In Plato's Phaedrus, Socrates recounts an old story of how the legendary King Thamus of Egypt had declined the Theuth's offer to teach his subjects how to write. "What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder," says King Thamus. "And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing, and as men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows." This remains one of the most prophetic denunciations of the peril of literacy ever enunciated - although of course, it is thanks to the written word that we know of it.It strikes me that much the same thing could be said of computers - that rather than helping people to think, they encourage shortcuts, shallow learning and laziness. This is something I see in my classrooms all the time, and which concerns me. On the other hand, the amount of knowledge has increased incredibly since Plato's day, and it would be impossible and probably undesirable to return to a reliance on memory alone. And indeed despite the kernel of truth of Plato's words, you would have to be particularly obtuse to deny that the written word initiated the growth of and sophistication* of human civilisation* and has been essential for many of the great achievements* of humankind. No doubt computer technology is in the same category. In years to come (and perhaps already) people will wonder how we ever did without it.
(Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Timothy Ferris, p.31)
(*I realise that these are problematic concepts.)
For some more interesting reflections on computers see this post, over on Michael Gilleland's blog.
(And yes, I get the irony of blogging about this topic.)