“When writing itself appeared, philosophers feared that it would weaken memory and degrade intelligence. But it allowed for a great, albeit externalized memory and an enlarged, albeit shared intelligence. […] The Internet will have similar effects, with some losses but, on balance, more gains.” – Mark U. Edwards,senior advisor to the Dean, Harvard University Divinity School
David L says
I believe it is in the Phaedrus where Plato tells the story of Socrates telling the story of of how, Theuth, master of the arts and the inventor of writing came to Thamus, ruler of Egypt, to show off this amazing new technology, “a recipe for both memory and wisdom.” Skeptical Thamus observes that “this invention will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it. They will not need to exercise their memories, being able to rely on what is written, calling things to mind no longer from within themselves by their own unaided powers, but under the stimulus of external marks that are alien to themselves. So it’s not a recipe for memory, but for reminding, that you have discovered. And as for wisdom, you’re equipping your pupils with only a semblance of it, not with truth. Thanks to you and your invention, your pupils will be widely read without benefit of a teacher’s instruction; in consequence, they’ll entertain the delusion that they have wide knowledge, while they are, in fact, for the most part incapable of real judgment. They will also be difficult to get on with since they will have become wise merely in their own conceit, not genuinely so.” Where the philosopher Plato stands is more than a little hard to pin down — he’s using the very technology the story seems to call in question, after all. Socrates does say, “Writing, you know, Phaedrus, has this strange quality about it, which makes it really like painting: the painter’s products stand before us quite as though they were alive; but if you question them, they maintain a solemn silence. So, too, with written words: you might think they spoke as though they made sense, but if you ask them anything about what they are saying, if you wish an explanation, they go on telling you the same thing, over and over forever. Once a thing is put in writing, it rolls about all over the place, falling into the hands of those who have no concern with it just as easily as under the notice of those who comprehend; it has no notion of whom to address or whom to avoid. And when it is ill-treated or abused as illegitimate, it always needs its father to help it, being quite unable to protect or help itself.” Hmmmmm.
Susan Carter Morgan says
Ah, David. Hmmmm, indeed.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on personal/academic writing, too. So well said.