Stop the medium bias

Anna MitchellWe live in the depths of a mixed-media world. We have had access to television, computers, dozens of gaming systems, music players, e-readers… the list is exhaustive.

I believe that, by growing up in such a multi-media world, my generation is better than those who have preceded us at discerning “good” information from “bad” information at a quick glance. We have to be good at it — a lot of information is thrown at us at rapid speeds all day, every day. We have learned to judge not the format of information, but the quality of it.

So sometimes, it surprises me when I see people be biased against something just because of the type of format it is presented in.

For example, earlier this semester I was talking to my roommate about her graduate Jane Austen class. The conversation came around to literary spin-offs, and I asked if they had discussed the recent YouTube sensation “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” a modernized adaptation of the classic “Pride and Prejudice” story.

“We really only talk about material that’s more… academic,” she replied, glancing over at her bookshelf of Pride and Prejudice spin-off novels.

This answer surprised me.

“The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” and the spin-offs that accompany it, premiered on YouTube last April. From an acclaimed creative team led by Hank Green and Bernie Su, the story is retold through a social media platform utilizing formats such as online video, Twitter and Tumblr.

In an adaptation where Charles Bingley becomes medical student Bing Lee and Kitty Bennet is literally a cat, “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” explores the relationships of Austen’s beloved characters. Taking characters who are over-brimming with the traditions of Regency England and placing them into a modern context. It takes the seemingly dated trials and tribulations of people from a very different time and then shows how those problems are not nearly as dated as we believe them to be.

Understanding historical problems into modern context is an important — if not arguably the most important — facet to a well-rounded education. Understanding history allows ourselves to understand the present and what to expect from the future.

And that is the power of a very well-made modern adaptation of a classic story.

How can someone so easily dismiss a piece of work simply because it is presented through an interactive story platform instead of a printing press?

Simply because something is found online instead of in print does not make it less academic. Not all things that are printed are of outstanding quality, and not all things on the Internet are bad.

Educational circles often look down upon digital mediums because it’s not steeped in the same tradition and history as printed text. This is the reason why it is taboo for me to link to a Wikipedia article in the newspaper, despite countless sources (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reliability_of_Wikipedia#Assessments) agreeing that Wikipedia is no more flawed than any printed encyclopedia.

That’s not to say that Wikipedia is without its limitations, but we are fast to acknowledge those without acknowledging the limitations of print materials.

I love books. Print is a noble tradition, but that doesn’t mean once something is published it is instantly superior to other forms of information sharing or story-telling.

Mixed media format does not automatically injure the credibility of material.

And there is so much quality material to be found online — and for free.

There’s the Khan Academy, TED Talks, RSA Animate, Vi Hart, Crash Course, CGP Grey, SciShow… These are just a handful of the available YouTube channels that cater to educational purposes. That’s not to mention the boundless education websites and other forms of digital media that make incredible teaching tools.

Fifty years ago it was taboo to do little more than stand up in front of a classroom and lecture. Now, it’s normal to do things like show supplementary film clips of the novel-to-movie adaptation in an English class.

I hope that soon we can recognize the scholastic value of online projects in the same way we are beginning to welcome other mediums.

Anna Mitchell is a junior liberal arts major. Her columns appear Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.