Six hundred thousand

I boarded the Flinders Street train heading back to the city at the end of another work week. Sitting right across my usual spot on the train was a young girl, no more than 7 or 8 years old. She was holding up her little toddler brother while her mother spooned what would appear to be the final teaspoonfuls of pumpkin puree into the little baby brother’s mouth.

Daughter was very chatty. The whole time, they were discussing a game that both were playing. It involved breeding dragons, hatching eggs and collecting dragoncash, treats, gems (after a bit of googling, I’m led to believe that the game in question is DragonVale).

On the topic of the resources that they’d stockpiled so far, daughter mentioned that she had accumulated more than 600,000 treats and was consulting mother as to what she could best use it for.

Six hundred thousand.

This got me thinking. When I was her age, I didn’t have any tangible concept of enumeration beyond perhaps a thousand. Given, there was a vague awareness of millions, billions and gogolplexes (which likely only emerged in my consciousness when I was 11 or 12 years old), but even they¬†were just words we used in bouts of “who can say the bigger number”. I doubt I could’ve strung number scales together (e.g. “hundred thousand”, “ten million”), and I certainly hadn’t painstakingly amass 600,000 of anything, ¬†even till this day.

I wonder what such an awareness does to a person, and how it will go on to shape the way one goes on to interprets the world around.

Dead tree libraries and exploratory learning

Wifey and I were driving in the car yesterday morning when the thought hit me: will I ever get to take my kids to a real library with dead-tree books? Somewhere in the background, this question was made starker by the recent introduction of one Kindle DX device into the household.

But back to the question about kids and library trips, mom used to take my brother and I to the library when we were young.

My most distinct memory of the whole experience was how sick I’d feel right before we made a trip to the library because I’d misplaced the soon overdue books we’re needing to return. It was then in my early years, I learned that being stressed out is a luxury one cannot afford when the the car engine’s started and the whole family is waiting in the driveway. I also learned that if you’re planning on hoarding lots of stuff, they should ideally be digital and indexable.

But I digress. My second distinct memory is that of the state library we would frequent. Upon entrance, it had two clearly defined section: a section for children, and a section for grown-ups. You could tell which was which by the way spaces were furnished, and how high the bookshelves stood, but you could also tell because the kids’ section smelled like children. I’d always try to steal a whiff from the grown-up section: the smell of grown-up knowledge and wisdom.

The only times I got to enter the grown-up section were when we were about to leave. Mom would send me to get dad who was busy looking up some motorcycle manual, or something about stock markets, or something about computers. Oh, what joy for me – shelves taller than the eye could see, amber coloured monochromatic computer screens to look up books, and… THEY HAD AN UPSTAIRS: double delight!

I would take my time to browse through the shelves as though I were looking for something, while hoping for the day I could understand what lay behind the incredibly serious looking covers with photo realistic pictures and titles I couldn’t pronounce.

Those trips to the library gave me something to look forward to. The whiff “knowledgeable” adulthood ever so gently nudged me to grow up a little quicker, if for nothing other than to be able to reach for the higher shelves.

I fear my kids may not have this experience. Their earliest recollections of knowledge repositories may very well begin a 4-coloured logotype, a blinking text cursor, and a button that says “Search”. What’s a seven-year-old to type in the box? How’s a child going to search for something that he/she doesn’t even know exist? And how’s a child to defend him/herself from the every increasing ubiquity of attention grabbing advertisements that seek to colour his/her mind for their commercial purposes.

I sure hope we don’t screw it up too badly for them.