I had a long discussion with a friend about the genius or lack of same of a certain political personage. He insisted that the power to quote extensive passages of text and to remember dates and the names of historic figures, was evidence of his brilliance. But, I pointed out to him, I’ve never heard him make a joke, nor deliver a well constructed irony. He lacks humor, I concluded, and humor is evidence that a person has a superior intellect. I have always believed that bringing a smile to others is more difficult than generating fanaticism in a multitude. Not only in the case of public figures, but also in education. To teach in a fun way can foster better connections with students. We tend to remember better what we have learned while entertained, versus through weary predictability.
This is the case with the knowledge of computer security that comes to us through the new videogame game Espabilao. Quimbumbia, its group of Cuban developers, has made this incredibly instructive amusement available to the citizens of the Island. It is the story of Pix, a robot, who must protect the personal data that his naive owner, Ale, has left scattered around the Internet. The protagonist’s tasks focus on improving the strength of passwords, detecting, in time, websites that could capture private information, and eliminating navigational hazards. A story told with humor and cleverness, but also with years of knowledge accumulated by internauts, digital activists and cyberspace users. Learning through cunning and seemingly playful challenges, but deriving much needed and serious results.
After coming to know the Quimbumbia project and Espabilao, its latest offering, I now have another element to convince my skeptical friend. “You see,” I will tell him, “sharpness doesn’t have to be so boringly serious, nor does teaching have to make you want to yawn.” Probably he will carry on with his examples of pompous orators and statistics that overwhelm the statisticians. I, however, prefer the approach practiced by Pix… the laughter that accompanies it teaches us and leaves what we learn indelibly etched in our memory. Humor, I continue to believe, is the most complete display of human genius… which is why the mediocre and the authoritarian are so bad at it.
26 November 2013