Yesterday, Adin came in and offered to host a 5-hour Doctor Who marathon. The projector glow mingled with the hum of recorded voices, and the resulting spell pulled passers-by through the door to the Red Room. Some kids powered through the whole marathon while others dropped in and out as they pleased. I was invited in but declined, citing my low screen endurance.
I did end up sitting outside the door once most of the kids were inside. It’s a thing I do often: bring my own task to the edge of whatever else is happening, just to listen for reactions, discussions, patterns, opportunities. My task this time was to sort through the thoughts and feelings that watching nine young people spend a whole, sunny day in a dark room brought up for me. In an article about Netflix and binge-watching television shows (which are now generally written more as chapters in complex stories than distinct episodes featuring consistent characters), I read how a social anthropologist explained the draw of these shows in terms of consumer desires rather than show content: “We’re actually craving the long narratives that today’s best television series can provide. Instead of dealing with our life’s stresses by zoning out, we’d rather become engrossed in an entirely different (and fictional) world.” I dove into the internets, reading about inventions inspired by science fiction, how different kinds of fiction consumption impact theory of mind, what criteria has been used to distinguish “good tv” from “bad tv.”
After all of it, I believe pretty much the same things I did when I started. Stories help us make sense of the world and each other. They can help us learn from experiences that our bodies are not actually experiencing, empathize with those different from us, and open ourselves to ways of thinking that are not our own. Fiction stories can encourage creativity and philosophic ponderings. Mysteries and puzzles (including predicting what will happen next or playing at creating alternate endings) present opportunities to practice attention-to-details, exploring connections between causes and effects, and examining the plausibility of various theories. Keeping track of lists of characters and settings, along with their histories and relationships (Lord of the Rings?!?) takes sustained focus and declarative memory. Passively consuming stories pre-illustrated on screens bright enough to strain retinas, while in a position that puts stress on human spines doesn’t appeal to me at all. And honestly, I would worry seeing someone I care about engaging in such behavior without intention or balancing it with other activities.
But after thinking a one day marathon, hosted and attended intentionally, with both reflections and active, creative games after, really shouldn’t and doesn’t worry me.
Students scheduled an afternoon screening of two Doctor Who episodes today. Right now, I’m sitting on the floor outside the Red Room (where all but one student is presently sitting…the show paused at this moment for another 5-minute-philosophy discussion with Mary). The human just denied having slaves in her time and species; the Time Lord countered by asking who made her clothes; I wondered how many of the kids would take the cue and question their own clothes. But now isn’t a good time to interrupt and ask…they just received some kind of a clue–something about breaking circles to allow captives to sing–and they’re busy puzzling out what it means. I’m happy to leave them to it.