The genius of Steve Jobs

I was asked to write up something about the death of Steve Jobs for the Lutheran Witness website.  I’ll link to that when it goes up.  In the meantime, here is something in today’s Washington Post that I think is very telling about the man’s  genius.

It seems the public was disappointed about the unveiling of the iPhone4S.  Apparently, it didn’t look much different from the old iPhones.  People were looking for matters of appearance.  But look at the reality of what this new device can do:

The launch wasn’t really about the phone at all. It was about the software inside and possibly the kick-start of the next big revolution in how we interact with our gadgets.

That software is called Siri, but Apple would like for you to think of it as your “intelligent assistant.” And what Siri does is nothing short of amazing.

Siri can listen to your “natural language” (that is, words spoken as you would to another human, not a computer) questions or requests and respond like a digital secretary. It’s not just that Siri listens, either. The software is capable of understanding the context of what you’re talking about, so if you ask it to set an alarm on your phone, it will ask you for what time. And again, you don’t. Have. To. Talk. Really. Slowly.

If you ask Siri to schedule an appointment, it will not only check to see if it conflicts with any of your other meetings but will help you juggle the time slot until you have your day’s events mapped out. Siri will find movie theaters close to you or tell you how to get home from your current location. It can identify family members, spouses and co-workers you’re always talking to, and it knows when people’s birthdays, anniversaries or other big events are coming up.

Here’s an example of a chat I had with Siri:

Me: “Schedule an appointment with Jack for 3:30 p.m.”

Siri: “Okay, here’s your meeting. Note that you already have a meeting that overlaps with this. Should I schedule it anyway?”

Me: “Change the time.”

Siri: “Okay, Joshua, what’s the new time and date for this meeting?”

After I learned that my new time overlapped again, I asked Siri to cancel the meeting, and it asked me if I wanted it removed from my calendar. All this happened in the span of a minute or so, and all of it felt strangely normal.

More interestingly, Siri is plugged into Yelp and Wolfram Alpha (a search engine dedicated to finding facts instead of Web pages). If you ask Siri how much $45 is in British pounds, it can tell you the answer. Or how many cups are in a gallon (16, for the measurement challenged). But again, the best part of this is that you don’t have to tone down or over compensate for computer hearing. Siri listens like a person, and often responds that way, too.

via Apple Siri: the next big revolution in how we interact with gadgets? – The Washington Post.

It seems to me that Jobs and his company did not just give people what they want, following the dictates of the marketplace.  Certainly, someone who does that is likely to have great success.  Rather, he came up with things no one knew they wanted, things they never even dreamed of.  He led the marketplace.

There is a lesson here for churches that want to engage the culture and Christians who want to make an impact.   Just conforming to cultural trends and following fashions is not going to do very much.  Try addressing what the culture does NOT already have, finding something that it needs or that it doesn’t know that it needs.  Don’t just imitate the dominant styles.  Invent new styles that other people might imitate, to the point that your style might become dominant.  Don’t follow the culture.  Lead it.

This applies also to technology, business, and the arts.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pete

    Steve Jobs was exemplary of the adage, “talent is hitting a target nobody else can hit; genius is hitting a target nobody else can see.”

  • Pete

    Steve Jobs was exemplary of the adage, “talent is hitting a target nobody else can hit; genius is hitting a target nobody else can see.”

  • SM

    I would hope that the celebration of the life and achievements of Steve Jobs and the recognition of the impact he has had upon the world might also stimulate a broader discussion of the questions of technology and its limits. In the immediate aftermath of Jobs’s death, commentators pointed to him as a champion of the American spirit – individualistic, unintimidated by risk, an heroic example of can-do perseverance. And all this, it was noted, is precisely what our nation needs now in this time of crisis to lift us up out of our collective woes and angst. But the emphasis always seems to be on the material – consumerism, economics, technology. Not to disparage in any way Jobs’s phenomenal achievements, I think it would be wise to revisit the thought of those critics of technology – e.g. Neil Postman, William Barrett, Sven Birkerts – who point to the limits of technology’s power to address and alter the basic human condition lest we make idols of our iPhones.

  • SM

    I would hope that the celebration of the life and achievements of Steve Jobs and the recognition of the impact he has had upon the world might also stimulate a broader discussion of the questions of technology and its limits. In the immediate aftermath of Jobs’s death, commentators pointed to him as a champion of the American spirit – individualistic, unintimidated by risk, an heroic example of can-do perseverance. And all this, it was noted, is precisely what our nation needs now in this time of crisis to lift us up out of our collective woes and angst. But the emphasis always seems to be on the material – consumerism, economics, technology. Not to disparage in any way Jobs’s phenomenal achievements, I think it would be wise to revisit the thought of those critics of technology – e.g. Neil Postman, William Barrett, Sven Birkerts – who point to the limits of technology’s power to address and alter the basic human condition lest we make idols of our iPhones.

  • Gary Hicks

    Great point, SM.

  • Gary Hicks

    Great point, SM.

  • trotk

    SM is right on. Siri scares me, to be honest. I don’t want a culture of people who lose the ability to organize their own affairs, to remember facts, or even to know how to research facts. We are making ourselves weaker by making our tools stronger, and this is not a good thing.

  • trotk

    SM is right on. Siri scares me, to be honest. I don’t want a culture of people who lose the ability to organize their own affairs, to remember facts, or even to know how to research facts. We are making ourselves weaker by making our tools stronger, and this is not a good thing.

  • WebMonk

    I know trotk, I look back on the development of writing as one of the first steps toward the destruction of the human race — we stopped using our own memories for things and instead relied upon the crutch of recording things on tablets, papyrus, and paper.

    However, if things had stopped there it probably wouldn’t have been too bad, but no, we are always making our tools stronger, and thus weakening ourselves. We built the printing press, and over time developed cheap writing tools which spread the weakness to everyone in the world, instead of only harming the few like before.

    Then came typewriters, and finally the computer. It just became easier and easier to not use our own memories and instead rely on our tools. Pretty soon we’ll have no memories or mental prowess at all and will need our robotic overlords to take care of we drooling morons.

    I couldn’t agree with you more, trotk.

  • WebMonk

    I know trotk, I look back on the development of writing as one of the first steps toward the destruction of the human race — we stopped using our own memories for things and instead relied upon the crutch of recording things on tablets, papyrus, and paper.

    However, if things had stopped there it probably wouldn’t have been too bad, but no, we are always making our tools stronger, and thus weakening ourselves. We built the printing press, and over time developed cheap writing tools which spread the weakness to everyone in the world, instead of only harming the few like before.

    Then came typewriters, and finally the computer. It just became easier and easier to not use our own memories and instead rely on our tools. Pretty soon we’ll have no memories or mental prowess at all and will need our robotic overlords to take care of we drooling morons.

    I couldn’t agree with you more, trotk.

  • kerner

    I mentioned this on Strange Herring, but I feel compelled to mention it here as well. Steve Jobs was baptized and confirmed (and therefore possibly died) one of us. RIP

    http://www.getreligion.org/2011/10/steve-jobs-apple-founder-dies/

  • kerner

    I mentioned this on Strange Herring, but I feel compelled to mention it here as well. Steve Jobs was baptized and confirmed (and therefore possibly died) one of us. RIP

    http://www.getreligion.org/2011/10/steve-jobs-apple-founder-dies/

  • kerner

    Webmonk and trotk:

    Your conversation reminds me of a short story By Issa Asimov that I read while in college.

    In the future, people have forgotten how to do math, even basic arithmetic, becuse they rely on computers for everything. Then one day some low level functionary rediscovers arithmetic. The government remains skeptical that anything a person can do on a piece of paper will always reach the same reliable result as the answers given by computers. But after testing the “new” method of calculations for an extended period, they become convinced that this obscure person is onto something. They fund him and his research, not quite knowing what the application of this new discipline will be.

    Eventually the future military notices that all their warfare is carried out by computer controlled drones, which are expensive. The generals come up with the radical idea of cutting the defense budget by replacing the military computers with human soldiers, thus introducing casualties to warfare for the first time in their memory. The re-discoverer of arithmetic holds himself responsible for the deaths of the new soldiers and commits suicide. But it is a meaningless gesture, because the cat is out of the bag.

    It was a good story; I never forgot it. I guess that knowledge, and ignorance, are pretty much what we make of them.

  • kerner

    Webmonk and trotk:

    Your conversation reminds me of a short story By Issa Asimov that I read while in college.

    In the future, people have forgotten how to do math, even basic arithmetic, becuse they rely on computers for everything. Then one day some low level functionary rediscovers arithmetic. The government remains skeptical that anything a person can do on a piece of paper will always reach the same reliable result as the answers given by computers. But after testing the “new” method of calculations for an extended period, they become convinced that this obscure person is onto something. They fund him and his research, not quite knowing what the application of this new discipline will be.

    Eventually the future military notices that all their warfare is carried out by computer controlled drones, which are expensive. The generals come up with the radical idea of cutting the defense budget by replacing the military computers with human soldiers, thus introducing casualties to warfare for the first time in their memory. The re-discoverer of arithmetic holds himself responsible for the deaths of the new soldiers and commits suicide. But it is a meaningless gesture, because the cat is out of the bag.

