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The Arts and Play as Educational Media in the Digital Age

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Robert Albrecht and Carmine Tabone

The digital revolution we are now entering as educators is an unchartered sea pregnant with wondrous possibilities but laden with a minefield of unforeseen consequences. A pedagogy that overlooks or downplays the disruptive and often dangerous influence of digital media on childhood development is necessarily a very shortsighted one.

More than just highlighting our misgivings about digital media, however, this book has a purpose far more ambitious and infinitely more useful. Based upon 45 years of work with young people in Jersey City classrooms, day camps, housing projects, libraries, church basements and community centers, the authors propose a pedagogical strategy that uses hands-on experiences in the arts as a strategy to offset and counterbalance the dominance of digital media in the lives of children.

Rather than call for the elimination of digital media—clearly an impossibility even if it were desirable—the authors maintain that children need to be exposed to non-digital, non-electronic experiences that cultivate alternative ways of thinking, feeling, and being in the world. In sum, the book does not call for an end to the digital, but outlines ways in which the arts and creative forms of play help to establish a balance in the education and socialization of children as we enter more deeply into the Digital Age.

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Chapter Three: Building Noah’s Arks: Media Environments and Counterenvironments

CHAPTER THREE

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Building Noah’s Arks

Media Environments and Counterenvironments

The artist picks up the message of cultural and technological challenge decades before its transforming impact occurs. He, then, builds models or Noah’s arks for facing the change that is at hand.

Marshall McLuhan1

In assessing the social, physiological and psychological impact of digital technologies, even the most optimistic amongst us must admit that they come to us as something of a mixed blessing. The benefits they bring are indeed amazing but we should not ignore the consequences that may be harmful and even dangerous. But how should we approach this rapidly evolving environment that comes marked with an air of inevitability and irreversibility? How can we sustain our sanity and a sense of balance in a world flooded by constant waves of unremittent change?

In response to questions such as these, Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman insisted that we begin by paying very close attention to the ways in which changes in technologies alter our individual and collective existence. Observation and reflection are key. But this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Technologies, once they are embedded in a society, are experienced as commonplace and take on the cloak of invisibility. They no longer stand out; they seem “natural.” Technologies, and the new patterns of thought and interaction they engender, just become part of the new normal.

As a defense against this “naturalizing” or “normalizing” of technologies, media ecologists often...

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