Monday, March 06, 2006

John Seely Brown, guts and throat

How often do you get a chance to talk to the man who invented the mouse? John Seeley Brown was the keynote speaker at the ODCE conference this week. I live-blogged his talk until my laptop's battery ran out.

Brown was talking about how massive online games such as World of Warquest have players from all over the world, and players necessarily learn how to transcend culture. He also pointed out how multimedia literacy is and is going to be a big deal.

I flashed on our guest preacher on Sunday, who talked about how a Bible translator in New Guinea figured out that a particular tribe saw the center-of-the-self in the throat, rather than the heart (as in modern Western thought) or in the gut (as in classical Greek thought.) "Ask Jesus to come live in your throat" made perfect sense to them.

Media literacy requires shared experiences. To persons who were young adults in the 1960's, a half-second image of a Huey helicopter likely causes a visceral reaction - Hueys are a prototype image of the Vietnam war. It immediately brings up a whole host of ideas, thoughts, and feelings. But to a younger person, it may be just a helicopter, with no particular affect (note spelling).

The kennings of medieval Norse verse similarly drew on the expectation of a shared cultural reference. "The sea-steed sailed o'er the swan-road" referred not only to a ship on the sea, but a particular ship with a particular master, and the tragic doom he faced.

After the keynote, I asked JSB about this idea. He referred back to the fact that in massive online games, the players do in fact share experiences; they do in fact share cultural references - within the context of the game. This context does not transfer directly to the real world. It sort-of-transfers through imagining that the real word is like the game worlds in some respects.

But he had also noted that when indigenous peoples are exposed to Western science, they accept the Western definition of, say, a rainbow, side-by-side with the traditional definition, with no apparent difficulty.

I'm not quite sure if I'm satisfied with his answer. (Can you tell I'm thinking out loud?)

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