Does Our Generation Have Social Skills?

“You kids don’t know how to have real conversations anymore”, “You spend so much time playing on that cell phone of yours”, “You aren’t going to know how to express yourself in the real world after all that texting.” ThesScreen Shot 2015-03-27 at 7.44.47 PMe are things that I’m sure almost all of us have heard at some point, whether it be from our parents, grandparents, teachers, or maybe even that annoying aunt; but regardless of whoever had said it, there is a good chance that they were most likely a great deal older, having grown up in a generation that was not as heavily reliant on technology as ours is today. Now, it is very easy to just brush off these comments, as most kids our age, and teens especially, clearly know everything. And of course, what would these older folks know? They didn’t have technology like this. They’re obviously just stating that we’re wrong because our lifestyle varies soScreen Shot 2015-03-27 at 7.43.13 PM much from what theirs once was.

Here’s a crazy idea…maybe their criticism actually isn’t completely wrong this time, maybe we are in fact lacking in the social skills that they had when they were our age. Yeah so maybe you would rather sit on the couch at a family gathering and text your friends about how bored you are, or it could be less nerve-wracking for you to text your crush rather than asking them on a date. But  if you really think about these things, they’re kind of sad because you are potentially allowing yourself to miss out on so many little things, like the joy of laughing with your friends instead of typing “LOL” while you actually maintain a straight face. Even though thesScreen Shot 2015-03-27 at 7.45.38 PMe things may make me sound like a grandma, I would like to point our that there are plenty of studies that prove that this concept is actually true.

One study in particular held by UCLA included sixth graders whom were separated from their devices and had no choice but to interact with each other during a week of summer camp. These children were occupied with other social activities; they had no choice but to interact with one another. Meanwhile, the control group whom did not have their devices taken away maintained their usual interactions with social media. The end result proved that the children who did not have any contact with their technological devices showed an increased understanding and capability of identifying emotions; the control group essentially remained the same. Yes it’s true that these are only children, but these children are at at point in their lives where that are capable of understanding complex human reactions. Similar studies on adults proved to have similar results as well.

Maybe parents should monitor their children’s access to social media mScreen Shot 2015-03-27 at 7.45.21 PMore so to avoid these situations? Unfortunately there are a lot of difficulties regarding this possible solution. Today’s society is so heavily reliant on technology that, even if the child’s technology use is limited at home, their education will now heavily rely on it as well. Today’s children are learning how to do essentially everything with technology. Yet, this is not necessarily a bad thing either, because by the time these kids are our age, they’re going to appear as if they’re miniature Einstein’s. in our eyes when we are no longer up to date with all the modern technology. This is very important because at the rate the world is going at, we are probably going to have hover cars in the near future.

Technology is moving too fast to even make an attempt at avoiding using it. It’s literally everywhere. But knowing the possible strains it may cause on our social skills is very important. As long as we are aware of such issues I think that we could easily make time to not use technology for a little bit, maybe even do something crazy like have a small gathering with our friends as opposed to just texting in the group chat. Now that you’re done reading this I think you maybe turn off your computer, go outside, and take up a new hobby to try and make some new friends! (and try not to tweet about it)

How Coding is Affecting Citizenship

Digital tools, as we’ve been learning, are a valuable asset when it comes to studying the humanities. With this in mind, I wondered, what other unexpected areas are similarly touched by technology? As it turns out, there’s a concentrated effort to transform the government – in all its massive, extensive, and inefficient glory – with open-source programs and teams of everyday coders. Code for America, founded in 2009, is a nonprofit organization that seeks to change the government with the use of technology.

This organization focuses on working with local governments. It enlists technologically-apt “fellows” to work in partnership with various local government for a year, in an effort to improve health, economic development, and safety & justice. In addition, they sponsor volunteer brigades, a network of interested government workers, and a few other groups in order to make the government more technologically-minded.

In this TED Talk video, Jennifer Pahlka talks about the vision Code for America has for government and citizenship. She makes it clear that embracing open source technology and creating apps that encourage people to take on more civic responsibilities can have a huge impact on the relationship between government and citizens.

While I was browsing through some of the applications Code for America has created, I found a few great examples of the different ways in which technology can impact us. For instance, take the “Public Art Finder” app, which is currently available in five U.S. cities. It allows users to find and learn about public art using a map interface, thus supporting local art and bringing interested citizens to it. I also looked at Boston’s “DiscoverBPS” app, which offers parents information on the admittance requirements, data, and test scores of area schools they might consider for their children.



What really stood out to me was how open all of these resources are. While I don’t know nearly enough about technology to understand how these apps work and how they can be spread, it is clear that this organization provides anyone looking at these programs with their codebases and instructions (albeit complicated ones) on how to employ them in your area. All of the information is accessible and open, serving as an example of the kind of change that can be made with the use of digital tools.


Get Your Head in the Game: The Medium of Visual Novels

What exactly qualifies as literature? A century ago, the answer to that question was pretty straightforward: novels, plays, short stories, poetry, creative nonfiction – basically any form of creative writing. Nowadays, many people (including myself) would argue that that list should be expanded to contain more modern forms such as movies, television, comics, and even video games, but humanity as a whole has yet to come to a consensus on whether or not these media belong in the same category as the works of history’s most revered writers. But the controversy doesn’t stop there; the line between what is and is not literature has recently become even more distorted with the advent of a new art form: the visual novel.

If you’ve never heard of visual novels, don’t worry; you’re not totally out of the loop. Right now, visual novels are not very well-known in the English speaking world due to the vast majority being produced in Japan, although in the past few years, more and more have been getting English localizations through the gaming website Steam, and others have fan translations that can be easily downloaded. What exactly is a visual novel, you ask? It’s a type of game, usually released for computers, but often available for platforms like Playstation and Xbox systems and mobile devices as well. The game tells a story, usually from the first person point of view, through text providing the narration and dialogue (which is often voiced), as images of the scenery and characters (generally in an anime art style) are shown on the screen and background music plays. Here’s a sample of what a visual novel might look like:

From "Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: Onikakushi-hen" (07th Expansion)
From “Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: Onikakushi-hen” (07th Expansion)

While some visual novels have linear storylines, most play similarly to a Choose Your Own Adventure book; the player, taking on the role of the protagonist, makes decisions which affect the ending of the story. These visual novels are intended to be played multiple times so the player can see each possible ending. This is what it looks like in Key Visual Arts’ “Rewrite” when the protagonist is asked whether he would rather change the world or himself:

Some visual novels focus almost entirely on the story and are really not much like video games at all, whereas others include gameplay elements as well. For example, my personal favorite visual novel, Key Visual Arts’ “Little Busters!”, is about a high school baseball team, and it includes a minigame in which the player can practice batting:

And then there are more traditional video games which include visual novel content as a secondary aspect of the experience, like KLab’s “Love Live! School Idol Festival,” which is primarily a rhythm game, but allows the player to unlock new chapters of a story upon completing gameplay-related goals.

So are visual novels literature, or is it misleading for them to even be called novels? It’s really a matter of personal opinion, but I think there’s something to be said for the fact that many visual novels evoke emotional responses in their players just as intense as the ones felt by the readers of traditional novels. Regardless of where you stand on the matter, it can’t hurt to try one out if you have some spare time.