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Annihilating Space?

Friday, a number of us attended a talk by Dr. Ellen Handler Spitz titled “Reflections On Space and Childhood.” Dr. Spitz presented a thorough investigation of how children use and explore space through play. She emphasized the importance of understanding and preserving child-centered spaces, even if they appear messy and disorganized to adults!

Dr. Spitz made only a passing, less than complimentary, reference to technology, but it resonated with me. She said that technology was “annihilating space.” This powerful turn of phrase suggests to me that individuals equipped with technology may overcome obstacles of distance and the limitations of some physical media. It also suggests that sitting at a computer workstation disconnects an individual from one’s immediate surroundings or at least renders them unimportant.

This characterization of technology contributes to a myth that is particularly difficult to dislodge in educational circles. Virtual technology spaces are not the opposite of the material world. This oversimplification is both inaccurate and does a disservice to serious consideration of the useful roles of technology in all disciplines, including art.

Painting and drawing are rarely considered virtual in nature, but the images produced with paint, graphite, and canvas are hardly concrete. They create a representation of an image that transcends the raw materials and taps into people’s imaginations. Though easier to manipulate, the activation of light-producing LCD pixels through computer commands is not the opposite of drawing but rather just another form of the creative process.

Music stands as another powerful example. Musicians have successfully blurred the boundaries between analog and digital instruments. Sounds waves of music create a mental representation much in the way that light waves create an image in the mind.

Dr. Spitz’s most compelling examples concerned the distribution of physical, play materials in a house or the painting of images on a wall. If children act as artists through play, they can certainly find rich playgrounds using technology.

Rather than destroying space, technology creates cyberspaces that children and adults alike may explore. Adopting a multifaceted view of technology is essential to furthering our understanding of the role of technology in the arts.