The Physical Real

Both Gee and Turkle introduce some terms that really resonated. However, I found myself looking for common ground in the work of the two scholars and thought that Turkle’s concept of the physical real is a locus that can be used to connect arguments from Alone Together and What Video Games Have to Teach Us. The physical real is one of those concepts that is so rudimentary that it is hard to explain.

Without embarking on an ontological, existential or semantic debate about What is real?… The physical real is the set of interactions (and also the domain for those interactions) with objects, people and the world in general in the absence of electronic communication devices. One way of thinking of the physical real is that it stands in opposition to the virtual – which is also real. We can think of the physical real as the reality that exists without the internet, cell phones, email etc. in the form of face to face communication and reflecting in solitude (although Turkle does seem to include phone calls in the domain of the physical real). Although she uses the term a few times, Turkle does not explicitly define the term or discuss its importance in learning, however, some of the arguments offered by Gee demonstrate the importance of the physical real in learning. 

In his discussions of video games, Gee demonstrates how a six-year old gamer is being exposed to internal design when playing a video game and external design when interacting with the affinity group, thinking critically about the game and applying meta-level thinking to apply learnings across semiotic domains. All of the external events, such as critical thinking, community interaction and metacognition occur in the physical real, while the actual game is played in the virtual real. Gee elaborates on the connection between the external and internal designs and how learnings from each of those domains influences the other. Turkle, while speaking about addiction, seems to call for a need for balance, i.e. for the physical and virtual realities to be connected and for us to have physical real conversations, as well as taking the time to reflect alone. She makes a clear distinction between the physical and the virtual, while Gee’s affinity groups and critical thinking are facilitated by the virtual. Overall, it seems the virtual real can facilitate lower order thinking/learning, but the physical real (in communities, conversations, tackling real problems and just thinking critically or reflectively) is where higher-order thinking/learning occurs.



Dr. Sherry Turkle (2011) Alone Together

Gee, J. 2007. Semiotic Domains: Is playing video games a “waste of time?” In What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy (pp.17-45). New York: Palgrave and Macmillian.

James Paul Gee, Video Games, Learning and Literacy

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