Current Affairs; My Opinion

education;retaliation

     Most of my highschool life and now university life, although properly supplemented with social activities and schoolwork is mostly comprised of playing video games. What I have found interesting about this aspect of my life is how rewarding I find playing these games can be. I would not be lying if I said I had learned more through video games than anything else has taught me throughout growing up. Highschool was a breeze, I paid almost no attention in class, did the assignments when I got them and played video games all night. The same can almost be said for University, my degree is not easy, that I can attest to, but I do find the time to play at least a few hours of games on most nights. So one of the questions that I have always thought about is; Why do I play video games so much ? Despite being flashy and attention grabbing I knew that there had to be something more fundamental in my experience other than the gimmicks. Then it hit me, I learn. It was as simple as that, each time I played these games I would learn something new, something profound that I had not seen the day before. I could always adapt, recreate, and find new paths to goals I needed to reach. That’s when this hit me:

Why couldn’t I feel the same about school ?

     This is where I hit a road block. I figured the element that was lacking was fun, but as I explored other people’s opinions on this matter it seems as if there is more complexity to this situation than I first thought. This is where my investigation begins. I have compiled my thoughts and analysis on technology, video games, and coding with specific attention to the classroom. Finally I have gained an appreciable grasp on what technology and video games can do to help people learn, and I hope that is also what you gain from reading this.

My take

     There are 2 games that I consider to be my learning spots. The first game being Counter Strike: Global Offensive (alongside it’s older versions) and DotA2. Although more recently I’ve spent more time on DotA2, the bulk of my experiences lies with Counter Strike. I believe that games such as these, especially when experienced in a competitive level helps to further yourself and it helps to teach you fundamental life skills.

     I am a very quiet person, and because of that I have a hard time initiating conversations with people. One item I found most helpful was the constant need for communication in these sorts of video games. They are, at their roots, team games. To win you must be able to work well together. This doesn’t come easy either, in a competitive atmosphere you must be able to adapt on the fly, you must have the map you are playing memorized, you must understand how each of your teammates acts in certain situations, you must know your self well.

     If we take this and turn it into a template, we can immediately see that this is exactly how you conduct yourself in the workforce; as a team with functioning members with different strengths who all have the ability to communicate with each other and who understand where they are coming from. This is something that you can’t usually teach someone in school. There are group projects but no one wants to work on those and that right there is the key to video games. People want to get better, and in doing so they end up wanting to improve on aspects they are lacking in. In essence one can become a well rounded person just by playing video games. Much better than doing a presentation on rocks with a bunch of people who want nothing do to with you.

     Another element of gaming, to which is not explored as readily, is the community. If we take the idea of a community and now think of it as a technological tool we can then also link this to the disconnect between my idea of video games and technology in the classroom. Communities in competitive gaming are goal set on helping out new and existing members by providing resources. This is where the second key to video games comes in, it is not the games at all, but the resources you use to help improve yourself. Once again we can template this and apply it to life. Technology exists to benefit our learning and understanding , if we properly utilize this technology in education then we have only room to grow. Gamers for the most part also participate actively in teaching eachother and learning from others through mediums such as Twitch TV, teamliquid, joindota, Youtube,  and even niche areas on Reddit.The video below demonstrates what is known in the Counter-Strike community as the “Behind the Play” series. This is a quick example of how intricate a community will go to help people understand actions in video games, in this case it is plays made in the game of counter strike and the presenter gives a detailed analysis of a teams play.

d0n’t w0rr13, 1 sp34k 1337

     It’s nice to see where I come from in all of this, but to truly appreciate where I come from, one must also have a gander at what others have to say on the matter. Since video games and technology are both “different” I’ve presented this information separately in order to help one grasp how each contributes to the main focus of education and learning.

     The journey starts with understanding the benefits of video games and technology on the learning habits and learning abilities of children. This article presented some very head turning facts. It was found that video games could help children obtain critical levels of thinking at an accelerated rate, that is to say, decision making without a loss in accuracy  or mental process. It was found that games which were action based made these decisions at speed 25% faster than the average. It was also found that children also achieved 23% higher scores on creative tests.

     A very interesting talk by Gabe Zichermann, talked about how video games are making kids smarter. He fortifies my opinion on the learning aspect of video games by presenting ideas such as the link between dopamine release in conjunction to having accomplished a task, in most cases these tasks will have also helped you to learn something as well. The talk is embedded below, and I highly suggest that you take the opportunity to watch it.


Lucy in the classroom with ipads

     We often think of technology as a bad aspect in our lives, that it is distracting and that it takes away learning. I am sure some readers of my age or younger have be scolded by a teacher in highschool for having their phone out during class. I wanted to explore the other side of this argument, now that we understand how video games can help students, why not take a step further to understand how technology can also help to benefit people in their quest to learn.