    It was a good story; I never forgot it. I guess that knowledge, and ignorance, are pretty much what we make of them.

  • Michael

    No one is bringing up Steve Job’s afterlife. As you know, he was a Buddhist, and there is not one single indication he converted to Christianity. Do you believe Steve Jobs is burning in hell right now?

  • Michael

    No one is bringing up Steve Job’s afterlife. As you know, he was a Buddhist, and there is not one single indication he converted to Christianity. Do you believe Steve Jobs is burning in hell right now?

  • wrigley peterborough

    The world should be glad that when Jobs’ mother conceived him, elective abortion wasn’t legal. A woman in the same predicament today would face great pressure to end the pregnancy with an abortion.

  • wrigley peterborough

    The world should be glad that when Jobs’ mother conceived him, elective abortion wasn’t legal. A woman in the same predicament today would face great pressure to end the pregnancy with an abortion.

  • Carl Vehse

    Kerner @6: “Steve Jobs was baptized and confirmed”

    Mollie Heminway’s claim about Jobs being “confirmed as a Lutheran” refers to a blog article on Cyberbrethren, which only claims “Steve Jobs was baptized and instructed in the Christian faith” and “he had been taught as a young man in a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod confirmation class, taught by my friend Rev. Dr. Martin Taddey, now deceased.” There is no mention of Jobs actually being confirmed by Rev. Taddey.

    Stephen Keyser Preus, a 2011 Concordia Theological Seminary graduate, now studying for his STM degree, noted on Luther Quest:

    “I was a vicar at Trinity, Palo Alto. People have periodically asked the pastor about Steve Jobs and his relation to the congregation. There are no records of Steve Jobs ever being confirmed there. Rev. Martin Taddey catechized him, but the records show no confirmation.”

    According to the Yahoo News article, “9 things you didn’t know about the life of Steve Jobs”: “During a trip to India, Jobs visited a well-known ashram and returned to the U.S. as a Zen Buddhist.” That was also stated in a March 5, 2008, CNN article. I’ve seen in no other recent news articles that Steve Jobs abandoned his Buddhist beliefs in the last few years of his life.

  • Carl Vehse

    Kerner @6: “Steve Jobs was baptized and confirmed”

    Mollie Heminway’s claim about Jobs being “confirmed as a Lutheran” refers to a blog article on Cyberbrethren, which only claims “Steve Jobs was baptized and instructed in the Christian faith” and “he had been taught as a young man in a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod confirmation class, taught by my friend Rev. Dr. Martin Taddey, now deceased.” There is no mention of Jobs actually being confirmed by Rev. Taddey.

    Stephen Keyser Preus, a 2011 Concordia Theological Seminary graduate, now studying for his STM degree, noted on Luther Quest:

    “I was a vicar at Trinity, Palo Alto. People have periodically asked the pastor about Steve Jobs and his relation to the congregation. There are no records of Steve Jobs ever being confirmed there. Rev. Martin Taddey catechized him, but the records show no confirmation.”

    According to the Yahoo News article, “9 things you didn’t know about the life of Steve Jobs”: “During a trip to India, Jobs visited a well-known ashram and returned to the U.S. as a Zen Buddhist.” That was also stated in a March 5, 2008, CNN article. I’ve seen in no other recent news articles that Steve Jobs abandoned his Buddhist beliefs in the last few years of his life.

  • trotk

    WebMonk, assuming that you wrote sarcastically:

    What you describe is a pretty good description of what has happened and what will happen, until you get to this statement:

    “Pretty soon we’ll have no memories or mental prowess at all and will need our robotic overlords to take care of we [sic - I guess your computer doesn't know when to use an objective pronoun yet] drooling morons.”

    This is where you go wrong. This isn’t the great fear, because either we retain the mental abilities to create and maintain the computers and machines, or we don’t, in which case the system collapses. (Unless of course you believe that computers will gain self-awareness, etc.)

    No, WebMonk, your dismissive response reveals that you don’t understand what a human is or what a human is for, or perhaps you know, but are not bothering to think about the implications of these issues. At least give it some thought! What if people effectively became dependent on calculators to do math? (We are already there with this generation of students.) What if our ability to spell or use correct grammar were dependent on our computers? (Again, we are already there.) This list could go on and on.

    These things are tied to what it means to be human. Dismissing this without thought only reveals the paucity of your thought. Argue against it if you want, but thus far, all you have revealed is our collective inability to understand what the essence of humanity is. Refusing to engage a legitimate question is a bad sign.

    Anything that can be done shouldn’t necessarily be done.

  • trotk

    WebMonk, assuming that you wrote sarcastically:

    What you describe is a pretty good description of what has happened and what will happen, until you get to this statement:

    “Pretty soon we’ll have no memories or mental prowess at all and will need our robotic overlords to take care of we [sic - I guess your computer doesn't know when to use an objective pronoun yet] drooling morons.”

    This is where you go wrong. This isn’t the great fear, because either we retain the mental abilities to create and maintain the computers and machines, or we don’t, in which case the system collapses. (Unless of course you believe that computers will gain self-awareness, etc.)

    No, WebMonk, your dismissive response reveals that you don’t understand what a human is or what a human is for, or perhaps you know, but are not bothering to think about the implications of these issues. At least give it some thought! What if people effectively became dependent on calculators to do math? (We are already there with this generation of students.) What if our ability to spell or use correct grammar were dependent on our computers? (Again, we are already there.) This list could go on and on.

    These things are tied to what it means to be human. Dismissing this without thought only reveals the paucity of your thought. Argue against it if you want, but thus far, all you have revealed is our collective inability to understand what the essence of humanity is. Refusing to engage a legitimate question is a bad sign.

    Anything that can be done shouldn’t necessarily be done.

  • kerner

    Michael:

    I don’t know whether he is in Hell. He was baptized and instructed in the Christian faith. I thought he was confirmed (and maybe he was) which would have involved a verbal commitment to Christianity. Now Carl suggests that He may not have been confirmed after all, so that is in question.

    What is not in question is that, if Steve Jobs was baptized, then the Holy Spirit was at work in his life. Jobs may have ultimately rejected the Holy Spirit, as sometimes happens. If the late Mr. Jobs rejected the Holy Spirit, then he has no place but Hell to go. If not, then the Holy Spirit will have saved his soul. In all cases, but especially in cases in which there is not much clarity, we can not know for sure where an individual ends up.

  • kerner

    Michael:

    I don’t know whether he is in Hell. He was baptized and instructed in the Christian faith. I thought he was confirmed (and maybe he was) which would have involved a verbal commitment to Christianity. Now Carl suggests that He may not have been confirmed after all, so that is in question.

    What is not in question is that, if Steve Jobs was baptized, then the Holy Spirit was at work in his life. Jobs may have ultimately rejected the Holy Spirit, as sometimes happens. If the late Mr. Jobs rejected the Holy Spirit, then he has no place but Hell to go. If not, then the Holy Spirit will have saved his soul. In all cases, but especially in cases in which there is not much clarity, we can not know for sure where an individual ends up.

  • Jonathan

    Carl @10–Maybe the Synod should anticipate an email invite to the reading of the Jobs will? “Let’s talk i-bequest?”

  • Jonathan

    Carl @10–Maybe the Synod should anticipate an email invite to the reading of the Jobs will? “Let’s talk i-bequest?”

  • Carl Vehse

    To no surprise, The Onion has an article on Steve Jobs with the censored title, “Last American Who Knew What The F!@# He Was Doing Dies.”

    “We haven’t just lost a great innovator, leader, and businessman, we’ve literally lost the only person in this country who actually had his s*@# together and knew what the h%^^ was going on,” a statement from President Barack Obama read in part… “This is a dark time for our country, because the reality is none of the 300 million or so Americans who remain can actually get anything done or make things happen. Those days are over.” Obama added that if anyone could fill the void left by Jobs it would probably be himself, but said that at this point he honestly doesn’t have the slightest notion what he’s doing anymore.

  • Carl Vehse

    To no surprise, The Onion has an article on Steve Jobs with the censored title, “Last American Who Knew What The F!@# He Was Doing Dies.”

    “We haven’t just lost a great innovator, leader, and businessman, we’ve literally lost the only person in this country who actually had his s*@# together and knew what the h%^^ was going on,” a statement from President Barack Obama read in part… “This is a dark time for our country, because the reality is none of the 300 million or so Americans who remain can actually get anything done or make things happen. Those days are over.” Obama added that if anyone could fill the void left by Jobs it would probably be himself, but said that at this point he honestly doesn’t have the slightest notion what he’s doing anymore.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Veith’s thesis here appears to be:

    It seems to me that Jobs and his company did not just give people what they want, … Rather, he came up with things no one knew they wanted, things they never even dreamed of. He led the marketplace.

    I really don’t get why all this is being laid at the feet of one man, even if he has just recently died. Does Apple have no other employees? Are we employing synecdoche here?

    Jobs was apparently a very good business leader. I would also add that he was a pretty good marketer — in his capacity as Apple CEO, I mean. He was a good public face.

    But was he involved in an engineering capacity? Did he decide to add all the things to products that one might find useful or fascinating?

