[Image: The interactive experience at UNSW's iCinema Centre. Source: The Australian]
Lost in cyberspace
From: The Australian
July 23, 2011
You only have to be the parent of a child over the age of seven to know what I’m talking about: the vacant eyes so preoccupied by what’s on screen that they can’t focus on your face for more than a few seconds before being drawn back into the cyberworld.
As you talk, your little darling types or toggles. “Are you listening to me?” you ask, only to be told in a precocious tone: “Yeahhhh. I’m multitasking, Mum.”
It gets worse. By 16, girls no longer seem to have use of their tongues. “Text it to me, Mum,” quips my daughter, barely able to contain her contempt that she has to speak and breathe at the same time. I know one mother who got her daughter to the dinner table by posting the request on Facebook. It was so like social death for the girl that, like, she never failed to come to the table again. Technologies such as Twitter are alarmingly succinct. If you can’t say it in two lines, don’t bother. Luckily, I come from the dinosaur era of the telegram: “Come home (stop) Finish homework (stop) Or no mobile (stop).”
A study last year by the Kaiser Family Foundation in the US found that children from eight to 18 spend more than 7½ hours a day online and/or using electronic devices. And that doesn’t count the hour and a half that youths spend texting or talking on their mobiles. Because so many of them are multitasking – chatting on Facebook while playing games, surfing and texting – they pack an average of almost 11 hours of media content into that seven and a half hours. Some psychologists call this behaviour addiction; the Federal Government is investigating the effects of internet use on young Australians.
British scientist Susan Greenfield, professor of synaptic pharmacology at Lincoln College, Oxford, believes that the pre-frontal cortex, which governs empathy and compassion, needs social nourishment in order to grow and develop synaptic connections. This starts with the mother’s gaze, the incredible stare of love that stimulates the brain. It is further developed by gazing at, and with, other people through smiles, sneers, flushes and changing voice tone, along with social skills such as reading. Greenfield even refers to pheromones, the smells we emit that give signals to others.
The danger with our technology-obsessed kids, Greenfield warns, is that they are no longer accustomed to the full range of messy and meaningful human interactions. Social technology is moulding children’s brains so that they are unable to empathise with others; in short, we’re breeding a generation of narcissists. A recent gag on TV sums this up. A comedian is selling a new device that discreetly projects text messages from his mobile onto other people’s foreheads. “Now you can read your texts or Tweets and your companion will think you are really interested in them!”
But before mums and dads are tempted to pull the plug on all this new technology, there’s a twist to the story. Enter Professor Dennis Del Favero, philosopher, artist and director of the iCinema Centre at the ¬University of NSW. With a team of computer scientists, engineers, filmmakers and artists, Del Favero has pioneered technology that promises to transform the interactive experience for the better. Instead of pushing us away from the world, it unites us with it.
The technology, which involves interactive multimedia, has attracted worldwide attention. It’s already achieved $7.1 million in sales, most recently to China as a mining industry educational tool; the Museum of Victoria is about to launch a version of it; three universities here and abroad have expressed strong interest; and Hollywood’s Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, inspected the facilities on a recent visit to Australia.
How to best explain it? It’s called AVIE – Advanced Visualisation and Interaction Environment – and it’s a computer program shown on a large circular screen using 12 projectors. You enter the space and 3D moving images play all around you, including above and below. It’s not too far removed from Star Trek’s science-fictional holodeck, a large room in which holographic images are projected from every angle to simulate an environment. Read more on The Advanced Visualisation and Interaction Environment (AVIE) and children’s developing brains…