     A heartwarming tale brought to light another part of the technology enhancement that can help people learn. Within this article the author speaks of their child, how he struggled to learn in the traditional methods due to a disability to present information that he learned. The author later goes on to state that because of technology such as smart boards, voice recorders among other items the boy was eventually able to switch from being a “stupid” student to an “A” student. An article focused on an Alberta school who has embraced the usage of technology in their classrooms. They mention that the usage of laptops, smartphones, and Ipads is encouraged in their classrooms. The most fundamental attribute of this article is the statement made by a researcher who was studying their usage of technology. This statement read:

“It requires not just that a student have a comfort with the technology but that teachers themselves understand how to use it as an educational asset, as opposed to a neat gimmick.”

     I found this statement so intriguing as it shows the willingness of the teachers to pursue the usage of technology in the classroom. Still yet, we want to understand why this is , and it is as simple as understanding that this technology helps to engage the minds of the students. An example of this is seen from an article posted by the Harvard news team. This article shows that teachers are willing and want to incorporate technology to supplement their educational practices. In a summed up truth, this shows that students would benefit from programs aimed at providing new technology based approaches to standard material and graduates from other Universities gathered at  Harvard for a special project based seminar section dedicated to developing these programs.

So what should we do ?

     I think we should take a step back and take a good look at how exactly we proceed to teach in the future. I think it is of benefit to future generations to take the technology we have developed and to find ways to fully and properly utilize each tool for educational usage. We have become a generation split on older ideas of learning with those who have become empowered enough to realize the benefits that arise from the usage of technology in their quest to learn. We must find ways to merge technological advancements with current ideas of teaching. We must also encourage learning through fun mediums like video games. Being able to learn without feeling like you are learning it incredibly rewarding and in itself empowers one to take their understanding into their own hands. Gamers have developed tools to help themselves learn, such as proper resource usage, learning from one-another,  and producing educational material for the sake of fun and understanding. To take these ideas and apply them to everyday learning will allow youth among a multitude of those needing to learn to finally understand that learning and application of knowledge does not simply come from a book, that most problems in life cannot simply be solved through some standard cookie cutter  recipe. Do we want our children to continue to be ingnorant of these benefits simply because of our inability to accept change or shall we take the risk and extend into a new realm of learning ?

Life’s Meta: Are we playing our own game wrong ?

     One of my many thoughts as I have grown up has been about the direction that our society will go. From the time I had been born there has been development of  powerful computers, tablets, video game consoles, and Smartphones among other wondrous technologies. In competitive gaming in such games like DotA2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive there is a term known as the “meta-game“. This is a sociologically developed term, it is not an official term. But the basic idea is easy enough to understand: Using outside resources or ideas to further benefit yourself when actually inside the video game. One can see the link between society and this term if they realize how important technology has become when interjected into our daily lives. So, I thought it would be interesting to explore how we live our lives, and how exactly the technology we are using or will use will affect our lives in the future.

The “fiction” side:

     I have always been intrigued by TV shows, movies, and novels about earth in a time of great technological advancement. There is a specific movie and a show in which I have quite a bit of interest. The movie is a popular one. Wall.e. Within this movie we center on a robot that has taken the opportunity to board a space ship that has been in space for quite a long time. While the love story between two robots is heartening, my focus throughout most of the movie was on the depressingly well depicted “dependent” society. By this I mean that since these people have been on this space ship for such an extended period of time they have relied on all of the automation it provides. Because of this automation the humans were then incapable of doing their own tasks and relied on their special chairs as depicted below. With this in mind I then thought of a TV show I’ve been watching called Psycho Pass. It shows what life could be like if we develop our technology to the point of close to full automation. The society depicted in Psycho Pass has developed so far that people can now be “scanned” by readers of sorts to determine what is known as their “hue” and “crime coefficient” both of which determine whether or not you are capable or willing to commit a crime before you even commit it. Much like the movie Minority Report one starts to see the flaws in a system like this through the imperfections it displays. Among this major advancement a few others are shown such as full body cyborgs, automated meals, and holographic clothing.  Although both Wall.e and Psycho Pass show what seem to be extreme societies I feel as if both are not far off in their predictions, and as such are explored in further detail as pertaining to our lives in the next two sections.

PSYCHO-PASS - 03 - Large 17

Although intrusive, it would be interesting to predict peoples actions based on a reading of their brain. (Click image for source).