    Moreover, did he really “lead the marketplace”? I am told by not a few people with Android devices that these functions, which aren’t yet available from Apple, are not all new, if indeed any of them are.

    Indeed, I’m not sure that Apple was ever known as much for true innovation as it was for popularizing things. Was the iPod the first MP3 player? No, not by several years, but it was the first one most people heard about — and purchased. Apple did an amazing job taking something formerly niche and nerdy and made it sexy and easy to use. That’s what they do well. That and marketing to hipsters, elites, the well-to-do, students, people who fancy themselves “independent-minded” (those who “think different [sic]“), and so on.

    And, of course, Apple is also very well known for wanting to control as much of the experience as possible — they’ll sell you the device, which runs on the operating system they wrote (if a computer), and they’ll also sell you the content you need to fill up your device (from iTunes, if a phone/iPod/etc.). They’ll also put the fear into you that, if you ever leave the Apple community, you’ll be lost forever.

    There may be a lesson for churches as to that last paragraph, but we Protestants tend to reject such lessons, I thought. ;)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Veith’s thesis here appears to be:

    It seems to me that Jobs and his company did not just give people what they want, … Rather, he came up with things no one knew they wanted, things they never even dreamed of. He led the marketplace.

    I really don’t get why all this is being laid at the feet of one man, even if he has just recently died. Does Apple have no other employees? Are we employing synecdoche here?

    Jobs was apparently a very good business leader. I would also add that he was a pretty good marketer — in his capacity as Apple CEO, I mean. He was a good public face.

    But was he involved in an engineering capacity? Did he decide to add all the things to products that one might find useful or fascinating?

    Moreover, did he really “lead the marketplace”? I am told by not a few people with Android devices that these functions, which aren’t yet available from Apple, are not all new, if indeed any of them are.

    Indeed, I’m not sure that Apple was ever known as much for true innovation as it was for popularizing things. Was the iPod the first MP3 player? No, not by several years, but it was the first one most people heard about — and purchased. Apple did an amazing job taking something formerly niche and nerdy and made it sexy and easy to use. That’s what they do well. That and marketing to hipsters, elites, the well-to-do, students, people who fancy themselves “independent-minded” (those who “think different [sic]“), and so on.

    And, of course, Apple is also very well known for wanting to control as much of the experience as possible — they’ll sell you the device, which runs on the operating system they wrote (if a computer), and they’ll also sell you the content you need to fill up your device (from iTunes, if a phone/iPod/etc.). They’ll also put the fear into you that, if you ever leave the Apple community, you’ll be lost forever.

    There may be a lesson for churches as to that last paragraph, but we Protestants tend to reject such lessons, I thought. ;)

  • CRB

    tODD,
    Thanks for a sanctified, common sense post!

  • CRB

    tODD,
    Thanks for a sanctified, common sense post!

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    As to the other discussion taking place here (Technology: Good or Bad?), I tend to side with WebMonk.

    First, let’s get out of the way the notion that “technology” somehow only refers to electronic gadgets of the computer sort. It doesn’t. That’s just one area in which technology is rapidly changing right now (and we are adapting with these changes). But books are also technology. Writing systems are technology. Every tool ever fashioned from metal, stone, or wood is technology. So, to speak (@2) of “critics of technology” is a little bit silly. Critics of modern technology? Perhaps. Sort of.

    Now Trotk said (@4):

    I don’t want a culture of people who lose the ability to organize their own affairs, to remember facts, or even to know how to research facts.

    You will note that a person who organizes his own affairs using a computer has somehow, by his argument, lost the ability to organize his own affairs. It’s a fairly contradictory statement. I suppose the underlying thought is that “Ah, but if he ever lost his computer, his affairs would be a mess, and his ability to manage them then truly lost!”

    Okay, but by that argument, anyone using a date book, planner, or calendar has also “lost the ability to organize their own affairs” — the same argument applies. But no one seems to be decrying such (centuries-old) technology here as somehow dehumanizing or threatening to our way of life. I’m pretty certain the people who made the ferret calendar hanging up in my son’s room just thought it was kind of cute. If only they’d known the inherent danger! ;)

    As to “research facts”, I find that a particularly curious argument. I, for one, find it vastly easier to do just that than before the dawn of “modern technology”. I mean, wasn’t it in most of our own lifetimes that conversations used to be about whatever one happened to know at that moment? No one had the ability to immediately settle a dispute, perhaps by checking an authoritative or even original document. Nope, it was all “Well, I think” and “I’d imagine that” and so on. Whereas on this very blog, people frequently go ad fontes. How, exactly, are we being hindered?

    We are making ourselves weaker by making our tools stronger, and this is not a good thing.

    Nor, I would argue, is it an accurate thing to say. A tool frees you from doing one thing you don’t particularly want to do in order that you might do something you do want to do.

    Your mind does not decay because it types something in a search engine rather than going down to the library to leaf through books or looking up an expert in the phone book and giving him a call (both examples, of course, replete with technology, albeit slightly older). No, instead, your mind may be allowed to think more on the issue that caused you to want to look something up in the first place — without being distracted by having to talk to all those people, to say nothing of all the time spent doing so.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    As to the other discussion taking place here (Technology: Good or Bad?), I tend to side with WebMonk.

    First, let’s get out of the way the notion that “technology” somehow only refers to electronic gadgets of the computer sort. It doesn’t. That’s just one area in which technology is rapidly changing right now (and we are adapting with these changes). But books are also technology. Writing systems are technology. Every tool ever fashioned from metal, stone, or wood is technology. So, to speak (@2) of “critics of technology” is a little bit silly. Critics of modern technology? Perhaps. Sort of.

    Now Trotk said (@4):

    I don’t want a culture of people who lose the ability to organize their own affairs, to remember facts, or even to know how to research facts.

    You will note that a person who organizes his own affairs using a computer has somehow, by his argument, lost the ability to organize his own affairs. It’s a fairly contradictory statement. I suppose the underlying thought is that “Ah, but if he ever lost his computer, his affairs would be a mess, and his ability to manage them then truly lost!”

    Okay, but by that argument, anyone using a date book, planner, or calendar has also “lost the ability to organize their own affairs” — the same argument applies. But no one seems to be decrying such (centuries-old) technology here as somehow dehumanizing or threatening to our way of life. I’m pretty certain the people who made the ferret calendar hanging up in my son’s room just thought it was kind of cute. If only they’d known the inherent danger! ;)

    As to “research facts”, I find that a particularly curious argument. I, for one, find it vastly easier to do just that than before the dawn of “modern technology”. I mean, wasn’t it in most of our own lifetimes that conversations used to be about whatever one happened to know at that moment? No one had the ability to immediately settle a dispute, perhaps by checking an authoritative or even original document. Nope, it was all “Well, I think” and “I’d imagine that” and so on. Whereas on this very blog, people frequently go ad fontes. How, exactly, are we being hindered?

    We are making ourselves weaker by making our tools stronger, and this is not a good thing.

    Nor, I would argue, is it an accurate thing to say. A tool frees you from doing one thing you don’t particularly want to do in order that you might do something you do want to do.

    Your mind does not decay because it types something in a search engine rather than going down to the library to leaf through books or looking up an expert in the phone book and giving him a call (both examples, of course, replete with technology, albeit slightly older). No, instead, your mind may be allowed to think more on the issue that caused you to want to look something up in the first place — without being distracted by having to talk to all those people, to say nothing of all the time spent doing so.

  • WebMonk

    Wow trotk, I figured there were lots of other places in there where you would disagree with my sarcasm. You don’t think I was wrong when I said writing was the first step to the dissolution of mankind? You don’t think I was wrong when I said the printing press and cheap writing implements were a quickening of the downfall of mankind mental abilities?

    The part to which you object is the silliness I made up about robot overlords??? You really think writing and the printing press are steps on the way toward mankind becoming dumber and dumber??

    On a different tack from above:

    That’s … awesome! I know people like you exist, but I’ve never run into one as directly as commenting with one in a blog post. I’ve read 500 year-old writings of people worrying about the effects of the printing press. I’ve read worries about the development of trains and how the easy travel would destroy society. I’ve read screeds against the telephone for the same reason.

    But, those are all in the “distant” past and don’t have as direct a visceral impact as things written today.

    I’ve ready lots of books and articles decrying the use of computer technology because of it’s detrimental effect on our intellects. Those, being more contemporaneous, have greater impact on me, but still, I don’t particularly know the authors, though I respect a few. Some of the more thoughtful ones have good points, but a lot of them seem to be trying to prove their own point – their intellects have obviously already been severely hampered, I guess they would say it was from their computer use.

    Still, I’ve never met one as closely as having posted on the same stream of comments. This opens up all sorts of opportunities for me to delve into the mindset which believes computers and writing are detrimental to humans.

    May I use this opportunity to ask a question I’ve always wanted to ask people of that opinion who write web articles?

    If computers are so bad for your mind, why are you on a computer and not out memorizing long sagas passed down by oral tradition to keep your mind in tip-top shape???

  • WebMonk

    Wow trotk, I figured there were lots of other places in there where you would disagree with my sarcasm. You don’t think I was wrong when I said writing was the first step to the dissolution of mankind? You don’t think I was wrong when I said the printing press and cheap writing implements were a quickening of the downfall of mankind mental abilities?

