Play, Pause and Rewind

Can technology infiltrate the mind? Can we learn how to think like a film reel? 

When pressing play and pause on a remote control, these acts of technology are now taken for granted.  We don’t think twice. Less often do we think about the impact of these technological acts upon the mind.

Can we learn how to think like a film reel? The researcher Salomon seems to think so. His musings struck some interesting points – notably his studies into how children exposed to film techniques such as zooming in and out, long shots and close ups have come to use these techniques while thinking. Imagine that. When thinking about riding a horse across the beach I might play out the ride in  my mind in slow motion, the hooves pounding on the sand with delightful slowness and the salt-water spray moving in a steady motion towards the cornflower blue sky. When receiving bad news I might replay the incident in my mind, replaying the reaction of each and every one of my friends, their expressions, their gestures sometimes in close up.

Is there evidence that this form of thinking pre-dates technology? Did slow-motion come before the Video Player? It would seem logical that slow motion has come before the invention of the motion picture. The Japanese theatrical form Noh has existed since the 14th Century and dances can be slow and evocative before accelerating.

Another form of communication to support the human capacity for visual thinking is sign language. Sign Language is capable of showing sped up and slow actions, zooming in and flipping between images like on a TV screen.

There are plenty of examples I could give, such as when a signer tells a story about a powerful and haughty owl perching on a branch somewhere in the wilderness. The sun then sets on the owl and the signer slows the sun down to indicate the passing of time. She then describes the detail of his head, his feathers and how he cruelly snatches a poor living morsel from the ground. She further slows her signs to show the act of digestion and the final act of satisfaction is spitting out the bones. Beak lickin’ good!


“The Great Horned Owl” in American Sign Language courtesy of ASLized.org

This form of thinking heightens the senses. We really see and feel.  But not everyone knows sign language.

I think that Technology can have a hand. As Martin Scorsese said recently, we need to teach children how to read visual images and to embrace them. The same goes for teaching children sign language as a form of visual literacy.

Along the lines of Scorsese, we need to not spit out images like fast food, but to slowly digest them like that owl.

Perhaps teaching the understanding of images and using technology to codify this form of thinking can help us see the world through fresher lenses.

Let’s pause on that thought.

References: Salomon, G. (1997) ‘Of mind and media’, Phi Delta Kappan, vol.78, no.5, pp.375–80.

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