Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Visit to the Morgan

Yesterday, I visited the Morgan Library in New York City and spent a couple of pleasant hours viewing the exhibit on Jane Austen, my favorite author. The exhibit contained a number of treasures, such as the letter describing Jane's death written by Cassandra Austen to a niece. On display were a number of Jane's letters, including one written backwards (shades of Leonardo da Vinci) and another written in "cross hatching," a method used to save precious paper. I did not know this, but the Morgan has the world's largest collection of Jane's letters, most of which were destroyed after her death by Cassandra. The exhibit showcased a collection of first editions of the novels, and also displayed contemporary engravings that were in keeping with the themes of the exhibit. I always enjoy going into Mr. Morgan's study and seeing the three stunning paintings by Hans Memling, and into Mr. Morgan's library, with its sixteenth-century lindenwood statue of Saint Elizabeth holding a book and its Gutenberg Bible. The Morgan actually has three Gutenberg Bibles, only one of which, a copy printed on paper, is on display. There is another copy printed on paper, and a third printed on vellum. The legend that accompanied the Gutenberg Bible read that it was the "book that inaugurated a new era in the history of visual communication."

This is certainly true, and got me thinking about an article I had read in The New York Times last Sunday. The article, entitled "The Children of Cyberspace: Old Fogies by Their 20s," starts with a vignette about the author's two-year-old daughter who refers to his Kindle as "Daddy's book." And to her, of course, it is, because she will "know nothing other than a world with digital books, Skype video chats with faraway relatives, and toddler-friendly video games on the iPhone. She'll see the world a lot differently from her parents." The point of the article is that we will continue to have generation gaps caused by the rapid changes in technology, but they will not be like the generation gaps we've had in the past. Researchers "theorize that the ever-accelerating pace of technological change may be minting a series of mini-generation gaps, with each group of children uniquely influenced by the tech tools available in their formative stages of development." Professor Larry Rosen

has also drawn this distinction between what he calls the Net Generation, born in the 1980s, and the iGeneration, born in the '90s and this decade.

Now in their 20s, those in the Net Generation ... spend two hours a day talking on the phone and still use e-mail frequently. The iGeneration, conceivably their younger siblings--spends considerably more time texting than talking on the phone, pays less attention to television than the older group and tends to communicate more over instant-messenger network.

Dr. Rosen said that the newest generations, unlike their older peers, will expect an instant response from everyone they communicate with, and won't have the patience for anything less.

"They'll want their teachers and professors to respond to them immediately, and they will expect instantaneous access to everyone, because after all, that is the experience they have growing up ... They should be just like their older brothers and sisters, but they are not."

Two questions come immediately to mind: How will teachers meet the expectations of students accustomed to immediate feedback? And how in the heck are we going to keep up with the changes in technology?

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