The “real” bad side:

     Fiction can provide us with an escape; it can help us realize mistakes that could happen. We laugh it off and think to ourselves: this could never happen. But, we should explore the idea that it might already be happening. There was an interesting article posted in 2008 entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?“. This article gives the idea that we are looking towards efficiency and immediacy in terms of reading instead of deep understanding. Proof is given showing that deep reading greatly improves our ability to think versus skim reading of online articles among other sources of reading. Another opinion piece expands on this idea by focusing on on the little applications of technology like auto correct and its negative affects. I believe that based on this one can already see a flaw in our current system, we are exchanging single sources of information for a multitude of sources read in a much quicker manner. In essence we are pushing away deep understanding for almost pseudo knowledge that comes from having “seen” many articles that point towards an answer. We are turning reading and writing into an automated process.  Three other articles have presented the idea that we are becoming addicted to the internet. The first article tells of tragedies such as child death due to its parents addiction to online video games as well as Korean men dying from exhaustion after gaming. The second article presents the idea that we might not be addicted to the internet but that it might be a large contributing factor or a symptom of depression or other psychological issues. The last article shows that internet addiction help programs are already being developed and employed. Recently, Google has been pushing for automated cars which could either benefit the human race or cause more detriment depending on which side of the fence you are on. Regardless of the smaller issues, the biggest point made in both of these articles is that we might soon see ourselves inside of cars that will drive for us. This is an even larger step towards a society which is dependent on automated technology. One of the other issues present in both articles on Google’s automated cars is the loss of jobs pertaining to that of car driving. Alongside this I found an article which helped to explain that with the digitization of photos we soon lost great photographers in place of ease of accessibility and what I believe to be a generation of pseudo-photographers. Among this others have reported on negativity of digitization. Each of these problems all lead to the idea that as a society we are heading towards the automation and non-benefit as seen in Wall.e and Psycho Pass. More specifically we are heading towards a time of reliance on technology as seen in Wall.e and blinded understanding as seen in Psycho Pass.

wall-e-fat-people-in-chairs1

It will be a sad day if our technological reliance turned into something like this. (Click image for source).

The “real” good side:

     One cannot present a bad side to something without also presenting its good side either. Technology, at its root, is supposed to actually help society.  A very lengthy article I found known as the Wisdom Page dives into great detail onto how much we should actually rely on technology to help society as a whole. Its basis is the idea that as a human race we cannot actually develop further without the aid of technology. It is understandable but agreeable that technology can help improve our “wisdom”. We can use technological aids to now help us study, we can research faster with more ease,  and we can build simulations using large scale data sets to help us predict future outcomes of advanced studies. The main point of the article tells of a population that is not only wise but also digitally wise, that we will soon accept that we need technology to continue living but that we will use it not as a reliance but  as a tool. With this we can see the divide between a society  that cannot function without technology versus a society that chooses to function along side technology. A friend of mine does his research for the physics department at the University of Guelph. His research is based on shooting x-rays at samples and producing what is known as a diffraction pattern in order to analyze the sample. This research is fundamental to improving the efficiency of mining companies (to which this project is actually for)  among many other large scale operations, but it would not be possible without the usage of technology, specifically a Synchrotron. Other technological advancements such as eye-tracking technology and brain analysis technology have been developed to help society without necessarily providing a draw back to those who do not need them. This is because this type of technological advancement is aimed specifically at those who actually need them. Thus a reliance on eye-tracking technology or psycho analysis technology would not be considered a detriment but actually a necessity to those who need them.

eye-tracking

A rendition of eye tracking software, perhaps a day where this is a true reality will come. We hope for a furture that uses technology as a tool rather than us as technologie’s tools. (Click image for source).

Where are we actually ?

     I have tried my best to present my thoughts and others thoughts on the usage of technology to benefit society or destroy society. No matter the  current outcome we must realize that the usage of technology is simply put a way to employ our own meta-game to life. I shall end my thoughts with my own analogy.

     There is a disconnect between casual gamers and competitive gamers. Most people in the latter category like to think on their own, develop their own ideas to implement into the game to perhaps gain an advantage that they have seen using the provided resources. The casual gamers I like to think do not understand or do not want to develop a meta-game of their own. Instead these casual players would in fact rather follow what the competitive gamers use instead of coming up with their own meta game. And as such we finally see the full connection. The casual gamers are those who have both a blinded understanding and have full reliance on those who can in fact come up with their own ideas and can invoke the usage of their resources when they see fit. Thus with this in mind I can only ask the final question: are we becoming casual or competitive as a society ? 

Understanding the Photo-manipulation Beast

     We often take for granted how many images we see per day. From Facebook to twitter even walking down the street we see images everywhere, be it of your friends or an advertisement. What we do not realize, or what we do not choose to question is how real these images are. With the development of the digital camera, we have been enabled to take our photos onto our personal computers and alter them at will. With this being said, i’d like to present some ideas surrounding the digitization of photos, but solely focused on the manipulation of these photos. I’ve tried to blend my own opinion with recent events and other opinions to showcase what photo manipulation actually is while posting some questions that might help you to understand how our society has been impacted by what seems to be trivial changes to bits of data.

How easy is it to acquire Photo-manipulation software ? 

