Technology made me literate

Courtesy of Wiki CommonsI was never a big reader as a child.

I think I finished my first novel in grade six and if it weren’t for the Ritalin, I doubt that I would have actually made it to the end. I don’t even remember the title. When I was young and living in a house with a tech junkie for a father, video games were what I did with most of my spare time. And when you’re a kid, that’s pretty much all of the time. A while ago I came to the startling realization of how fundamental those games were in my reading skills.

Sure, I didn’t have my nose tucked in a book all the time. In fact, I never did. My eyes were locked on to a 20-inch TV, and my ears always attentive to 8-bit soundtracks. My personal favourite was Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition. I could still listen to the whole soundtrack of that game. Anyone who has ever played a role playing game before voice overs were implemented into the gaming scene knows that most often you were left reading lines and lines of dialogue in between battles.

Early on, I learned rapidly pressing A in an effort to skip the dialogue and story line was probably a bad idea. You had to pay attention. This is true of games like Zelda, Dragon Warrior, and one that I probably paid the most attention to: Pokémon. Pokémon helped in establishing my ability to read as the dialogue between characters often hinted at the main objective and usually where your next check point would be. I never had the luxury like many other kids I knew whose parents would drop $30+ on a strategy guide, forcing me to read through every line of dialogue in an effort to understand my character’s goal or how to solve the puzzle.

We often hear about kids spending too much time playing video games. And I, for one, would have been a prime example of one of those kids. As a generally shit-headed kind of kid who didn’t care about anything academic until the last year of high school, it’s pretty ironic realizing that video games not only boosted my reading skills, but perhaps contributed to my love of words today.

Now, while video games aided in my ability to read, they certainly didn’t help my writing skills. Getting into journalism was a rude awakening to how rough my writing actually was.

For a long time, I was 1 of doze ppl who fail @ writin n shittt. I was roughly 15 when I noticed that some people I chatted with through text messaging and ancient software like MSN actually typed properly. Seeing proper grammar and spelling in messages kind of made me feel stupid and incompetent. It was spending time having convos with individuals who could actually write that made me want to brush up on my spelling and grammar habits. But don’t get it wrong, I am still an abuser of LOL (it’s bad).

However, I can’t give Pokémon credit for all of my skills in English. It was my college creative writing classes and literature analysis lectures that had turned what I thought was merely a creative art into a series of graphs and equations. This wasn’t just your regular S-V-O bullshit. This left your brain reacting to sentence structure like it was algebra.

The most important thing I learned in those lectures is something fundamental to being a “good” writer: the ability to face and accept criticism, and make the edits. And despite Microsoft’s Word Processor calling out your spelling and grammar mistakes – it will never be able to tell you why something doesn’t make sense (although I’m sure we are not too far off). A program will never suggest that you try another setting or give a bit more on a character’s background, and most importantly it will never tell you it really liked your piece.

In addition, what you’re reading now isn’t even the original document I wrote, and was proofread and edited by the lovely Kate McCullough (@katemccullough) who does what Word can’t – break your soul and tell you to try harder. Even after years of doing this whole writing thing, I could always use a copy edit, and in my case it’s a necessity as I do a poor job of editing my own work.

I didn’t exactly grow up in the LeapPad generation, and I can only think about how fast today’s children pick up not just reading skills through technology, but also other skills in terms of math, physics and dexterity. I wonder what the average age is for a child’s first Google search.

I still remember my first Google search when we got dial-up installed in the late-90s and ironically enough it was “Pokémon cards”. I sat there for hours and just drooled over the holographic cards in the image section. I imagine many eight-year-olds nowadays search “COD hacks” all the time.

Technology helps people with learning, but it still doesn’t have the ability to criticize – yet. Still, we aren’t too far from the inevitable emergence of sophisticated AI – just look at the simple AIs in our phones and things like Kinect for Xbox. Have you seen the stuff that comes out of the Boston Dynamics factory?

One day, just as we use technology as an aid in academic development, we will have to help technology in understanding criticism.

Until then, I reserve my judgment for these eight-year-olds who play Call of Duty and insult every other player they meet. If they can brag about their 20-1 odds they are way ahead of me in terms of math skills when I was that age.