Part One: Wherein the author complains about the shortcomings of depending upon technology to do our thinking for us
My wife and I marvel at the phantasmagorical fantasies that the current epoch (and “current” in common contemporary parlance means “the past few years – no more”) present to our attention. These fantasies are composed of virtual materials – animated by the electric aether and given substance by the Adamic tongue of binary codes. States more banally, we are struck by how awesome and radical it is to own Android and iPad devices that can bring us precious data in mere seconds. Informative and entertaining videos, succinct and hip articles, not to mention entire books can be found and read using small digital devices that, quite simply, were still science fiction ten years ago.
Obviously, my wife and I are not Luddites. We own and utilize the latest technology for a variety of purposes. We have several of these small digital devices.
There is a part of my mind that holds serious reservations about this new age into which we have plunged head-first. Does information overload have a price? Of course it does. There is a tradeoff associated with everything “under the sun” (Eccl. 1: 3). T. S. Eliot expressed some reservations in his poem “The Rock” from 1934 (well before electronic computing):
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
I have expressed the sentiment previously that we are not smarter than our predecessors. We simply, in our profound vanity, think or assume we are because we hold incredible technological sophistication in our hands. We are proud. This pride clouds our thinking and our feeling. Nicholas Carr expresses it in a book, but the fact is, Google and the Internet are destroying our ability to do real research and engage in serious critical thinking. Simply using the first two pages of a Google search does not constitute erudition or scholarship. Quite the opposite.
As expressed in his thrilling public repudiation of Obama-style big government at a recent public prayer breakfast, neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson stated that a sixth grade reader from the mid-1800s would stump today’s high-schooler. There is almost an inverse relationship between the amount of money we pour into the public education system and the results. A generation of men placed a man on the moon who were by and large educated in one room schoolhouses, and they placed men on the moon and brought them safely back using slide rules. Nowadays, the typical student cannot do simply arithmetic or multiplication in his or her head, but must resort to the calculator.
Naturally, we do not throw our calculators into the flames in protest. But surely something is amiss in our culture. Recently, in Atlanta, the teachers were caught cheating on standardized tests. If the teachers are doing it….
My wife and I have embarked on several experiments that go contrary to the current empty calories zeitgeist of our era. One such experiment is assiduous reading of the “classics”. I will go ahead and confess what is, admittedly, a profound sin in 2013: these classics were all written by dead white men.
And yet. They are still classics despite this accident of fate. The sex and race of the people who wrote these magnificent works of literature surely do not matter when weighed in the balance of the beauty, vigor, and profundity of the ideas expressed in them.
As we have delightfully discovered while musing on Plato and Sophocles and Aristotle, complex thinking, deep reasoning, and social justice did not begin in 2008.