    The part to which you object is the silliness I made up about robot overlords??? You really think writing and the printing press are steps on the way toward mankind becoming dumber and dumber??

    On a different tack from above:

    That’s … awesome! I know people like you exist, but I’ve never run into one as directly as commenting with one in a blog post. I’ve read 500 year-old writings of people worrying about the effects of the printing press. I’ve read worries about the development of trains and how the easy travel would destroy society. I’ve read screeds against the telephone for the same reason.

    But, those are all in the “distant” past and don’t have as direct a visceral impact as things written today.

    I’ve ready lots of books and articles decrying the use of computer technology because of it’s detrimental effect on our intellects. Those, being more contemporaneous, have greater impact on me, but still, I don’t particularly know the authors, though I respect a few. Some of the more thoughtful ones have good points, but a lot of them seem to be trying to prove their own point – their intellects have obviously already been severely hampered, I guess they would say it was from their computer use.

    Still, I’ve never met one as closely as having posted on the same stream of comments. This opens up all sorts of opportunities for me to delve into the mindset which believes computers and writing are detrimental to humans.

    May I use this opportunity to ask a question I’ve always wanted to ask people of that opinion who write web articles?

    If computers are so bad for your mind, why are you on a computer and not out memorizing long sagas passed down by oral tradition to keep your mind in tip-top shape???

  • WebMonk

    Oh bugger. Ninja’d by tODD. Not only that, but there he is being all serious and stuff, and now I feel horrible for writing the snark and being, like unseriousness and stuff.

    I must be using computers too much. My mental faculties have degraded. You’re right, trotk. I’ll go smash my computers, burn my books, bury all my paper, pens, and pencils, and do my best to forget how to read, relying strictly on memory of oral information. Maybe it’s not too late.

  • WebMonk

    Oh bugger. Ninja’d by tODD. Not only that, but there he is being all serious and stuff, and now I feel horrible for writing the snark and being, like unseriousness and stuff.

    I must be using computers too much. My mental faculties have degraded. You’re right, trotk. I’ll go smash my computers, burn my books, bury all my paper, pens, and pencils, and do my best to forget how to read, relying strictly on memory of oral information. Maybe it’s not too late.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    And, to continue my reply to Trotk (@11), sorry, but you lost me here:

    What if people effectively became dependent on calculators to do math? … What if our ability to spell or use correct grammar were dependent on our computers? … These things are tied to what it means to be human.

    Wait, what? Math and orthography are “tied to what it means to be human”? That … that’s a new one for me. That sounds like a horrible definition of what it means to be human, to be quite frank.

    What if people became dependent on a base-10 numeric system or the particular rules of arithmetic to do math? What then of humanity? What if people became dependent on wheelbarrows to haul large amounts of dirt or rocks?

    Is there even any reason to believe that our modern state is so lamentable? How many people “did math” as we would define it, back a millenium or three? Were they humans? I’d bet that more people — even if we took away their calculator “crutches” — can do math today than back then. Of course, that has more to do with modern education systems, but am I to believe that the humble calculator has wiped out all that (or, at least, whatever wasn’t previously wiped out by the slide rule and logarithmic tables)?

    And to set orthography up on a pedestal as tied to the “essence of humanity” does seem to ignore the whole period of Middle English, in which orthography was rarely standardized. Oh, the (lack of) humanity! ;)

    I obviously don’t get it. I could tell you — from personal experience, even — of the particular pitfalls of our modern technologies. And there are many. Every technology has them (as does, I would argue, the would-be lack of technology).

    But technology as a whole, as somehow embodied by this voice-activated Siri software? Yeah, I don’t get it.

    For what it’s worth, Apple also gave us Facetime, the ability to use our iPhones as video-chat machines, sort of like Skype. I’ve had my phone for two years and used it maybe twice. Sometimes earth-shattering technology … isn’t.

    Also, if Siri means that my daily bus commute is filled with people shouting at their phones, I’m gonna start punching.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    And, to continue my reply to Trotk (@11), sorry, but you lost me here:

    What if people effectively became dependent on calculators to do math? … What if our ability to spell or use correct grammar were dependent on our computers? … These things are tied to what it means to be human.

    Wait, what? Math and orthography are “tied to what it means to be human”? That … that’s a new one for me. That sounds like a horrible definition of what it means to be human, to be quite frank.

    What if people became dependent on a base-10 numeric system or the particular rules of arithmetic to do math? What then of humanity? What if people became dependent on wheelbarrows to haul large amounts of dirt or rocks?

    Is there even any reason to believe that our modern state is so lamentable? How many people “did math” as we would define it, back a millenium or three? Were they humans? I’d bet that more people — even if we took away their calculator “crutches” — can do math today than back then. Of course, that has more to do with modern education systems, but am I to believe that the humble calculator has wiped out all that (or, at least, whatever wasn’t previously wiped out by the slide rule and logarithmic tables)?

    And to set orthography up on a pedestal as tied to the “essence of humanity” does seem to ignore the whole period of Middle English, in which orthography was rarely standardized. Oh, the (lack of) humanity! ;)

    I obviously don’t get it. I could tell you — from personal experience, even — of the particular pitfalls of our modern technologies. And there are many. Every technology has them (as does, I would argue, the would-be lack of technology).

    But technology as a whole, as somehow embodied by this voice-activated Siri software? Yeah, I don’t get it.

    For what it’s worth, Apple also gave us Facetime, the ability to use our iPhones as video-chat machines, sort of like Skype. I’ve had my phone for two years and used it maybe twice. Sometimes earth-shattering technology … isn’t.

    Also, if Siri means that my daily bus commute is filled with people shouting at their phones, I’m gonna start punching.

  • trotk

    WebMonk and tODD:

    Time is unfortunately against me. My daughter’s baptism is this weekend and family is coming into town. Thus, I won’t have time to actually respond to you both this weekend, which is what I would like to do. I care about this argument deeply, and I am bothered by the fact that it usually gets laughed off.

    In the five minutes I have before going home to prepare for this weekend’s festivities…

    WebMonk, the funny thing is that I actually believe that writing has negative effects on people. tODD is right to acknowledge that the same arguments could be made against all technology. All technology is for the purpose of making man’s capabilities stronger. All technology is the result of the fall. All technology seeks to counteract the curse of the fall.

    And so, in a sense, all technology has the potential for good. By the sweat of your brow and thorns and thistles aren’t good things. But all technology has the potential for bad. When we begin to forget who we are, technology becomes really dangerous.

    There are also types of technology that enhance man’s powers, and then there are those that make man cease to use his actual abilities and powers. In other words, there are ones that extend our powers, like a hoe, and one’s that become our powers, like a tractor. The first group is dangerous, but on a quantitatively and qualitatively lower level than the second.

    When the technology replaces our ability (think calculator), we gradually lose the ability (we could always learn it again, but on the spot, it gets rusty and difficult to use). It isn’t an accident that the best scientists and writers the world has ever seen came before the computer. Even books have qualitatively and quantitatively reduced our memories. The Greeks knew this. I am frightened by this, because we become disconnected with the actual nature and abilities of man. I am also frightened by this because we begin to lose sight of our status before God. It is our tower of Babel. We have grown incredibly powerful through our technology, and yet we are personally weaker. We have grown incredibly powerful, but it has not been matched by a increasing knowledge of man’s place before God. Thus the increasing power brings unbelievable danger.

    Plus, our technologies have amazing side-effects. A tractor needs fuel and pollutes and rapes the earth. A horse doesn’t. In fact, it makes the earth better.

    I do believe we would be better off without most modern technology. Most simple technology (that which is powered by something other than gas or electricity) should be used with caution.

    I am aware of the fact that I am a hypocrite for typing this in this format.

  • trotk

    WebMonk and tODD:

    Time is unfortunately against me. My daughter’s baptism is this weekend and family is coming into town. Thus, I won’t have time to actually respond to you both this weekend, which is what I would like to do. I care about this argument deeply, and I am bothered by the fact that it usually gets laughed off.

    In the five minutes I have before going home to prepare for this weekend’s festivities…

    WebMonk, the funny thing is that I actually believe that writing has negative effects on people. tODD is right to acknowledge that the same arguments could be made against all technology. All technology is for the purpose of making man’s capabilities stronger. All technology is the result of the fall. All technology seeks to counteract the curse of the fall.

    And so, in a sense, all technology has the potential for good. By the sweat of your brow and thorns and thistles aren’t good things. But all technology has the potential for bad. When we begin to forget who we are, technology becomes really dangerous.

    There are also types of technology that enhance man’s powers, and then there are those that make man cease to use his actual abilities and powers. In other words, there are ones that extend our powers, like a hoe, and one’s that become our powers, like a tractor. The first group is dangerous, but on a quantitatively and qualitatively lower level than the second.

