Ming the Mechanic:
Pattern Matching

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Pattern Matching2003-03-04 19:37
11 comments
by Flemming Funch

An English essay written by a teenager baffled her teacher, because she couldn't decipher what it said. It was written in text messaging short-hand, like what teenagers use to message each other on cell phones, or like what is used in fast-moving chat rooms. It started like this:
"My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kids FTF. ILNY, it's a gr8 plc."
Well, that is not all that hard if you're used to seeing that kind of messages. It simply says:
"My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York. It's a great place."
Teachers and parents would typically think it is a horrible thing, that kids can't read and write in normal ways, and it means that education is going down the drain. Maybe that's what it means, and maybe it is bad. But it is also worth looking at, that what is emerging is different forms of communication, that cultivate different types of skill. To read messages like those, you're not using the same linear literary and literal skills previous generations would use. Many things are happening by pattern matching. You figure things out, not by a standard interpretation, but by looking at the whole picture and guessing at what it might mean. I notice that kids today appear to have rather advanced skills in some areas that I didn't at all have when I was a kid. My 3 year old daughter seems to learn things by some kind of pattern matching osmosis, without necessarily going through the 'logical' steps of getting there. There's a thousand channels on our cable TV, and she's not really fluent with numbers over 10, but she'll quite easily surf around between the channels she likes. Just like she can operate a web browser quite well without being able to read. It is like the new generations are evolving some skills that allow them to deal with complexity without getting confused. Because they aren't trying to reduce everything to linear logic. Maybe that is a good thing.


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11 comments

5 Mar 2003 @ 10:01 by catana : Potential unleashed?
Pattern matching is wired into the human brain, but it was originally meant for a concrete world: animal=danger, stranger=enemy, etc. Our world seems to be becoming more abstractly visual, if that makes sense. The whole environment moves fast, and much of it is fairly abstract, so it may be turning pattern matching in new directions. All to the good, I say, even if the kids can't spell.  


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