     Photoshop is quite an expensive program, $699 USD for the newest version Photoshop CS6.At this price it seems reasonable to think that not many people have access to this program during their everyday lives. This is where we end up being wrong. Although this specific program seems to be slightly less than extortionately priced, alternatives do exist that are considerably cheaper or the best price of all, free.

     The general population has access to many forms of Photoshop, or photo-manipulation software. There is a very popular photo-manipulation program known as gimp. This program is free and is essentially a Photoshop clone, providing close to all of the same features as the original. If you are dubious about downloading a program there are also 2 popular online alternatives, these are: pixlr and an Adobe run site Photoshop Express. There are also mobile versions of Photoshop and/or Photoshop type software. For $9.99 you can purchase Photoshop Touch or their free version Photoshop Express.

     I had found an interesting statistic about Apple and their product the iPhone. It turns out that Apple has sold around 37 million iphones. I mention this to prove that among these iPhone owners some must own mobile versions of photo-manipulation software. With all of this being said about where one can get photo-manipulation software, and understanding how abundant it is we can start to see the implications this has for our society.

The Bad

     Photo-manipulation software has the potential to negatively affect our daily lives. And there are countless examples, some controversial, some not so much. One can go from slightly augmenting an image so as to slightly sway an individual, to changing an image so that its appearance says something completely different. This large scale change can alter the individuals perception of what is really being shown in comparison to the static unedited image.

     I feel that the involvement of Photo-Manipulation in social media has evolved from “Hey, that’s a  neat effect!” to “We need to make this perfect.” A small but interesting article points out that digitization killed fashion photography. In this it is stated by an accomplished photographer that most of his work has gone from being a solo project to more of a group activity.

     There were 2 other articles I happened to stumble upon in my search to understand the topic of photo-manipulation. The first of these articles points out a rather silly situation that an Egyptian newspaper had managed to get itself into. This newspaper had edited a picture of Barrack Obama  and Hosni Mubarak. They switched their positions within the picture of these leaders walking. This was done to present the idea that Hosni was actually leading the peace talks at that time. It was poorly edited as the angle of his feet do not match the position of every other political leader walking with him. The second article is recent, but of less global importance. In this article a group of LSU football fans had crosses that they painted on themselves removed from a picture of them. This picture was used to express the Universities views as being “non-religious”. Personally, I think the need to alter reality in this way to fit a narrative is nothing less than fraudulent.

I think it is ridiculous that some people/organizations need to edit such simple pictures in order to show their stance, view or supremacy.

The good

     Since I’ve enjoyed using Photoshop for about 7 years, I would have to say that artistically, photo manipulation is the best thing to happen to me. I would have to say that I cannot draw, at all. In fact it’s a stretch to suggest that I can draw at all.  A two year olds sketch would look like a Van Gogh in comparison to my best attempts. With that being said, this is where Photoshop and Photo manipulation has come in. I could take many already beautiful pictures and edit them to make it my own piece of art. It started as “Holy! I wonder if I could make EVERYTHING f**king glow!” to “I wonder what I could bring into this picture to alter the flow and give a particular message”. Without making this a history of my Photoshop practices I would like to mention a few more points. From personal experience, Photoshop makes workflow faster in terms of art or images that are accepted as already being altered. For example logo design, package design, desktop backgrounds  phone backgrounds, phone case design among an infinitude of other advertising and display designs. One of my favorite practices of photo manipulation is the creation of surreal landscapes and situations. A few really good examples of surreal design being used before Photoshop is found in this article and in this video . According to the article, photo manipulation and/or editing was encouraged in newspapers. At the time people would never know whether or not a photo was changed. In fact, relation to “the bad” section above, wartime images used to be edited in order to show a biased towards whichever side.  The example given is the exaggeration of prisoners (German) at the battle of Stalingrad. This is far worse than changing the position of a  few political leaders.

First example of my work demonstrating the artistic side of photo manipulation. Disclaimer: I Do not own the font used or the image used.

Second example of my work demonstrating the artistic side of photo manipulation. Disclaimer: I do not own the font used or the image used.

The Manipulated

     I would like to conclude by giving my complete take on all of the information presented. In my opinion, we are moving too fast to even debate technology like photo manipulation. In my daily life I see pictures uploaded by the minute to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr. From what I have put, we got to see the effect that photo manipulation has had on the industry that has spawned it, be it good or bad. I gave my experience with this software and how it has affected my life and how it can be used as a good enhancement of the Arts. What I have not shown is the effect that this manipulation has had on our self perception and our memory. Although popular topics, I felt it was worth it to see the direction I have headed in comparing both sides of photo manipulation and its display in current and past media. Perhaps we have become wiser in determining fakes from real. I believe that we are heading into a time of misinformation and complete forgery based on the usage of Photoshop and other photo altering software. Whether or not we choose to accept this fate is up to you to decide.

Hello world!

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