06 September, 2007


Thamus, chief of the gods, via Socrates, via Plato: And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

Rousseau: The body of a savage man being the only instrument he understands, he uses it for various purposes, of which ours, for want of practice, are incapable: for our industry deprives us of that force and agility, which necessity obliges him to acquire. If he had had an axe, would he have been able with his naked arm to break so large a branch from a tree? If he had had a sling, would he have been able to throw a stone with so great velocity? If he had had a ladder, would he have been so nimble in climbing a tree? If he had had a horse, would he have been himself so swift of foot? Give civilised man time to gather all his machines about him, and he will no doubt easily beat the savage; but if you would see a still more unequal contest, set them together naked and unarmed, and you will soon see the advantage of having all our forces constantly at our disposal, of being always prepared for every event, and of carrying one's self, as it were, perpetually whole and entire about one.

Roth: Mark my words, the internet is going to make bloody idiots of us all, soon enough. It won't be Facebook or Myspace—although they will help—it'll be EEBO, Wikipedia and Google Books.

[Update 20/07/08: Nicholas Carr says the same thing at more length. He even makes the Plato connection. So it's not just me. Thanks to Peony for the link. Meanwhile, Bryan Appleyard fills his Times readership with moral panic on the subject. I couldn't be bothered to finish the article. Q. E. D.]


John Cowan said...

And a Good Thing Too.

It's amazing how much we've been enabled to forget. Once the children of America had to memorize conversion formulae between all the different kinds of money issued by the several states. Now, we all deal in dollars, and much has been forgotten.

Gawain said...

John: In Portugal people still count in Escudos.

Conrad: Soon enough someone will write a blogging bot which will pull different bits from wikipedia and google books and various museum sites and assemble them into believable simulacra of posts and you and i will be made redundant.

Herr Ziffer said...

And yet the whole writing thing that Thoth gave us seems to have worked out pretty well, hasn't it?

Conrad H. Roth said...

Ziff: speak for yourself!

G: "believable simulacra of posts"

Wow, that's like what I'm already doing!

Gawain said...

er... are you a bot??

Conrad H. Roth said...

Many thanks for your comment, gawain@heaventree.wordpress.com. Good to see you again! No, I've not read that one. Thanks for your kind question.