    When the technology replaces our ability (think calculator), we gradually lose the ability (we could always learn it again, but on the spot, it gets rusty and difficult to use). It isn’t an accident that the best scientists and writers the world has ever seen came before the computer. Even books have qualitatively and quantitatively reduced our memories. The Greeks knew this. I am frightened by this, because we become disconnected with the actual nature and abilities of man. I am also frightened by this because we begin to lose sight of our status before God. It is our tower of Babel. We have grown incredibly powerful through our technology, and yet we are personally weaker. We have grown incredibly powerful, but it has not been matched by a increasing knowledge of man’s place before God. Thus the increasing power brings unbelievable danger.

    Plus, our technologies have amazing side-effects. A tractor needs fuel and pollutes and rapes the earth. A horse doesn’t. In fact, it makes the earth better.

    I do believe we would be better off without most modern technology. Most simple technology (that which is powered by something other than gas or electricity) should be used with caution.

    I am aware of the fact that I am a hypocrite for typing this in this format.

  • WebMonk

    ROTFLOL!!!!

    trotk, you slay me!!!

    If you were writing anything that was worth a serious response, I’d give you one, but you aren’t so I won’t. I’ll just poke that this one line: “It isn’t an accident that the best scientists and writers the world has ever seen came before the computer.

    Yup! It’s all the computers’ fault that there hasn’t been a scientist in the last 50 years that is in the top-10 scientists of the last 5000 (give or take) years!! :-D

    I really did laughing out loud there!

    tODD, give it up. That level of delusion is impervious to everything.

  • WebMonk

    ROTFLOL!!!!

    trotk, you slay me!!!

    If you were writing anything that was worth a serious response, I’d give you one, but you aren’t so I won’t. I’ll just poke that this one line: “It isn’t an accident that the best scientists and writers the world has ever seen came before the computer.

    Yup! It’s all the computers’ fault that there hasn’t been a scientist in the last 50 years that is in the top-10 scientists of the last 5000 (give or take) years!! :-D

    I really did laughing out loud there!

    tODD, give it up. That level of delusion is impervious to everything.

  • WebMonk

    God! Why oh why did you tell people to write things down since writing things down causes us to “lose sight of our status before God”!!

    God, why did you do it?! WHY?!?!!!!

  • WebMonk

    God! Why oh why did you tell people to write things down since writing things down causes us to “lose sight of our status before God”!!

    God, why did you do it?! WHY?!?!!!!

  • SM

    Regarding the discussion of whether technology causes the atrophy of any vital human skills, Neil Postman has some interesting thoughts in his book Technopoly (1992). He relates the myth of Thamus which appears in Plato’s Phaedrus. Thamus, replying to the inventor and advocate of writing, says “Those who acquire it (i.e. writing) will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful; they will rely on writing to bring things to their remembrance by external signs instead of by their own internal resources…….And as for wisdom, your pupils will have the reputation for it without the reality: they will receive a quantity of information without proper instruction, and in consequence be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant. And because they are filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom, they will be a burden to society”. (end of quote from Plato’s Phaedrus).

    Postman goes on to say that there is an error in Thamus judgment, but the error is not that writing will weaken memory and cause false wisdom. Thamus’ error lies in thinking that writing will be nothing but a burden to society. It is a mistake to suppose that technological innovation has a one-sided effect. The lesson: be neither uncritical technophile nor unthinking Luddite. And always keep in mind that any technological innovation can be a Faustian bargain.

  • SM

    Regarding the discussion of whether technology causes the atrophy of any vital human skills, Neil Postman has some interesting thoughts in his book Technopoly (1992). He relates the myth of Thamus which appears in Plato’s Phaedrus. Thamus, replying to the inventor and advocate of writing, says “Those who acquire it (i.e. writing) will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful; they will rely on writing to bring things to their remembrance by external signs instead of by their own internal resources…….And as for wisdom, your pupils will have the reputation for it without the reality: they will receive a quantity of information without proper instruction, and in consequence be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant. And because they are filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom, they will be a burden to society”. (end of quote from Plato’s Phaedrus).

    Postman goes on to say that there is an error in Thamus judgment, but the error is not that writing will weaken memory and cause false wisdom. Thamus’ error lies in thinking that writing will be nothing but a burden to society. It is a mistake to suppose that technological innovation has a one-sided effect. The lesson: be neither uncritical technophile nor unthinking Luddite. And always keep in mind that any technological innovation can be a Faustian bargain.

  • trotk

    So after dinner, I sat back at my computer for two minutes, and discover that WebMonk’s reasoning abilities are totally gone.

    WebMonk, good grief. Are you that incapable of entertaining a thought that at first glance you reject?

    SM, I agree with Postman’s critique of Thamus. (WebMonk, you ought to read what SM wrote veeerrrryyy slowly, lest you miss the point in your laughter.)

  • trotk

    So after dinner, I sat back at my computer for two minutes, and discover that WebMonk’s reasoning abilities are totally gone.

    WebMonk, good grief. Are you that incapable of entertaining a thought that at first glance you reject?

    SM, I agree with Postman’s critique of Thamus. (WebMonk, you ought to read what SM wrote veeerrrryyy slowly, lest you miss the point in your laughter.)

  • steve

    All this talk of Jobs and tODD’s comment “people who fancy themselves ‘independent-minded’” made me think of a Dilbert strip. I hope it’s not too soon…

    http://dilbert.com/dyn/str_strip/000000000/00000000/0000000/100000/00000/0000/700/100758/100758.strip.gif

  • steve

    All this talk of Jobs and tODD’s comment “people who fancy themselves ‘independent-minded’” made me think of a Dilbert strip. I hope it’s not too soon…

    http://dilbert.com/dyn/str_strip/000000000/00000000/0000000/100000/00000/0000/700/100758/100758.strip.gif

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Trotk (@21), it would, of course, be highly ironic for you to take any time away from your family to contribute to this discussion — even I might suggest that such a temptation would be a downside to (modern) technology! So please, spend time with your family, enjoy the moment, and only get back to us if you have time. Oh, and congratulations, of course! (Does this mean you recently added a child to your family?)

    All technology is the result of the fall. All technology seeks to counteract the curse of the fall.

    Hmm. I certainly hadn’t thought of it like that. Having thought it over a little bit, I can’t say I necessarily disagree — or at least, I can’t think of any obvious counter-arguments.

    But I also worry about the implications of such a statement. Because it’s also true that all technology is a gift and blessing from God, to our good. I mean, all meat-eating is also the result of the fall. But that doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about whether meat-eating is good or bad.

    But all technology has the potential for bad. When we begin to forget who we are, technology becomes really dangerous.

    Well, everything has the potential for bad, if we put our faith in it and not in the Lord who gave it to us. But, yes, technology is not exempt. Still, I haven’t yet understood what you’re getting at with this “who we are” bit, and why you seem to think it of particular concern in the area of “technology”.

    In other words, there are ones that extend our powers, like a hoe, and one’s that become our powers, like a tractor.

    Hmm. I’m not sure this is as clear cut as you’re making it out to be. I get your point — you still get sweaty working with a hoe — but this seems mainly applicable to physical “powers”. And where is the line drawn? It’s not like we don’t use physical powers when driving a tractor. I’d argue we likely use far more mental powers doing so than farming with a manual hoe. That makes it more of a trade-off of powers than a blanket diminution of power. You bring up these examples as if there were two distinct groups, but it seems to me that one could easily come up with a smooth gradient from one to the other, based on the mechanical advantage involved (you know, hand, hoe, ox-plow, 1930s tractor, 1990s tractor, hydraulic robot-tractor).

    When the technology replaces our ability (think calculator), we gradually lose the ability

    Sure. I think that’s the trade-off. But the trade-off is always seen as being in our favor, isn’t it? I suppose you’re arguing against that, though so far all you’ve really demonstrated to me is that the trade-off changes things. I have yet to see a good reason for why I should lament my lacking the ability (at this moment) to memorize large amounts of epic poems I’ve heard.

    It isn’t an accident that the best scientists and writers the world has ever seen came before the computer.

    Sorry, but I think WebMonk had you on this one (@22). I’m not sure when you define the age of the computer as beginning, but it is obviously a very short time period. Comparing several millenia of science and literature to the past few decades and saying “Look, better stuff here” is hardly compelling. Ditch this point.

    Even books have qualitatively and quantitatively reduced our memories. The Greeks knew this. I am frightened by this, because we become disconnected with the actual nature and abilities of man.

    Yes, but you have a rather relentless focus on the negative side of the trade-off here. Are you denying that we got something out of the deal? That is to say, we gained other abilities we didn’t have before — like learning something that was not known to any of the people we talked to. We gained the ability to learn from the true greats of humanity, not just whoever happened to live near us. We learned lessons from other tribes, other cultures, other nations, other times.

    Besides, I remain unconvinced that we’ve actually lost the capacity for anything. It seems more likely that we’ve lost the desire to use our bodies/minds in that way. I mean, back in the day, people’s bodies were probably, on average, much better at heavy lifting and other such hard work. Now, most people don’t need to do that to make a living. And yet, the human body is still capable of fantastic feats (cf. the Olympics).

    I am also frightened by this because we begin to lose sight of our status before God.

    No idea what this is about. Has sin increased? Is technology thwarting God’s plan of salvation? Conversely, did you expect technology to aid us, as such, in our relationship with God?

