COMMENT

You learn a lot when you have six teenage tamariki sleep over for the weekend as I did recently.

Yes, you learn that they like to eat a lot, laugh a lot and like to say like a lot as a sentence joiner when they get their turn to tell a story.

And they also like to look at their cellphone screens a lot. A lot more than I realised, so this last weekend during their stay, I focused in on their digital habits.

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Turned out when they were zoned out on their iPhones they were almost completely ignorant of what was going on around them.

Even when we were in the car heading to the beach there were six heads bowed to the screen skimming through mindless messages, posts, snap chats and screen shots of like no one doing nothing - but they needed to know who else liked it.

The real concern was, and is, how much time they spent on their phones and what they were retaining as useful knowledge to help them grow into the future, with both feet firmly planted on the whenua.

How the human brain takes on knowledge is something that I am completely absorbed in given I am a knowledge junkie, so when I came across the findings of neuroscientist Dr Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice at the University of California whose research looks at how the brain takes on knowledge, I was completely hooked.

Dr Wolf's research is compelling as it is frightening when we apply it to our own kids who are logging up a staggering number of cellphone hours.

She says research is surfacing in many parts of the world suggesting that those who read on digital devices don't comprehend as well, don't sequence details well and don't recall the plot as well as those reading the same material in print.

Dr Wolf says reading more on screens may threaten the young brain's ability to build its own foundation of knowledge and young peoples' desire to think and imagine for themselves. Adding results to injury the younger we put our kids on the iPacifier as a baby sitter, the greater the desire to read from a book is lost.

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Sounds about right on to me, Doctor.

I belong to the school of thought that the instant gratification generation we are creating is skimming more and remembering less. They have no time to critically analyse the information overload and in doing so opens up for the digital taniwha of false news, false fears and false hopes to creep in.

All of them, in my opinion, manifests in the anti-social behaviour we seeing today. None more so than in the alarming increase in bullying and dare I suggest in the spiralling cases of youth suicide.

So - what's the time Dr Wolf? Well not to down play it with a play on words from a great reggae waiata - what is the answer?

For my two bobs' worth of believing in the studies done by Dr Wolf and her clever mates, it's all about building a better-balanced model of learning from both the digital world and the written word from a book, to maximise information digestion.

Bringing back the book and the process of interactive learning is paramount, and we all need to start staring down the barrel of the cellphone smoking gun and say "enough is enough".

When I started down the track of creating an interactive indigenous language-based board game it was with the understanding that it was not going to be gawked at on an iPhone screen. I had already been there done that six years ago with a previous publication.

I was convinced that the app generation were more than well served if not drenched in digital resources, so I stayed strong to the kaupapa of being app-free and now I know my gut feeling has been confirmed by research.

Another clever dude is neurologist John Hutton who did a comprehensive comparative study on children who are read to compared with learning from audio and or animated apps on a digital device.

The results were as I hoped for in the interactive learning, especially when it came to languages - the area I am trying to promote with indigenous languages long lost or facing extinction.

It is almost predictable now when I show someone our Koha game I am asked "Where's the app?".

Sorry Bro no can do, I have seen the science and the damage done by the digital marketing gurus, and when it comes to storytelling, it should be shared Kanohi ki te Kanohi – face to face, not face book to face book.

There is still time for once upon a time, if we start weaning our kids off the screen and back on to the book.

broblack@xtra.co.nz