Be your own avatar

02/08/2011

 
Normal 0 By now you will have read The Shallows by Nicholas Carr and will be familiar with his thesis that web surfing is having a negative neurological impact on human brains.  Carr says, "the more we use the Web, the more we train our brains to be distracted".

Other futurists, notably William Crossman, believe the growth of web surfing, internet video, computer games and texting will lead to a significant global decline in literacy. (Patrick Tucker, Futurist,Nov‐Dec, 2009)

Just how much that matters will doubtless fuel an ongoing debate among educationalists and internet prophets for years to come.  The question it begs is whether we will continue to need high text literacy to be educated and competent communicators.  Perhaps sound and images will be sufficient.

For instance, around one in four searches on cellphones with Android software use voice input.  (This also collects valuable data on accents and pronunciation for Google's Translate service.)  At a visual level, Image Shack has more than 20 billion photos in the internet cloud to share and Facebook is gaining 2.5 billion new images every month.

Sound and image on the Web may not do anything more than text communication.  The growth of "crowd sourcing" via social media is challenging algorithm‐based search engines, but both still depend on text.  That need not continue as mobile devices are used increasingly and voice and image are compact short‐cuts to non‐fiction communication.


What’s more all visual media technologies, movies, television, mobile devices are going to become increasingly 3D capable, for news, sport and information.

As for fiction — storytelling and performance are taking new literary forms in e‐literature, including 3-dimesional formats.  This is currently laboratory‐based in complex virtual reality settings, but futurists tell us that those technologies will become increasingly mobile and even wearable. 

Meanwhile, at Brown University, Rhode Island, Robert Coover (novelist and critic) is professor of literary arts, where he has created an immersive virtual reality facility.  Students are now participating in non‐linear literary forms that allow the storyteller to create a setting in which readers, equipped with motion‐tracking devices, can wander through and interact with 3D narratives.  Like the movie, Avatar, you are your own avatar, rather than being represented by some composed imaginary figurine.

This concept goes far beyond transcending text‐based literature and literacy based on reading ability:  It could challenge the way we see ourselves.  New Scientist, 13 Nov, 2010, says: "Narratives... are instantiated physically in our brains.  We are not born with them, but we start growing them soon, and as we acquire the deep narratives, our synapses change and become fixed." 


These phenomena may or may not herald the end of text literacy, but more significantly, as human narratives are part of our sense of ourselves, could these changes to narrative lead to new selves?

 


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