Monday, May 23, 2011

Anti-Technology Luddites

Here is a bit from a good post by Barry Ritholtz on his The Big Picture blog that takes to task the knee-jerk anti-technology crowd:
The entire internet is making us dumber.

That’s a meme is making its way around the internet. Its partially true, in that the meme itself will make you dumber. The internet, on the other hand, will not.


So let’s cut to the chase: Anyone can take any technology and abuse it to the point of foolishness. If you focus on the rule, and the exceptions, you will see how silly this is.

Consider the following:

• The Printing press threatened existing political power structures and religious authorities; That was why it was scandalous. Apparently, a massive increase in literacy and bringing books to the masses was to be ignored;

• “The typewriter killed penmanship.” (But it allowed for legible words to be put on paper quickly)

• What do I lose now that I do not have to waste vast amounts of time with empty, non-thinking, learn-by-rote memorization?

• No more slide rules? You mean now ANYONE can do use a calculator (instead of only a select few?)

• And did the pocket calculator really “reduce a generation’s math skills?” I thought Calculators meant that fast, accurate, reliable mathematics were available to everyone.

• Wasn’t recorded music going to kill live music . . . ?

• Has television “muffled creativity, discourse and interaction?” I thought TV brought entertainment to millions of people at affordable prices. It democratized entertainment versus theater and film.

• Does having a GPS really impair our sense of direction — or does it helps millions of people get to their destination, allow visitors to go where they might not otherwise attempt, and allow delivery people to find where they are going safely?

• Who really believes “Texting diminished our language skills and our vocabulary?” I find Texting teaches brevity and focus.

• Are our memory capacities actually being weakened by Google? I have enough memory to 1) ask for empirical evidence of that; 2) Remind you that Google has allowed us to access and learn far more than we might have forgotten;

• Does the “ephemeral nature of social media, like Facebook and Twitter, creates stunted relationships and has damaged our attention span?” I now that Facebook creates “ephemeral” relationships with people I would otherwise have had no relationship with. Is that preferable?

And so on.

It seems every new technology that has ever been developed has come with wildly over-hyped, madly inaccurate forecasts by the prior generation.

In a bizarre way, the internet is the ideal technology for Luddites to ironically spread their anti-technology messages. That is because it is a tool — a way to interact, access and share information, opinions, even foolish memes. Like any other tool, it can be misused or abused by some.
He fails to mention Plato's rant back in 400 BC about how writing was destroying the "youth of today" because they no longer memorized the classics like Homer and Hesiod since they could simply read it on a scroll. He felt that a real education was only possible when you personally interacted with a tutor. Well, yes, a tutor is ideal, but you have to be a rich aristocrat like Plato if you were going to get that kind of education. So any democratization via technology is going to be viewed as a "degeneration" of society if you are a nose-in-the-cloud aristocrat like Plato.

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