Buckminster Fuller was a seminal and original 20th century thinker, a self-trained architect, systems theorist, author of 30 books, designer (including the geodesic dome), inventor and futurist: a most unusual man, and a personal hero. Among his notable quirks was deciding in 1927 that words couldn’t be trusted, since most people simply parrot the words and thoughts of others rather than thinking for themselves, so he stopped making sounds for two years. This “was pretty difficult for my wife because we were in Chicago and didn’t have any money,” he wrote, and “we did have a baby.” When Fuller did begin communicating, it was in original and profound ways.
Most of what appears on the Internet today is spun, shaded or outright lies, especially when visuals are involved. As American journalist Michael Musto put it, “In the last few years, the very idea of telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is dredged up only as a final resort when the alternative options of deception, threat and bribery have all been exhausted.” So it’s worth noting, “Seeing Isn’t Believing,” the guide developed by Nadine Ajaka et al of WashingtonPost.com.
“The Internet is increasingly populated with misleading videos,” they wrote, adding, “We have found three main ways video is being altered”: missing context through “misrepresentation” (“presenting unaltered video in an inaccurate manner”) and “isolation” (“sharing a brief clip from a longer video creates a false narrative”), deceptively editing by “omission” (editing out large portions and presenting it as a complete video) and “splicing” (“editing together disparate videos”), and, everyone’s favorite — maliciously transforming videos by “doctoring” (cropping, changing speeds, Photoshop, etc.) and outright “fabrication” (“using artificial intelligence to create high-quality fake images”).
Recent all-too-real MRI images accompanied the SeattleTimes.com article by Isaac Stanley-Becker titled “Horns Are Growing on Young People’s Skulls; Researchers Blame Phone Use.” A major Australian study revealed that “young people are developing horn-like spikes at the back of their skulls – bone spurs caused by the forward tilt of the head … causing bone-growth in the connecting tendons and ligaments.” The bird beak-like formations (aka “head horns,” “phone bones,” and “spikes”), were at least two-fifths of an inch to register in the study and are “a portent that something nasty is going on elsewhere” in the body.
Meanwhile the World Health Organization released a report last April stating that “infants under 1 year old shouldn’t be exposed to any electronic screens, and children under 5 should have no more than one hour of ‘sedentary screen time’ — including playing computer games and watching TV — per day.” The WHO cited how “the mesmerizing effects of videos keep young children from connecting with their parents and others, a key facet in building the sophisticated social skills that are central to human development.”
It doesn’t stop there. More advanced students have said “they preferred and performed better when reading on screens,” according to a BusinessInsider.com report by Patricia Alexander, “But their actual performance tended to suffer” and this “appears to be related to the disruptive effect that scrolling has on concentration … the medium didn’t matter for general questions (like understanding the main idea of the text). But when it came to specific questions, comprehension was significantly better when participants read printed texts.”
Effective reading is the fundamental educational skill, and it’s been repeatedly proven that any money spent on school libraries — librarian hours, books, furniture, painting the walls — will improve school reading scores. Yet last spring the Seattle school district cut their school librarians to half time, and Spokane fired all their school librarians. Now, as Times columnist Danny Westneat asked, who will “help students learn to navigate ever-expanding streams of information — what’s solid info and what’s flimsy, and, most importantly, how can you tell?”
Librarianless school libraries are useless in this age of information. Our own school district has steadily reduced and marginalized its librarians, while ramping up the — quite literally — headlong utilization of horn-head inducing digital reading devices. As Buckminster Fuller put it, “Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons.”
Greg Hill is the former director of Fairbanks North Star Borough libraries. Contact him at 479-4344.