Thursday, September 25, 2003

Decoding electronic "phonemes"

Did you know that to be able to read, you had to learn how to decode the phonological patterns of the written letters, called "phonemes"? That is,.. to connect the correct sound to the correct group of otherwise meaningless lines, circles and dots? From decoding, you then move on to word identification and then to comprehending the meaning of the words. Most people construct these basic phonological abilities between ages 4-7. However, during the past decades there has been increasing evidence that more and more children are not able to accomplish this. There is a probability that one of every five child has some form of reading disability. "Overcoming Dyslexia", by Sally Shaywitz was the best book I've read about this so far. That could mean that whole generations of childrens will never be really comfortable with reading. These children are also totally immersed in the electric medium. TV, cellphones, Walkman, Nintendo, Gameboy, email, chat, laptops, PDAs, etc, etc. It's also becoming more and more about images and sound than words. They may just never have the habit of reading that we have taken for granted? Could it also be that they are being born genetically 'wired' to be more adjusted for this new electric/electromagnetic environment and we are trying to choke them back into the archaic structure of linear language?

Speaking is natural, reading is not. It is an acquired act, an invention of man that must be learned at a conscious level. Using a computer must be even more of a deliberate action. A computer would not be as useful if you didn't master reading.

Anyway, what I am trying to say is that understanding computer terminology or language requires a special effort (that tends to be taken for granted in an environment that is infused with electricity). It is extra effort on top of learning how to read English, which comes on top of learning how to speak it, which then must be overlaid with thinking and researching abilities as those required for this class. For someone who is not a native speaker of English, this process is layered on top of learning how to speak, read, write his own national language. (In my case that is Thai which, by the way, has its own unique script, and that came on top of learning my mother's tongue, a Northeastern Thai dialect.)

As a result of all that effort I don't take for granted my ability to speak (3-), read (4-), and write (3-) languages. Some words, translated back and forth in 3-4 different languages always gives me delightfully inspiring insights into each societies's thinking processes.

For a demonstration of the "gah-gah-goo-goo" of someone who is still trying to decode the electronic "phonemes", here's an example of my inner dialogue when reading Mark's instructions about how to set up a blog:

(By the way, I like to read 'blog' as "be log". It tickles me to "be logged" onto cyberspace logs. It invokes the part of my multi-Self that could be a member of the Star Trek crew!)

My inner dialogue went:

" Pardon me?! 'URL?' I guess from the context, that means the address of my blog... "

" 'IE?' That's probably 'Internet Explorer' since Netscape is a surf engine..."

" 'Link?!' I think it's got something to do with 'Favorites'? Maybe?...(gasp, gasp, gasp--Panic!! ) How come it's not there on my ibook's IE's barline? Why can't they produce computers or operating systems on the same planets? Why can't these software wizards check in on each other when they decide to name a concept? It is supposed to be English, isn't it? "

" 'Bookmarklet?!!!' What's that?! No! No! No! Don't get me into Javascript... (My eyes are now glazing over the way my dyslexic son's eyes do when they encounter a long word that he doesn't recognize)..."

Imagine... now I am in a seriously blocked mind mode, I can't do anything right. It took me 3 half-finished drafts that kept disappearing into thin air to realize that I can't do this live/on-line. I should pre-write my text and then paste them on the site later. Oh, ppplease... give me the spontaneity, and gratification of closure of a face-to-face conversation!!

The whole process took me some 4 hours, before I decided to give it some breathing space, and these above comments should leave enough food for thought until I compose my next blog....


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