reward aspect of the brain kicked in to action. The praise from the other humans for the victory as well as the consumption of the animal as food are two types of rewards. Although they are different both rewards cause the brain to reinforce the importance of seeking that reward again by making the risk of the task more acceptable to undergo.
In modern times the risk is typically far low for food. We breed our sources of plant and animal life that we use as food and therefore the average person is only required to spend money to be able to eat. Essentially every action we take has a level of risk versus reward. The higher the reward is over the risk, the more reinforcement the brain places on that particular task and supports it with chemicals to give you that special “rush” which makes you want to do the task again and again. When something has a high level of risk but a low level of reward you end up not liking it and trying to avoid it if possible. On the other hand if something has a low level of risk and a high level of reward you will like it and will try to do it as much as possible.
The reason that drugs are addicting is exactly this principle in action. Someone takes a risk by consuming the drug depending on the strength and properties of its make-up and then the desired reaction from the drug occurs which is a chemical reaction on the body and the brain. Since the brain uses chemicals to reinforce actions, drugs hi-jack the process and provide the chemical reaction as the reward which then is reinforced by the brain with another chemical reaction. The result is a junkie who only wants to do their drug of choice, because their brain has told them that it is the most important thing he should be doing as nothing else in their life gives them the same rush.
How does this relate to video games? Consider the “Skinner Box”. B.F. Skinner was a scientist who conducted experiments regarding the nature of behavior. In one experiment he put a mouse in a box with a tiny lever that could be pressed down to release a food pellet. If the mouse accidentally pressed the lever down and released the treat, its brain reinforced the reward and gradually the mouse would know exactly how to press the lever down to get a treat. When someone plays a video game and they perform a task they are rewarded with different levels of points (largely in older games), achievements, unlockable content for the game, leveling up a character’s attributes, money to be spent on virtual goods, etc. This makes the person want to repeat the task and even take on more difficult challenges to reap greater rewards. The second phase to the Skinner Box was to make the release of the pellet more infrequent and random gradually so that if the mouse wanted the treat it would have to press the lever more and more to ensure that it would get its reward. For a person playing a video game this could be for example defeating enemies en masse in order to have a greater chance at earning a reward. Thus more time is spent playing the game than before to get the same effect. The last stage of the experiment was when a small electric shock was given to the box if the mouse didn’t press the lever. So the mouse would be constantly pressing the lever whether or not it wanted the pellet or not. Its brain simply could no longer tell the difference between actual reward for effort versus punishment for no action. For gamers this usually only happens in MMO’s (Massively Multi-player Online Games). If someone hasn’t logged into the game in a long time then their chance for reward drops considerably and punishment (crops dying in Farmville, being weaker than other players in World of Warcraft, etc.) is given to the player. This results in some people playing for hours and hours, losing jobs, relationships, and in some reported cases in South Korea, dying due to lack of food, water, and exhaustion.
My point is that in our daily lives we are confronted with things we must do to survive. We have to work at a job in order to be paid. We need money to buy the things we need. Everything we do has a level of importance in our brain based on how valuable that task is to us from the reward we get. Playing a video game like any other fun activity gives us enjoyment from doing it, which we remember as something we should do in order to have fun. There is zero risk in playing a video game as far as your brain is concerned and the in game rewards can seem just as real to you as something more tangible in the real world so the potential for addiction is very high under the right circumstances and the nature of the game being played. Video games are not bad, but like anything enjoyable in this world we must remember to do it in moderation.