Review: Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age

This past April, when I explained what my vision of Augmented Reality Gaming to David Hatfield in Learning Sciences, he asked if I’d read The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer and gave me his copy. I finished the coursework reading and started reading it for pleasure, but then went to Maine and forgot it in Wisconsin. Well, I found it again, and finished it.

To me, The Diamond Age is about video games in education. The Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer is essentially a personalized video game and nanny. Three such books were employed for three girls — one was ‘racted’ largely by a daughter’s often-distracted father, one by a single actress who took on the role with the dedication of a mother-figure, and one was racted by assorted anonymous ractors, who saw their role as temp workers — no real commitment. Having just come off reading Nicolas Nova’s (2003) literature review of space and proximity, including forays into mixed reality, I couldn’t help but draw some parallel ties to the proximity of characters here. Milgram’s famous experiments shadowed in my mind too.

So, what is (or can/should be) the role of space and proximity in our Augmented Reality Games? How close are the social ties in various incarnations of Social Computing? What connections do MMORPG gamers feel toward each other (Constance Steinkuehler addresses this in her research).

My favorite quote from the book: “Nell,” the Constable continued, indicating through his tone of voice that the lesson was concluding, “the difference between ignorant and educated people is that the latter know more facts. But that has nothing to do with whether they are stupid or intelligent. The difference between stupid and intelligent people — and this is true whether or not they are well-educated—is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations—in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward” (p. 237).

Although there are several others that I like a lot.

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