19 July 2010


To continue with some thoughts from an earlier post on technology, a recent review appearing in the City Journal is worth some of your time.  It takes up the thesis of a "digital technology philosopher," a discipline in which I consider myself an amateur (in the etymological sense of the word--a lover).  The man in question, William Powers, has released a number of articles on the subject, including a paper on the effect the Internet is having on print journalism ... supposedly excellent.  I suggest you read the whole review yourself, and then follow up with some of the comments on First Thoughts, where I first came across the review.  Some excerpts:

In my experience, judging from e-mail conversations I have, when you learned to write affects how you use the technology. The people who learned to write and discuss things before the invention of e-mail find it a great tool, because it creates a new mixture of conversation and letter-writing, with something of the speed of the first and the distance and reflection of the second. You can respond fairly quickly, but with time to measure what you say, check your facts, dig up good quotes, etc.  But people who didn’t learn to write and discuss things then . . . tend to use it and similar technologies in the way it seems to encourage: to send short, pointed, undeveloped, often emotive and sometimes pointless, thoughts. The exchanges make a personal connection, which is probably all to the good, and communicate judgments and emotions, but not thoughts of any complexity.
A respondent brings up the very point that goes unasked with every new development: what do we bargain away in exchange for the gains we make?
Every breakthrough in communications technology involves the loss of some existing skill set, almost as compensation for whatever benefits accrue from the new technology.  Writing tended to undermine our ability to memorize long stories, lists, poems, etc. Printing undermined calligraphy (and typing destroyed handwriting); television undermined the listening skills and imagination required for radio (or reading aloud). It’s a constant process of trading off one thing for another, and each generation has to judge whether the game is worth the candle.
Scarier than all these developments is the fact that there aren't too many of us even asking the question. At what point do we sell our birthright for a mess of pottage?

For further reading, you can pick up my somewhat lengthy comments on the issue of what effects technology has on our lives here.

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