Thinking through the box


We have a moody wi-fi connection at home. Just when we make up our mind to terminate the service and move to the different provider, it will work super fast, and just when we get used to having great data transmission speeds and start updating all those Apps on the iPad, it will come to a screeching halt.

It was one such frustrating evening and my son came up all flustered to me. “I have to do some research. And, the Internet is not working, again!” I proceeded to calm him down and asked him what exactly he needed to do. He was pulling together an initiative for his school. Every kid in school would own a plant that they would grow in individual pots in their class. They would care for it, learning responsibility, nurturing and some biology and eco consciousness along the way. He wanted to list down the suitable plants and instructions on how to grow them and he needed internet for that.

“Seriously?”, I thought. I mean, we have a garden patch which by Bangalore terms is quite large. Did it really not occur to him to go in and study what we have in there or ask me or his grandmother, who tends the garden ferociously, a few questions to understand how to grow local plants in a pot?!

Until that moment I had difficulty putting my finger on what exactly is missing in the Google culture we all live in. Internet has actually been a wonderful thing. For generations, human beings learnt things only through contact. Wisdom was passed on from generation to generation, carefully taught through experiences and formal lessons.

Then came print. The introduction of print was revolutionary. Set up the press and voila, multiple  copies can be printed. For the first time in human (known) history, knowledge could be recorded in books and shared across oceans and beyond mountains. (It was so good that we created a whole education industry around memorising what is print and reproducing that faithfully in exams).

Internet changed the entire dimension of the learning scene much more rapidly. Not just written knowledge and facts, but videos are now shared, within minutes, across the Globe, with a single piece of content reaching millions at the same time.

So it has to be good, right? Agreed, there is a lot of content that needs to be checked for sanity and authenticity, but the effect of the Internet is pretty powerful. So powerful that I cannot imagine today’s kids going through school without it.

However, there seems to be an emptiness in the middle of it and I had been struggling to name it; that was, until that evening, when my frustrated son felt helpless to learn about gardening without the help of Internet.

It feels dumb to be writing this. The verdict on this has been clearly on the wall, so to say. There are articles and articles devoted to and debating if Internet is really a good thing. Parenting advice constantly features how to reduce screen time for the kids. (Here is one with a contrasting view) Keeping electronics away during dinner time is considered virtuous. But it had not been clear to me what exactly we were afraid of until that minute.

That minute, it struck me that by presenting knowledge and experience in an enticing package that can be easily consumed, we are cutting short the way mind learns. Human mind learns by experience which in turn feeds intuition. It is by developing intuition that we can unlock intelligence that makes us understand things that are beyond books or recorded knowledge. Feeling the mud flow through your fingers, noticing how the earth reacts when you strike it with a shovel, observing when the first shoot breaks through the soil, watching the first leaves unfold is a much deeper learning than a video can ever provide.

Without intuitive involvement we are in danger of believing that we are doing the right thing just by thinking the right thought. That cannot be enough, not from where we are now. We have to step outside the box and feel the earth below our feet, wind in the hair and the universe that is every part of our being.

I can’t mention the team “wind in the hair” without remembering the below words of Kahlil Gubran from the evergreen “Prophet”. So here goes…

On Clothes
 Kahlil Gibran

Your clothes conceal much of your beauty, yet they hide not the unbeautiful.
And though you seek in garments the freedom of privacy you may find in them a harness and a chain.
Would that you could meet the sun and the wind with more of your skin and less of your raiment,
For the breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind.

Some of you say,”It is the north wind who has woven the clothes we wear.”
And I say, Ay, it was the north wind,
But shame was his loom, and the softening of the sinews was his thread.
And when his work was done he laughed in the forest.
Forget not that modesty is for a shield against the eye of the unclean.

And when the unclean shall be no more, what were modesty but a fetter and a fouling of the mind?
And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.



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