Various technofreaks and futurologists champion the idea that young people are several steps ahead of education. The argument runs that they access ideas and knowledge in ways that standard, traditional education doesn't and possibly can't match.
I'm agnostic on this at the moment but I found myself catching my breath today interviewing Laura Hunter, who is one of the scriptwriters on 'Skins', the soap on E4. I didn't know (why would I?) that the characters are on twitter and people - that's real people - have conversations with the characters. That's not the actors, OK? It's the characters.
When she told me this - it was for an interview for 'Word of Mouth' going out on Radio 4 tomorrow - I was caught out. The first thing that came to mind is that this is the kind of 'empathy' work that English teachers, drama teachers and writers have been doing in schools for a good few years now. Instead of trying to tie students down to right and wrong answers, we try to get the students (or young children) to be the character in a book, play or poem and get others in a class to quiz them - why did you do that? what do you want to do now? - and that sort of thing. It harnesses the non-explicit knowledge that the class might have about a book or a character and gets them to think creatively about the dilemmas that they're in.
And whaddyaknow - there's a soap doing just that. So, yes, I thought, that might count as an example of how young people are accessing knowledge and ideas outside of school through new technology.
Then I got an ideological twinge. I suffer from them. Surely, wasn't this one step too far on the madness that is 'naturalism'? Getting involved in a drama as enacted by actors is fine, but isn't there a point where it's ideal that we come out of the involvement phase and start to put what we've seen and 'been in' into the context of our lives, the lives of people around us, and questions of ethics and values. Wasn't that what Brecht was saying in eg 'The Messingkauf Dialogues'? Isn't it what happens in Shakespeare's plays where characters comment on each other's actions - or their own - through thinking out loud and sharing those thoughts obviously with us the audience? We get round behind the immediate flow of emotions that arise within the watching of a particular scene. That's the idea: 'alienation effect' - so-called.
But here young people are tweeting the characters in a soap...and...er believing that they're talking to the character...not the actor...with no alienation effect in sight.
But then why should there be?
Amazeballs, as they say on 'Skins'. Apparently.
'Word of Mouth' Radio 4 Monday 4.00pm, Tuesday 11.00pm and then iPlayer.