    And while, yes, snarky, I think WebMonk has a valid point again (@23). God seems to have a different tack on technology than you do, given the whole God’s Word thing. You know, the same writing that “has negative effects on people”. Is the Bible having a deleterious effect on our relationship with God?

    Plus, our technologies have amazing side-effects. A tractor needs fuel and pollutes and rapes the earth. A horse doesn’t. In fact, it makes the earth better.

    See, this is why I have a hard time taking your argument seriously. You praise one technology, playing up its good aspects, but decry another, playing up its bad points. Likewise, discussions of the dangers/evils of technology only ever come up in relation to new technologies that people are scared of. I’ve never heard anyone start up a criticism of technology by railing against writing — that usually only comes later, as a concession.

    I mean, yes, like I said, there are always trade-offs. No, we don’t always fully understand what those trade-offs are at the time we decide to go with some new technology.

    But horses may have killed a lot more people than have tractors. Just a guess. Of course, tractor injuries are likely worse than horse injuries. I don’t know, really. Still, it’s not fair to compare a horse with a tractor — a tractor does the work of many horses. How much land would be required to feed those horses, especially if we all stopped using tractors? Would there be enough land left to feed all the people?

    Or what about heating my house — which is better, a high-efficiency natural gas furnace, or burning logs? The former almost certainly leads to less overall pollution and more breathable air. And while natural gas has its own problems, one can’t dismiss the issues (e.g. even more deforestation, on a vaster scale) that would be caused by having everyone heat their houses using firewood.

    Ultimately, I don’t believe you really think we all would be “better off without most modern technology”. I get the reactionary response, the looking back with longing to a romanticized view of the past. I get the reasonable criticisms of the abuses and side-effects of modern choices. Perhaps like you, I have made my choices so as to embrace what I believe to be the good aspects of modern life, while also eschewing some of the less optimal features (e.g. industrial food production). Because I can make that choice — thanks to many modern technologies.

    Ultimately, however, these choices simply are not going to be made at a level important enough to matter. You can make choices for you, but you cannot make choices for everyone. And most people do not have the leisure to make the choices you and I can — for them, technology merely affords them the ability to live in this modern world. The world is what it is.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Trotk (@21), it would, of course, be highly ironic for you to take any time away from your family to contribute to this discussion — even I might suggest that such a temptation would be a downside to (modern) technology! So please, spend time with your family, enjoy the moment, and only get back to us if you have time. Oh, and congratulations, of course! (Does this mean you recently added a child to your family?)

    All technology is the result of the fall. All technology seeks to counteract the curse of the fall.

    Hmm. I certainly hadn’t thought of it like that. Having thought it over a little bit, I can’t say I necessarily disagree — or at least, I can’t think of any obvious counter-arguments.

    But I also worry about the implications of such a statement. Because it’s also true that all technology is a gift and blessing from God, to our good. I mean, all meat-eating is also the result of the fall. But that doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about whether meat-eating is good or bad.

    But all technology has the potential for bad. When we begin to forget who we are, technology becomes really dangerous.

    Well, everything has the potential for bad, if we put our faith in it and not in the Lord who gave it to us. But, yes, technology is not exempt. Still, I haven’t yet understood what you’re getting at with this “who we are” bit, and why you seem to think it of particular concern in the area of “technology”.

    In other words, there are ones that extend our powers, like a hoe, and one’s that become our powers, like a tractor.

    Hmm. I’m not sure this is as clear cut as you’re making it out to be. I get your point — you still get sweaty working with a hoe — but this seems mainly applicable to physical “powers”. And where is the line drawn? It’s not like we don’t use physical powers when driving a tractor. I’d argue we likely use far more mental powers doing so than farming with a manual hoe. That makes it more of a trade-off of powers than a blanket diminution of power. You bring up these examples as if there were two distinct groups, but it seems to me that one could easily come up with a smooth gradient from one to the other, based on the mechanical advantage involved (you know, hand, hoe, ox-plow, 1930s tractor, 1990s tractor, hydraulic robot-tractor).

    When the technology replaces our ability (think calculator), we gradually lose the ability

    Sure. I think that’s the trade-off. But the trade-off is always seen as being in our favor, isn’t it? I suppose you’re arguing against that, though so far all you’ve really demonstrated to me is that the trade-off changes things. I have yet to see a good reason for why I should lament my lacking the ability (at this moment) to memorize large amounts of epic poems I’ve heard.

    It isn’t an accident that the best scientists and writers the world has ever seen came before the computer.

    Sorry, but I think WebMonk had you on this one (@22). I’m not sure when you define the age of the computer as beginning, but it is obviously a very short time period. Comparing several millenia of science and literature to the past few decades and saying “Look, better stuff here” is hardly compelling. Ditch this point.

    Even books have qualitatively and quantitatively reduced our memories. The Greeks knew this. I am frightened by this, because we become disconnected with the actual nature and abilities of man.

    Yes, but you have a rather relentless focus on the negative side of the trade-off here. Are you denying that we got something out of the deal? That is to say, we gained other abilities we didn’t have before — like learning something that was not known to any of the people we talked to. We gained the ability to learn from the true greats of humanity, not just whoever happened to live near us. We learned lessons from other tribes, other cultures, other nations, other times.

    Besides, I remain unconvinced that we’ve actually lost the capacity for anything. It seems more likely that we’ve lost the desire to use our bodies/minds in that way. I mean, back in the day, people’s bodies were probably, on average, much better at heavy lifting and other such hard work. Now, most people don’t need to do that to make a living. And yet, the human body is still capable of fantastic feats (cf. the Olympics).

    I am also frightened by this because we begin to lose sight of our status before God.

    No idea what this is about. Has sin increased? Is technology thwarting God’s plan of salvation? Conversely, did you expect technology to aid us, as such, in our relationship with God?

    And while, yes, snarky, I think WebMonk has a valid point again (@23). God seems to have a different tack on technology than you do, given the whole God’s Word thing. You know, the same writing that “has negative effects on people”. Is the Bible having a deleterious effect on our relationship with God?

    Plus, our technologies have amazing side-effects. A tractor needs fuel and pollutes and rapes the earth. A horse doesn’t. In fact, it makes the earth better.

    See, this is why I have a hard time taking your argument seriously. You praise one technology, playing up its good aspects, but decry another, playing up its bad points. Likewise, discussions of the dangers/evils of technology only ever come up in relation to new technologies that people are scared of. I’ve never heard anyone start up a criticism of technology by railing against writing — that usually only comes later, as a concession.

    I mean, yes, like I said, there are always trade-offs. No, we don’t always fully understand what those trade-offs are at the time we decide to go with some new technology.

    But horses may have killed a lot more people than have tractors. Just a guess. Of course, tractor injuries are likely worse than horse injuries. I don’t know, really. Still, it’s not fair to compare a horse with a tractor — a tractor does the work of many horses. How much land would be required to feed those horses, especially if we all stopped using tractors? Would there be enough land left to feed all the people?

    Or what about heating my house — which is better, a high-efficiency natural gas furnace, or burning logs? The former almost certainly leads to less overall pollution and more breathable air. And while natural gas has its own problems, one can’t dismiss the issues (e.g. even more deforestation, on a vaster scale) that would be caused by having everyone heat their houses using firewood.

    Ultimately, I don’t believe you really think we all would be “better off without most modern technology”. I get the reactionary response, the looking back with longing to a romanticized view of the past. I get the reasonable criticisms of the abuses and side-effects of modern choices. Perhaps like you, I have made my choices so as to embrace what I believe to be the good aspects of modern life, while also eschewing some of the less optimal features (e.g. industrial food production). Because I can make that choice — thanks to many modern technologies.

    Ultimately, however, these choices simply are not going to be made at a level important enough to matter. You can make choices for you, but you cannot make choices for everyone. And most people do not have the leisure to make the choices you and I can — for them, technology merely affords them the ability to live in this modern world. The world is what it is.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Okay, that was an exceedingly long reply (@27) to Trotk (@21). Sorry — I usually detest long comments like that (they don’t really fit the medium), but I obviously find this discussion interesting, and Trotk’s thoughts worth replying to.

    WebMonk (@22), I really have to encourage you to try a different tack. In the past week, I’ve seen several replies from you that consisted mainly of sarcastic overreaction. I don’t think they work like you want. I know you’re a smart guy and have something to contribute to this discussion, if you want. But I’m having a hard time picking it up through the forced hysteria.

    I say this as someone who has already agreed with the points you’ve made.

    SM (@24), I like what you said:

    Ge neither uncritical technophile nor unthinking Luddite.

    Though I believe that could be condensed to: Think! Technophiles and Luddites both make the mistake of letting their knee-jerk philosophies do their thinking for them.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Okay, that was an exceedingly long reply (@27) to Trotk (@21). Sorry — I usually detest long comments like that (they don’t really fit the medium), but I obviously find this discussion interesting, and Trotk’s thoughts worth replying to.

    WebMonk (@22), I really have to encourage you to try a different tack. In the past week, I’ve seen several replies from you that consisted mainly of sarcastic overreaction. I don’t think they work like you want. I know you’re a smart guy and have something to contribute to this discussion, if you want. But I’m having a hard time picking it up through the forced hysteria.

