The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst, by Stephen Talbott

Notes by Gordon Ziniewicz

Chapter 12: "Net-Based Learning Communities"

1.  What is problematic about the example of the sixth-grade girl composing an email message to her "Net pal" in India?

The World Is Disappearing from the Child

2.  According to Talbott, why do children and adults fill their existence with virtual realities?

3.  In what sense have schools become "ghettos for the young"?

4.  According to Talbott, for the young, the "world recedes behind a screen, a veil of unreality."  What does he mean by this?

How Can We Knit a Community Together

5.  In what sense are "Net-pal" relationships inadequate?  How do children really learn about friendship?

6.  Can the Net solve the problem of isolation from the world?  Discuss.

7.  Why were the students in the Midwest school more willing to relate to their "net pals" than to the black students in their school?

When Are We Together?

8.  Do information technologies and the Internet necessarily bring people together?

The Things That Count

9.  What are the things that really count in the classroom, according to Talbott?

10.  Do we really need access to the Internet, according to Talbott?  Why or why not?

11.  What danger does the Internet pose for children already affected by television?

Chapter 13: "Impressing the Science Out of Children"

12.  According to Talbott, can the use of Internet visual imagery stimulate interest in math or science?  Why or why not?

13.  What is the real affect of striking visual imagery and computer animations in science?

14.  Why do you suppose television nature programs do not inspire young people to become naturalists?

15.  Do you agree with Talbott that computer images entertain and stimulate the senses, but do not engage the imagination?  What does he mean by engaging the imagination?

Two-minute science lessons

16.  Can one understand anything in science in two or three minutes?  What is the problem, according to Talbott?

17.  Does stimulating imagery in science presentations lead to interest in science?  What might it usually lead to?

18.  What are some of the undesirable results of televised images?

Where does wonder come from?

19.  What does Talbott mean by making a dinosaur bone come alive, as opposed to being stimulated by watching special effects in Jurassic Park?

20.  How do televised images stunt the imagination?  How do televised images separate the child from the real world?

21.  How does a devout scientific curiosity grow, according to Talbott?

22.  Would someone raised on artificial images be able to understand the abstraction and remoteness from reality involved in video depictions of science?  Explain.

The loss of nature

23.  What is the difference between having a butterfly land on your finger and seeing a butterfly in a video image?

24.  What happens to the world, when video images are used?

25. [Does Talbott perhaps confuse realistic perception of things in the real world and imaginative reconstruction?]

26.  What is meant by a child's "living connection to the world"?

Chapter 14: "Children of the Machine"

27.  What, according to Talbott, are some of the good points of Seymour Papert's book?

28.  What does it mean to move from "abstract reasoning" to "more concrete ways of knowing"?

29.  According to Papert, how were computers to facilitate this shift?  What is odd about his position?

How Do Children Learn

30.  What is the painful contradiction running through Papert's book?

The unity of knowledge

31.  What is meant by this term?  How does traditional education violate this chain?

School Should Develop a Child's Capacities, Not Fill Him with Facts

[32.  How do you suppose the use of computers might contradict this principle?]

We Learn Through Immediacy and Direct Exploration

33.  What does this mean?  How can it be carried out with respect to math?

Abstract Reasoning Is Overvalued

34.  What does this mean?

Other Principles

35.  What other values does Papert espouse?

Seeking a Counterbalance to Abstraction

36.  What is meant by "concrete science" as opposed to analytical science?

37.  According to Talbott, what is wrong with science as it is practiced?

How Fundamental Are Differences in Programming Style?

38.  What problems does Talbott see in the distinction between "hard-edged" and "smoky" styles in construction with Logo?

39.  How does the artist using Logo make smoky styles?  Is this approach quantitative or qualitative?  Explain.

Forward 15 Right 120 Forward 15 Right 120 Forward 15

40.  Does this look like the form of a triangle?  What does Talbott question here?

41.  Papert says we should be "on the lookout for insidious forms of abstractness that may not be recognized by those who use them."  How does Talbott use this statement against Papert?

What Is Immediacy?

42.  What is meant by re-presenting or representation of the world?  What is lost in this process?

43.  Even though the computer is an immediate thing, is the content "mediated" by the computer immediate?  Explain.  Why is this a problem, according to Talbott?

44.  How does the computer alienate us from the world?

Education by Hypermedia

45.  What is meant by a "Knowledge Machine" and how might it solve the problem of figuring out where a giraffe puts its head when it sleeps?

46.  How would this endanger immediacy?

Snakes real and onscreen

47.  Barry Angell wrote: "Better one rattlesnake in the trail than a whole menagerie of gorillas, lions, and elephants on the screen."  What did he mean?

48.  Why is real-life experience of nature and of astronomy often disappointing?

49.  What skills are needed for participating in the real world?  How do they differ from what is needed to enjoy a virtual world? [Discuss the text in this section.]

50.  How has the need for theoretical knowledge been replaced by a need for direct experience?  What does this mean?

Lego Constructions

51.  How does working with Lego toys predispose one to engineering design as opposed to other pursuits?

52.  How does nature differ from the Lego world?

53.  Is it a bad thing that computers move children from concrete experience to abstraction?  Discuss.

How Fast Is Zero?

54.  What is problematic about seeing standing still as a kind of movement?

55.  What was missed in the focus on speed alone?

56.  What is problematic about learning mathematics before one has acquired concrete experience of the world?


57.  What is the difference between an artillery shell and a smart missile?

58.  What is wrong with explaining the actions of a cat in terms of "smart missiles" or cybernetic phenomena?

59.  Should one learn cybernetics before having direct experience of real animals?  Discuss.

Motherly Solicitude?

60.  What is wrong with studying machines in order to understand biological organisms?

61.  What is meant by "artificial life"?  Is life a "computation"?

Respecting the Child

62.  What is the child really looking for, according to Talbott?  Is it "relevant facts"?

63.  Is dependence on the teacher a bad thing, according to Talbott?

64.  What happens when adults provide too many facts too fast?  What happens to a child's imagination?

65.  Why is the teacher more important than "information"?

66.  What does Talbott mean when he says that "all knowledge is knowledge of the human being"?

67.  What is required of adults?  Why is it so hard for them to do this?

Fun and Authority

68.  Why is school so boring for young people?  What has television to do with this?

69.  What is wrong with teachers' being "information shovelers"?  Are computers better than information shovelers?  What should be done about inadequate teachers?

70.  In what does the authority of the teacher (or parent) consist?

In Search of Imagination

71.  How does Talbott define imagination?  What does it seize upon, rather than the abstract and theoretical?

72.  What happens, according to Talbott, to Papert's well-meaning attempt to return to "relational, concrete thinking"?

73.  What is meant by "assimilation of imagination to analysis"?

Stalking the Wild Kitten

74.  Who is Tom Brown, Jr.?  What did he do, and why does Talbott consider it so important?

75.  What skills did Tom Brown have to use?  What do these tell us about the relation between human beings and the real world?

75.  Should the cat's motherly approach to her kitten be reduced to a "cybernetic algorithm"?  Why not?

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