I have been stuck on what seems to be a cursed train journey back to London, and as a result, I have become deeply acquainted to the game Flappy Bird. No I have not planned my lessons yet. No I have not finished my Masters degree work. Yes, I have played Flappy Bird for the last hour.
The psychological pull of my profession led me to feel increasingly guilty whilst playing, to the point where I began ruminating on teaching whilst flappybirding. And then, like magic, it all became clear.
Flappy Bird is learning.
From an outsider’s perspective, it can look like the easiest or the most difficult thing imaginable, depending on who you watch. If you see a seasoned Flapping expert, you cannot even conceive of how ridiculously poor you are at it once you finally have a go yourself. If you are watching an absolute newbie fail again and again, it seems laughable, funny and pathetic. ‘Give me that iPad, you fool’, you think, ‘my blind gran could do better, you shambles!’
As you watch, you feel you are watching something a bit special – sometimes it leaves you thinking, ‘Hmm maybe I’ll go and have a little Flap later, when nobody is looking’. There is a poetic alchemy to the way that little critter throws himself through those gaps in the wall so effortlessly. It is very difficult to be an idle bystander without it leaving that little thought in your head that says “I want a turn.”
But oh my days. When you first start Flappy Bird, the pressure on you to give up straight away is unbearable. Time and again, I fail to beat the highscore of Zero, and with every little birdy whimper the Flappy Critter makes, it feels like a kick square in the face. You look around and feel stupid, thinking “I hope nobody is watching how awful I am at this.”
You face the dilemma.
Do I give up or carry on? Neither feels appealing.
If I quit at something that other people seem to find so easy, it is deeply shaming. Do I want to be seen as one of those people who can’t play Flappy Bird? Of course I don’t.
But then if I choose to go on, is there really much pride to be found in failing again and again? Publicly, and on a train? It almost becomes worse the more you try, when the outcomes don’t budge.
But wait!!! What is this? I chose to continue playing and now, oddly, it is like I can’t stop! I’ve got the feel for it and my own little heart is palpating wildly – I’ve found my rhythm. Suddenly, I fly through a gap in the rock, and then another. Then I fly into the rock, hard.
Then I fail and get zeros again. But I commit to the rhythm, and it gets easier. Gradually, that score of 2 that I was so wildly ecstatic about becomes a score which makes me feel pathetic. I am not a 2 Score Flapper! I am capable of 5 Score Flapperism!
I keep going, beads of perspiration drizzling the unfortunate lady beside me on the train who is possible reading this as I type.
I can’t stop. I have told myself to stop Flapping after this round, one last flap. Oh go on one more. I am flapping automatically now.
From being one who cannot flap, and one who is ashamed of his inability to flap, I have gradually become – through persistence – somebody who not only flaps by default, but I can flap without thinking.
BOOM double figure highscore.
This is what learning feels like.