    I say this as someone who has already agreed with the points you’ve made.

    SM (@24), I like what you said:

    Ge neither uncritical technophile nor unthinking Luddite.

    Though I believe that could be condensed to: Think! Technophiles and Luddites both make the mistake of letting their knee-jerk philosophies do their thinking for them.

  • SM

    Just a couple more thoughts to toss into the technology debate. Information technology in all its various forms can pose a threat to the self that is less obvious than the threat posed by, say the technology of weapons of war. And it seems to me that some folks are more sensitive to and disturbed by this subtle threat than are others. Perhaps they are overreacting, perhaps not; hence the back and forth of the debate. I come down on the side of those who are uneasy about the rampant technophilia in our society and the impact upon the self. I’m reminded of Walker Percy’s classic “Lost in the Cosmos” (1983) – “The Strange Case of the Self, your Self, the Ghost which haunts the Cosmos or How you can survive in the Cosmos about which you know more and more while knowing less and less about yourself”. You can have a state of the art GPS and still be “lost in the cosmos”. Also William Barrett’s “Death of the Soul – From Descartes to the Computer” (1986) with a chapter titled The Disappearing Self and a discussion of whether a computer can write a poem. Now I don’t maintain that the only way we can preserve our selves is to toss all our electronic devices onto a bonfire of the vanities, but rather that we “be sober, be vigilant” as we navigate our way back home.
    Dr. Veith’s recent post about idleness brought to mind the impact of technology on leisure. I periodically come across an op ed column in which the writer reflects upon an upcoming vacation, the need for taking a break, etc. Inevitably, it seems, the writer expresses the need to leave behind or limit the use of his various electronic gadgets if he is to experience a rejuvenating vacation. But I have yet to read of someone advocating leaving behind that older technological marvel, the book.

  • SM

    Just a couple more thoughts to toss into the technology debate. Information technology in all its various forms can pose a threat to the self that is less obvious than the threat posed by, say the technology of weapons of war. And it seems to me that some folks are more sensitive to and disturbed by this subtle threat than are others. Perhaps they are overreacting, perhaps not; hence the back and forth of the debate. I come down on the side of those who are uneasy about the rampant technophilia in our society and the impact upon the self. I’m reminded of Walker Percy’s classic “Lost in the Cosmos” (1983) – “The Strange Case of the Self, your Self, the Ghost which haunts the Cosmos or How you can survive in the Cosmos about which you know more and more while knowing less and less about yourself”. You can have a state of the art GPS and still be “lost in the cosmos”. Also William Barrett’s “Death of the Soul – From Descartes to the Computer” (1986) with a chapter titled The Disappearing Self and a discussion of whether a computer can write a poem. Now I don’t maintain that the only way we can preserve our selves is to toss all our electronic devices onto a bonfire of the vanities, but rather that we “be sober, be vigilant” as we navigate our way back home.
    Dr. Veith’s recent post about idleness brought to mind the impact of technology on leisure. I periodically come across an op ed column in which the writer reflects upon an upcoming vacation, the need for taking a break, etc. Inevitably, it seems, the writer expresses the need to leave behind or limit the use of his various electronic gadgets if he is to experience a rejuvenating vacation. But I have yet to read of someone advocating leaving behind that older technological marvel, the book.

  • trotk

    tODD, yes, we did have a daughter this summer, and she is being baptized tomorrow.
    It is manifestly evident that most technology can be used for good and evil. This is what I meant by saying that technology is a product of the fall. It fights against its curse, and so both relieves man of the curse (good, because we don’t like it when people die and starve) and bad (because it makes us forget that we are weak and needy before God – this is what I mean when I say we lose sight of our status).
    It is also manifestly evident that technology is on a spectrum in terms of how much good is caused (And what we define is good is very important to this discussion. I would argue that “good” is bringing man into right relationship with his Creator, not external benefits, necessarily – it is a totally different standard than what technology is usually judged by.), and it is also manifestly evident that technology is on a spectrum in terms of how much evil is caused. (Again, evil is what pushes man away from his Creator, and much technology does this because as we believe that material goods and powers can solve life’s issues, we necessarily lose sight of our condition before God.)

    So the trick is picking technology that does little evil and great good, but keep in mind that I define good differently than the normal critics of technology. This is what Postman or Wendell Berry would argue too, although I am spiritualizing it. I would recommend reading Berry’s view of technology. He gets mocked, but he is so much more aware of and sensitive to the nature and state of man’s soul than any of his critics. Basically, they are generally fools, and while he may overstate things at times, they have no idea the danger they are comfortable with for the sake of a technological convenience. Danger is a big word, but it basically boils down to a materialistic answer to the world’s problems. We are the most materialistic generation ever, and although paganism is obviously wrong, I would rather live in a place where paganism is the major idol, not materialism.
    This is for two reasons: One is the receptivity to the idea of God, and thus the gospel. The other is the fact that low technology cultures care for their health, soil, food, environment, etc in the proper way. We wouldn’t have the environmental disasters that we do if we didn’t believe it was our job to become as powerful as possible. Modern farming is an ecological, economic, and spiritual disaster. Although their theology is terrible, give me the Amish any day.
    As for the argument frequently voiced that technology gives us leisure to pursue more important activities, I will grant that it is true in theory, but not in practice. We have little leisure in our culture, and fill up the leisure we have with things that destroy our imaginations, which is the primary part of us that understands God. Not a good practice. Judge something not by its possibilities, but by its actual results.
    As for the scientists/authors issue, I know that claiming all the best were prior to the computer puts years on my side. But think for a minute! The last fifty years has population on its side, as well as accumulated and accessible knowledge. Both have grown exponentially, and thus we should be seeing the theoretical development now. Instead, we are seeing an age primarily characterized by application of older theories. I would put money on the fact that Newton, Planck, Shakespeare, Einstein, Milton, Descartes (for his math), Pascal (for his math and philosophy), etc, etc would not have been the same in our world of technological overload and technological amusement. Maybe a few of them would have been immune, but not all.

    I complete agree with the sentiment that we need neither Luddites nor technophiles. After all, I use a computer every day. But most people who agree with this don’t ever question technology! They simply state that we should recognize that technology causes good and back effects, and we should be careful. But it doesn’t change any of their personal practices and they never are willing to acknowledge that some technologies are inherently too powerful, or are too consistently used for evil. For example, the TV. There is not nearly enough good in practice, and way too much powerful evil in theory (how it affects our attention spans) to justify the amount of time and money we devote to it. But I imagine this claim doesn’t fall on sympathetic ears. I would rather err on the side of the Amish than the technophiles.

    Go back and read what SM posted at 24. Notice that Postman agreed with the harm the writing caused. Notice how radical those harms are. He didn’t deny that, he just noted that it did good as well. If writing is that dangerous, imagine what he would say about so many things we have now in terms of technology.

    I guess you could say that I care too much about the environment, the imagination, our mental faculties, our physical faculties, and our awareness of our brokenness before God to not argue for what seems like an extreme position. I imagine that you don’t agree about the danger, though.

  • trotk

    tODD, yes, we did have a daughter this summer, and she is being baptized tomorrow.
    It is manifestly evident that most technology can be used for good and evil. This is what I meant by saying that technology is a product of the fall. It fights against its curse, and so both relieves man of the curse (good, because we don’t like it when people die and starve) and bad (because it makes us forget that we are weak and needy before God – this is what I mean when I say we lose sight of our status).
    It is also manifestly evident that technology is on a spectrum in terms of how much good is caused (And what we define is good is very important to this discussion. I would argue that “good” is bringing man into right relationship with his Creator, not external benefits, necessarily – it is a totally different standard than what technology is usually judged by.), and it is also manifestly evident that technology is on a spectrum in terms of how much evil is caused. (Again, evil is what pushes man away from his Creator, and much technology does this because as we believe that material goods and powers can solve life’s issues, we necessarily lose sight of our condition before God.)

    So the trick is picking technology that does little evil and great good, but keep in mind that I define good differently than the normal critics of technology. This is what Postman or Wendell Berry would argue too, although I am spiritualizing it. I would recommend reading Berry’s view of technology. He gets mocked, but he is so much more aware of and sensitive to the nature and state of man’s soul than any of his critics. Basically, they are generally fools, and while he may overstate things at times, they have no idea the danger they are comfortable with for the sake of a technological convenience. Danger is a big word, but it basically boils down to a materialistic answer to the world’s problems. We are the most materialistic generation ever, and although paganism is obviously wrong, I would rather live in a place where paganism is the major idol, not materialism.
    This is for two reasons: One is the receptivity to the idea of God, and thus the gospel. The other is the fact that low technology cultures care for their health, soil, food, environment, etc in the proper way. We wouldn’t have the environmental disasters that we do if we didn’t believe it was our job to become as powerful as possible. Modern farming is an ecological, economic, and spiritual disaster. Although their theology is terrible, give me the Amish any day.
    As for the argument frequently voiced that technology gives us leisure to pursue more important activities, I will grant that it is true in theory, but not in practice. We have little leisure in our culture, and fill up the leisure we have with things that destroy our imaginations, which is the primary part of us that understands God. Not a good practice. Judge something not by its possibilities, but by its actual results.
    As for the scientists/authors issue, I know that claiming all the best were prior to the computer puts years on my side. But think for a minute! The last fifty years has population on its side, as well as accumulated and accessible knowledge. Both have grown exponentially, and thus we should be seeing the theoretical development now. Instead, we are seeing an age primarily characterized by application of older theories. I would put money on the fact that Newton, Planck, Shakespeare, Einstein, Milton, Descartes (for his math), Pascal (for his math and philosophy), etc, etc would not have been the same in our world of technological overload and technological amusement. Maybe a few of them would have been immune, but not all.

