EDUCATION STANDING IN AN ENTERTAINIZED SOCIETY

More than ever, we are living in an era where entertainment is both luxurious, available, plentiful and affordable for everyone. The entertainments that were once reserved for the elite such as theater, music, paintings, perfumes, etc. Not only are their cultural products now affordable or even free, but their cultural products are so abundant that it is certain that no one can consume them all in a lifetime.

It is even more wonderful when people realize that learning can be combined with entertainment. All knowledge can be explained to a five-year-old child, all problems can be transformed into comics or games for easy comprehension. Many people think that by playing games, they learn foreign languages, by watching movies, they learn history, by reading articles in groups specializing in translation from social networks, they learn knowledge from many fields. These learnings are often better than in school, because it possesses what schools rarely have: the joy of learning.

It all sounds like we live in a utopian society, but sometimes utopia and dystopia are just a step apart. This article will explore how a civilization is entertainized and how learning fare in such a civilization.

1. Entertainment-centered civilization.

To understand the quality of a culture, as Neil Postman shared in Amusing Ourselves to Death, we must look at the culture’s means of communication [1]. Five thousand years ago, humanity’s first complete writing system was born, it was the birth of a new means of communication and so it changed the whole quality of our culture. The birth of the written word is a milestone from prehistory to history, a milestone from oral culture to written culture, from the era when people were still memorizing proverbs to solve big problems such as impeachment, entering the age of rational thinking where impeachment is by written law. In other words, the written medium is the foundation for the development of the entire human culture as we had previously mentioned in another article [2].

Beginning in the 1960s, the flourishing of television once again profoundly changed human culture. From a written culture we run the risk of entering an audiovisual culture, which is characterized by entertainment, irrelevance, impotence, and fragmentation. Since the United States was one of the first countries to widely use television, it was the earliest to be influenced by this. The audiovisual culture was so deeply ingrained in Americans in the late twentieth century that issues as important as running for president were not excluded. Former US president Richard Nixon once remarked that Edward Kennedy should lose 20 pounds if he wanted to run for president in 1984 [3]. And according to Neil Postman, a clumsy-looking person like William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States, could hardly be allowed to run for election if he lived in the middle of the television age, despite knowing that a person’s leadership has nothing to do with excess weight. But with that said, irrelevancy is a feature of audiovisual culture, and it can make irrelevant things very relevant.

To better understand the essence of this culture, let’s go back in time to study the older but similar means of communication to television: the telegraph. The advent of electric-based communication makes communication faster and farther than ever before, ordinary people only see the good side of this, only a few people like Henry David Thoreau can see its harmful effects like what he wrote in Walden, or Living Alone in the Woods: “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. […] As if the main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly.” and “We are eager to
tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.” [5] The two excerpts above by Thoreau reveal the two characteristics of the audiovisual culture, respectively, of impotence and irrelevancy.

For media such as telegraph and television, information does not need to be tied to context, does not need to be associated with any function for real life, but only needs to be associated with people’s curiosity. Information consumption is enough. Since then, information is not something that is useful for people to use in a specific job, but becomes a manufactured good (which is produced very quickly) that must be consumed by people. Most of all, customers are persuaded and sometimes used sales tactics to believe that they need to buy, and if not for utilitarian purposes, then for entertainment purposes. This is the irrelevancy that this medium brings.

Coincidentally, audiovisual culture is able to properly fill this gap. By combining text with pictures, sometimes even music, it creates before our eyes a fake background. The pseudo-context is what makes the irrelevant relevant. Imagine we are strangers and now I show you a stylized horse head with its base pointed into three legs as shown below (image in comments). You may or may not understand it, but you will certainly find it irrelevant to a stranger showing you something unfamiliar. But if, after showing you the drawing, I read along with the following description: “This is the symbol of the Chancellor piece in the Capablanca chess variant, its drawing is a combination of the familiar symbol of Rook and Knight in classical chess with the upper part of the Knight combined with the top of the Rook upside down, the reason for this symbol is because the move of the Chancellor is a combination of Rook and Knight.” By now it may seem a little clearer and more logical to you, and it will make more sense if I continue to develop this knowledge to form a knowledge system, such as what is chess variation, who is Capablanca, and how to play this chess variant.

However, let’s go back to the first problem, is this knowledge relevant to your life, a person who doesn’t play chess, no? And what do you know it for, how long will this knowledge stay in the memory before it is completely forgotten? Even for people who play chess, this variant is unfamiliar and not many people play it. And because most of the information we consume in the audiovisual culture is irrelevant, television and newspapers give birth to newspaper gameshows and quizzes, where unrelated knowledge can be used, or thought to be useful.

