When I was in seventh grade, I got a C in my typing class. I could not apply myself to the dull Mavis Beacon exercises intended to impart perfect QWERTY precision. I hen-pecked my way through the course (badly), always sneaking spare minutes of games like Brick-Out whenever the instructor walked out of view. I found the class utterly miserable, and I did not learn how to type.
I now type proficiently and do not see the task as a chore. For the purpose of this writing, I pulled up a quick typing test and achieved a speed of 95 WPM- pretty decent. In the old Mavis Beacon days, I probably two-finger-typed a speed of 25 or 30 WPM. What magic instructive program brought me up to speed?
I learned how to type, really type in perfect QWERTY form by using America Online’s instant messenger. Not to bore the reader with the obvious, but these rascally gen-Y kids really love their internet-talk. I spent several hours per school night on AIM and Yahoo’s Instant Messenger as a teen, rotting my brain with inane discussions but sharpening my typing all the while.
I slowly evolved from two-finger pecking to using four fingers, then added my thumbs and so on until I naturally settled on the proscribed form. As so often occurs in nature, the bottom-up, environment driven change beat out the attempt at a forced top-down one. No contrived course taught me to type: having fun while typing taught me to type.
I learned to use a computer by playing computer games, chatting with friends, and surfing the internet. The basic computer skills that older generations had to force upon themselves simply came naturally to those who played with technology all their lives. Age and neural plasticity is a factor, sure, but finding fun in a new task is also key. I’m sure computer gamers and frequent internet porn consumers also catch on to the changing technology with great speed.
I have often used fun diversions as a way to be productive. As a young kid I was also horribly inactive and uncoordinated, devoting more time to books than to tag or t-ball. I only got in shape when I discovered fun ways to move- in my case, kickboxing, cycling and swimming. Fun and games also played a huge factor: fitness video games such as Dance Dance Revolution, Wii Fit and EA Sports Active are a heavy staple of my fitness regimen, and have been since high school. I only learned to appreciate physical health when it became an immediately rewarding experience.
I am a true believer in fun’s import in leading a productive and rewarding life. I’ve only achieved good grades when I’ve studied subjects that actually interest me. I’ve only been happy and successful with work that actually rewards me in an intrinsic way. Several times I have found myself slipping away from a pressing (but boring) paper to instead place great effort into writing for DI. Usually the spark that comes from having fun writing is enough to get both work and play done.
There is a thematic connection between this post and the XKCD comic I shared last week. Technology is often bemoaned as the harbringer of lazy thinking and slacking behavior. Video games raise obesity and promote violence, and instant messaging dismantles writing ability. Worst of all, the youth who sprout in the days of such inventions are empty, useless vessels. I feel compelled to rally against such anti-technology, anti-youth, anti-future thinking because my experience has been the exact opposite.