Monday, August 31, 2015

Digital Media is not the Same as Print

    As I grew up, in the analog world, I was taught cursive handwriting, reading skills and critical thinking skills because the written word was the medium of cultural transmission. Throughout my work life, I worked in visual media, first photography and motion picture film, then video, and finally, reluctantly, digital imagery and computer graphics, web pages and email.

    As a photography lab manager and museum curator, I was concerned first and foremost with archival preservation of text and images. I quickly learned that the only archival preservation process is printing on low-acid materials, stored in archival containers and kept in stable storage environments.

    Nothing else lasts.

    No other information storage process is archival. All digital media will be lost in the future, unless it is transferred to archival materials, or constantly copied to the latest digital format in use. Left to their own devices, all digital media will degrade in 25 to 50 years, resulting in permanent information lost absent any further curatorial processes.

    As we contemplate a future with less energy available for industrial processes, the prospect for digital information storage is grim. Digital storage requires immense amounts of reliable energy, available on demand 24 hours a day. No one knows how long we can keep up this energy intensive practice, much less how it can be expanded to meet exponentially growing information demands.
   
     Also, and maybe even more importantly, watching a video on a computer, or other electronic device, is not the same as reading a book. Information processing in the human brain functions differently when observing visual imagery than when reading printed words. Something about the left to right perception, translation of words to thoughts, pausing for reflection and review, create a perception completely different between the two media.

    Studies show that understanding and retention are less when watching visual material on a computer than reading the same content in a physical book. Taking notes by hand results in greater retention of the material than typing it into a computer. I know this from my own experience. Using a laptop, I can take notes of a meeting far faster and more accurately than writing by hand in a notebook, but I remember and understand less when written on the keyboard.

    I would caution against depending on a "tools course for visual literacy” for students coming into the world. Teach them the basics first, reading, writing and maths, then, when they've mastered the analog tools, teach them the digital shortcuts.

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