The second is impotence. This is a consequence of irrelevance, once information reaches us without context there is a very high chance that we can do nothing with that information. This is a simple math problem because the information within our reach is just a drop compared to the sea of ​​information in the world. How can an office worker in Vietnam really have an impact on, for example, racism in the US, or LGBT equality in Germany, or the custom of water burial on the Ganges in India? They can’t really do anything, on the other hand the information can’t do anything for them. It’s all just evoking feelings of love and hate about people you’ve never met and hasty judgments about a land you’ve never been to. Sometimes this becomes a vicious cycle if the consumer of the information continues to spread the message to others, i.e. the information does nothing but produce more copies of it.

Finally, there is fragmentation. Newspapers and television rarely have programs that require you to watch previous issues to be able to see the current issue. This is the key difference between books and newspapers and television; In books everything is presented sequentially and is always available for users to review at any time if they forget, while newspapers and television are originally designed to disappear as soon as they are consumed. Old news is unusable, some newspaper or television news should only last one day, if the news is worth rereading, then no one needs to subscribe to the newspaper or watch the television news every day.

Born late, but the internet possesses all three characteristics with a much higher degree. If the production of newspaper or television news requires people with a certain level of expertise, anyone on the internet can produce news, so the standard of news decreases. The abundance of information combined with the ease of access makes internet users feel sorry for all the information they encounter and always try to consume as much of it as possible. This syndrome is commonly known as Fear of missing out (FOMO).

Most importantly, the internet age is the time when we move from audiovisual culture to entertainment culture. The Internet entertainizes everything, because it is the best way for content producers to attract and retain readers, to the point where entertainment has the right to overwhelm everything else, including truth. In 2014, journalist Caitlin Dewey opened a column What Was Fake in the Washington Post with the aim of debunking all fake news and myths online. At the end of 2015 she decided to close this column because she felt it did not solve any problems. Seeking expert advice, and here’s what she got: “…cognitive bias so strong always, that the people who fall for hoax news stories are frequently only interested in consuming information that conforms with their views — even when it’s demonstrably fake.” [6]

On the internet, the impotence and pure entertainment of information are pushed to new heights, where reality is so small that users are willing to believe fake news that completely contradicts it, as long as it fits their bias.

2. Civilization considers entertainment as learning

It must be clearly stated that entertainment is not dangerous, but danger only comes when everything is entertainized, it causes all areas of life, including learning, to be framed in the standards of entertainment. Now, education must follow the example of entertainment through requests of learners such as explaining in a way that a five-year-old can understand, or writing in a concise way so it does not require concentration.

Education reformer John Dewey once wrote in Experience and Education: “Perhaps the greatest of all pedagogical fallacies is the notion that it person learns only the particular thing he is studying at the time. Collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes, of
likes and dislikes, may be and often is much more important than the spelling lesson or lesson in geography or history that is learned. For these attitudes are fundamentally what count in the future.” [7]

By treating learning as playing through statements such as playing games to learn, learning in the playing process, etc. people fall into contradiction about the nature of these two fields.

Firstly, as mentioned in the previous article, the core of the game is free and voluntary [8]. One should stop playing as soon as they want to but should not do so with learning. In fact, our bodies have not evolved to favor specialized learning and focused reading. Specialization and hours spent staring at lines of text are the product of a culture and society that is only a few thousand years old, while play is an act much older than culture.

If we consider learning as playing, from the beginning we have not had a serious attitude towards learning. Learning requires commitment, and sometimes acquiring knowledge comes with pain, even if it’s something you love. Binding is what separates an expert from a casual. A casual person, like when playing, can’t contribute well to the game without volunteering, but an expert still does their job well even if they don’t like it.

Second, by equating learning and playing, we are negating the sequentialness of learning. In the game there is no requirement to have played the previous game to play the current game, as long as you know how to play. But learning is strictly sequential work, it is impossible for a five-year-old to understand a thirty-year-old master’s program without going through all the lessons in the correct sequence. This mindset is so deeply ingrained that it has its own term Explain like I’m 5 (ELI5), a knowledge that can be taught to a five-year-old, it’s either simple enough to fit right into the age group, or that knowledge is distorted to the point of being as simple as that.

