October 29, 2008 at 6:28 PMIn all the nauseatingly ubiquitous election coverage on the radio, one statement about the voting system made me laugh out loud:
"It's not so much that the voting technology is flawed, it's how the actual voter interacts with the technology that is flawed," the expert said.
In other words, voters are instructed to fill in a bubble, and they circle it. The segment went on to describe a voter who actually kissed the ballot, leaving her selections to be deciphered in lipstick. Some folks understand the instructions, some misunderstand the instructions, some don't bother to listen to instructions at all.
Does this have a parallel with the violin? It's not the violin, it's how we interact with it. How do we figure out how to interact with it?
For some reason I thought of this when I was trying to describe to one of my students how to hold her left wrist. I told her not to bend her hand forward or backward, but to keep her wrist straight. I even had nifty terms made up to describe how NOT to hold it: flipping the hand backwards creates a "pancake wrist," and flipping the hand too far forward makes a "goose neck." Holding it straight was "just right."
She's a smart student who listens to instructions. These were not bad instructions, either. Pretty thorough, if I do say.
But every time I reminded her, "Straighten your wrist!" she would flip her hand forward, making that "goose neck." So I would start over, explaining it. Finally, I had her look in the mirror, and I positioned her wrist exactly the way I was seeking.
"Oh!" she said, the light bulb over her head illuminating the entire room. "I get it! You want me to hold it diagonally!"
To me, "straight" meant no kinks, to her, "straight" meant straight up and down, perpendicular to the floor.
"Exactly," I said. "Diagonally!"
New vocabulary = Problem solved!
I think you put your finger right on the issue, as came out also in the T-shirt blog as well. It's a question of labels vs. concepts.
As long as people tend to stick labels on people or things, they don't have to go through the effort of understanding the concepts behind them. In these past days I have seen people being called (or calling themselves) terrorist, socialist, hockey mom, maverick. These labels are all great for marketing, but not for understanding - and can be eventually misleading. Upon close examination in fact they all mean the same thing: nothing. The underlying concepts are far more complex, yet few people try to dig that far down.
One of the biggest labels of all times, the economist and bonafide bogeyman Karl Marx, once famously said that "if this is marxism, I'm not a Marxist". And if HE said so...
So I would say that understanding the concept should precede the labelling, if at all possible.
(I press "submit", now, right? deep breath...)
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