Copy this down

It has been popular to state that the Internet has moved from ‘read’ only (consumers) to read/write (sharers and co-creators). It has been repeated by thousands of citizen-journalists to become somewhat of a trope in online-edu-culture.

Plagiarism is still frowned upon as being cheating, where as collecting other peoples work is now called curating or following. I spent half my career being an artist. I like to spend at least 2-3 hours a week drawing. I learned to be an artist by doing two things, accepting the world cannot be made stable, but people can be made to pay attention. The second is less philosophic – it’s good old fashioned copying. It takes a lot of time to select the right things to copy. It takes a lot of reading and deciding what is worth copying, and who from. It takes even more time to decode the artwork and copy it faithfully. Finally, you get to add that small new addition or twist of your own.

I hassled out my kids this week to do some copying using a Windows 8 Slate, pressure-sensitive pen and Sketchmaster Pro. We headed into the always mind-melting Deviant Art and they selected some sketches which they mercilessly control-c’d and control-v’d into Sketchmaster. For the rest of the week they learned how to trace the lines, how lines are just taking the mind for a walk – and how the software works by experimenting and me showing them how to copy brilliantly. In fact you can buy a Slate for about $500 which is half the price of a Wacom 13″ and doesn’t need a computer – and get really good results.

There’s no shame is copying. Copying teaches pattern recognition, how lines and text hold the ideas and best of all copying always gives immediate context. There’s nothing abstract or fuzzy about copying. Copying is essential to games-media evolution. Players seeking to learn, need to have things to copy from. They actually hate fuzzy, vague and incomplete rhetoric. Unlike school, there’s no philosophic argument over the degree it exists.  I games, there’s no room for rhetoric and show-boating. You can’t fake your way to level 90 in Warcraft, like you can in Powerpoint.

Over time, players perfect the critical skill of selecting what is worth copying and applying to their game. I think gamers tend to make things for the intentional purpose of being copied. They don’t do what many educatoring-gurus do – lead you down the garden path of potential, only to sell you something vague at the end you have to still figure out. It’s all clear and explict. My kids tune out if I try to BS them about how to do a quest or build something in Minecraft. You can’t fool them for a minute, let alone years. My kids can spot a ‘tech’ BS-Artist in under 30 seconds. In gaming, you can always get the answer, but that’s not the objective at all … unlike school where knowing the answer is 99% of being called “smart”. Kids dont’ want to repeat the answers … that’s not the kind of copying I’m talking about.

I question the value of copying in class, as it seems a hightly productive element of how kids are learning out of it. I don’t mean copying information (that’s stupid), I mean being able to trace and copy methodology and then apply to something that matters. It doesn’t have to be unique or even innovative. I can just be a copy and still have validity. Pilots copy the perfect landing, musicians copy tone and music samples, doctors copy proceedures.

As a parent, I’m here to say that I encourage my kids to copy it. I know won’t dent their creativity or make them bored. I point out how something is made, how to assemble it and pull it apart and get them to do it over and over until the master it (or get bored). There’s no moving on ’till they do – because that’s how the world works. No shortcuts – sit on Twitter all day, you still won’t get the kind of free-handout to make more sense of the world, just become a zombie-sheep I guess.

Kid’s don’t have to make new new new and unique unique unique – until THEY want to. I suspect kids are being pushed into ‘innovation’ as some weird teacher construct – as the trope that gave us ‘the shift’ has the sequel “the innovative teacher’. Rubbish, copy everything, steal the lot and stand on top of the pile. That’s how to rule the world.