Thirdly, it is true that play does help in learning. When playing, the experience will affect our implicit memory. Latent memory is part of long-term memory and is defined as knowledge acquired but not available for conscious access (Schacter and Graf, 1986; Schacter, 1987). The evidence for latent memory is based on experiments where volunteers changed their performance while doing certain exercises without realizing what they had learned [9]. For example, playing video games in a foreign language, maybe players will increase their ability to understand foreign languages even though they do not intentionally play to learn, nor are they aware of when they learn.

However, as mentioned, implicit memory is only one part of long-term memory, while learning requires the use of both explicit and implicit memory. Explicit memory is knowledge that can be recalled consciously and actively [10]. Learning without using implicit memory, we have a lot of knowledge but no familiarity, no good intuition. Learning without using explicit memory, our skills are limited and almost impossible to advance. For example, if we only learn English through games, we can hear and speak some basic communication sentences but cannot understand the grammar, and further, cannot write an essay in English.

That said, it is not to deny that learning while playing serves an important role to promote learning, it makes learners have fun while learning. But saying playing is also learning is dangerous because that statement only tells half the truth, it easily makes the listener equate all learning with playing, and worse, it makes players have the illusion of learning. Because what is learned during play is something that goes into our implicit memory, we cannot recall it and it is difficult to determine where and when we learned it, so every claim to learn something from playing certain games is inevitably just the product of deceiving oneself and deceiving others.

In short, generally, the internet and television with the characteristics we have presented are not a good medium for learning. George Comstock and colleagues reviewed 2,800 studies on the subject of television’s influence on human behavior and found no evidence that learning improved when presented in dramatic form [11]. J. Jacoby et al. reported that only 3.5% of viewers were able to correctly answer 12 questions about two 30-second segments of the television program [12]. A. Stern reported that 51% of viewers could not recall any news within minutes of watching a television news program [13]. A 2001 study by two researchers compared reading comprehension performance between hypertext and paper text. Research shows that the group of people who read hypertext is distracted and cognitively overloaded, so they read slower and understand not as well as the group of paper readers. The research team argues that hypertext directs the reader to its structure and function rather than to the content that the reader reads [14].

All of the above shows us how the medium can influence the message, or in the words of Neil Postman, how the medium of a culture’s communication determines its quality. Know that the culture we live in is a culture of entertainment where even the most serious things are imposed on the standard of entertainment as the norm.

Entertainment is not the problem but entertainization is, especially when learning is also entertainized.

___________

References:

[1] Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death : Public Discourse in the Age of Showbusiness. London, Methuen, 2007.

[2] Monster Box. www.facebook.com/teammonsterbox/photos/2882055802075167/. Accessed 29 June 2021.

[3] Upi. “Nixon Remark Draws Laugh from Kennedy.” The New York Times, 3 June 1982, http://www.nytimes.com/.../nixon-remark-draws-laugh-from.... Accessed 28 June 2021.

[4] at [1].

[5] Henry David Thoreau. Walden ; Or, Life in the Woods. London Vintage, 2017

[6] Dewey, Caitlin. “What Was Fake on the Internet This Week: Why This Is the Final Column.” Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/.../what-was-fake-on-the.../.

[7] Dewey, John. Experience and Education. New York, Free Press, 1938, p. 48.

[8] Monster Box. Www.facebook.com, https://www.facebook.com/.../a.19620070.../2970044139942999/. Accessed 29 June 2021.

[9] Ettlinger, Marc, et al. “Implicit Memory in Music and Language.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 2, 2011, 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00211.

[10] Ullman, Michael T. “Contributions of Memory Circuits to Language: The Declarative/Procedural Model.” Cognition, vol. 92, no. 1–2, May 2004, pp. 231–270, 10.1016/j.cognition.2003.10.008. Accessed 21 May 2019.

[11] Levy, Mark R. “Television and Human Behavior.George Comstock , Steven Chaffee , Natan Katzman , Maxwell McCombs , Donald Roberts.” American Journal of Sociology, vol. 87, no. 4, Jan. 1982, pp. 995–997, 10.1086/227547.

[12] J. Jacoby, W. D. Hoyer and D. A. Sheluga, Miscomprehension of Televised Communications (New York: The Educational Foundation of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, 1980).

[13] A. Stern, “A Study for the National Association for Broadcasting,” in M. Barret (ed.), The Politics of Broadcasting, 1971–1972 (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1973).

[14] David S. Miall and Teresa Dobson, “Reading Hypertext and the Experience of Literature,” Journal of Digital Information, 2, no. 1 (August 13, 2001).

Further reading:

Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death : Public Discourse in the Age of Showbusiness. London, Methuen, 2007.

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