    I complete agree with the sentiment that we need neither Luddites nor technophiles. After all, I use a computer every day. But most people who agree with this don’t ever question technology! They simply state that we should recognize that technology causes good and back effects, and we should be careful. But it doesn’t change any of their personal practices and they never are willing to acknowledge that some technologies are inherently too powerful, or are too consistently used for evil. For example, the TV. There is not nearly enough good in practice, and way too much powerful evil in theory (how it affects our attention spans) to justify the amount of time and money we devote to it. But I imagine this claim doesn’t fall on sympathetic ears. I would rather err on the side of the Amish than the technophiles.

    Go back and read what SM posted at 24. Notice that Postman agreed with the harm the writing caused. Notice how radical those harms are. He didn’t deny that, he just noted that it did good as well. If writing is that dangerous, imagine what he would say about so many things we have now in terms of technology.

    I guess you could say that I care too much about the environment, the imagination, our mental faculties, our physical faculties, and our awareness of our brokenness before God to not argue for what seems like an extreme position. I imagine that you don’t agree about the danger, though.

  • Grace

    trokt and SM –

    I agree with much of what you have written.

    Technology can be a good thing, but it also can be used, in the hands of young people, much to their determent. Just one case in point – observing young people stumbling along, text messaging, oblivious to what is going on around them.. not just occasionally, but all the time. Social skills are lacking in our youth, they depend on PC’s for interaction, facebook, twitter, etc. and most of all their phones – it’s not healthy.

    Math is another point.

    My husband and I both purchased iPhones a few months ago – big mistake, we would never get another. Verizon offered live TV on their phones a few years ago, we both enjoyed being able to watch the news when we were out, but it was cancelled this last March 1st.

    The droid is a much better phone, it too offer television, and a keyboard, that is much more useful, quick, .. less errors, than the ‘toys we have now.

    Michael @ 8 – yes Steve Jobs was a Buddhist.

    Another take on Steve Jobs:

    What Everyone Is Too Polite to Say About Steve Jobs

    http://gawker.com/5847344/what-everyone-is-too-polite-to-say-about-steve-jobs

  • Grace

    trokt and SM –

    I agree with much of what you have written.

    Technology can be a good thing, but it also can be used, in the hands of young people, much to their determent. Just one case in point – observing young people stumbling along, text messaging, oblivious to what is going on around them.. not just occasionally, but all the time. Social skills are lacking in our youth, they depend on PC’s for interaction, facebook, twitter, etc. and most of all their phones – it’s not healthy.

    Math is another point.

    My husband and I both purchased iPhones a few months ago – big mistake, we would never get another. Verizon offered live TV on their phones a few years ago, we both enjoyed being able to watch the news when we were out, but it was cancelled this last March 1st.

    The droid is a much better phone, it too offer television, and a keyboard, that is much more useful, quick, .. less errors, than the ‘toys we have now.

    Michael @ 8 – yes Steve Jobs was a Buddhist.

    Another take on Steve Jobs:

    What Everyone Is Too Polite to Say About Steve Jobs

    http://gawker.com/5847344/what-everyone-is-too-polite-to-say-about-steve-jobs

  • Kelly

    I’m a little confused about the assertion that all technology is a result of the Fall. How would we ever know this? It’s true that we use a lot of technology today for labor-saving. But could we ever know that Adam didn’t invent the garden hoe to order and care for Eden, before he sinned and was driven away to till the land by the sweat of his brow? Technology doesn’t have to be just a crutch for our sin and weakness. Can’t it be used for the pleasure of new discovery or the creation of beauty? Is the notion of technology in the new heavens and new earth inconceivable? Perhaps tODD had a better idea of this argument than what I’m currently understanding. Could someone spell it out a little better for me?

  • Kelly

    I’m a little confused about the assertion that all technology is a result of the Fall. How would we ever know this? It’s true that we use a lot of technology today for labor-saving. But could we ever know that Adam didn’t invent the garden hoe to order and care for Eden, before he sinned and was driven away to till the land by the sweat of his brow? Technology doesn’t have to be just a crutch for our sin and weakness. Can’t it be used for the pleasure of new discovery or the creation of beauty? Is the notion of technology in the new heavens and new earth inconceivable? Perhaps tODD had a better idea of this argument than what I’m currently understanding. Could someone spell it out a little better for me?

  • Grace

    Kellly,

    I agree with you and tODD. There is middle ground, but few find it – it’s either all tech, or back decades – High tech in medicine has made many things possible, that have benefited so many, and that can be said for the world we live in today, on other fronts.

    The problem I see, a lack of social skills, and love for one-another. To a great degree, people live within their homes, no matter how successful they are, not reaching out to others. When I was a child, everyone needed, everyone else, that isn’t true anymore (at least in many peoples minds) they would rather close their doors and live within the limits of the family they reside with. Neighbors aren’t too important to todays family, no matter where they live, they don’t know them, and have no intention of changing the relationship.

  • Grace

    Kellly,

    I agree with you and tODD. There is middle ground, but few find it – it’s either all tech, or back decades – High tech in medicine has made many things possible, that have benefited so many, and that can be said for the world we live in today, on other fronts.

    The problem I see, a lack of social skills, and love for one-another. To a great degree, people live within their homes, no matter how successful they are, not reaching out to others. When I was a child, everyone needed, everyone else, that isn’t true anymore (at least in many peoples minds) they would rather close their doors and live within the limits of the family they reside with. Neighbors aren’t too important to todays family, no matter where they live, they don’t know them, and have no intention of changing the relationship.

  • Grace

    Kelly,

    I should have made the last point – through high tech, people have become insular, they don’t need what my parents and family had, which was a stable group of friends, which helped and nourished one another, in good times and bad.

    High tech can’t help when a parent, child or loved one becomes ill, nor can it sooth the pain of losing one to death. Observing those around me, who live a life that includes very few people is foreign to me, but yet, I’ve learned to accept that which I can’t change. For this reason, technology has been a great step forward, but it doesn’t have a heart, and that’s what is missing today in our young people, and family life – it’s all passing one another on the way to ………

  • Grace

    Kelly,

    I should have made the last point – through high tech, people have become insular, they don’t need what my parents and family had, which was a stable group of friends, which helped and nourished one another, in good times and bad.

    High tech can’t help when a parent, child or loved one becomes ill, nor can it sooth the pain of losing one to death. Observing those around me, who live a life that includes very few people is foreign to me, but yet, I’ve learned to accept that which I can’t change. For this reason, technology has been a great step forward, but it doesn’t have a heart, and that’s what is missing today in our young people, and family life – it’s all passing one another on the way to ………

  • Cincinnatus

    Just a thought–one that has already been referenced several times–modern technology, particularly computerized technology, actually has led to a “decline” in cognitive faculties and a general “forgetting” of various bodies of knowledge, among “average” people at least (so many scare quotes!). We literally have outsourced entire skillsets and techniques (as opposed to technologies) to computers– handwriting, mathematics, statistics, information gathering, etc.–such that ordinary people have forgotten the organic use of these skills altogether, often intentionally. In this way, modern technology–contra both tODD and Webmonk–is qualitatively distinct from the tools and “technologies” of past epochs. One wasn’t outsourcing coherent, embodied knowledge when, say, the wheel or the hammer were invented. These things enhanced rather than replaced human competence. In fact, it could be said that computerized technology more often degrades rather than complements or even merely exists alongside human competence. This brief remark obviously does not do justice to the extended debate you all have had, but I bring it up to note that WebMonk’s mean-spirited dismissal of trotk’s argument is positively ignorant. trotk is correct, at least in part.

    Also, yes. The idea that the invention of writing signaled a decline in human life and understanding is neither new nor extraordinary. Much greater minds than ours asserted such. It is precisely for this reason that Socrates refused to write anything. (Of course, ironically, we only know of Socrates’ adamance on this point due to the writings of his apparently rebellious student Plato.) Derrida, for what he’s worth, argues similarly: something is lost when we favor writing over speech. Something is lost when we favor computers over pen and paper.

    Also, Steve Jobs was a jerk, and his company is/was evil.

  • Cincinnatus

    Just a thought–one that has already been referenced several times–modern technology, particularly computerized technology, actually has led to a “decline” in cognitive faculties and a general “forgetting” of various bodies of knowledge, among “average” people at least (so many scare quotes!). We literally have outsourced entire skillsets and techniques (as opposed to technologies) to computers– handwriting, mathematics, statistics, information gathering, etc.–such that ordinary people have forgotten the organic use of these skills altogether, often intentionally. In this way, modern technology–contra both tODD and Webmonk–is qualitatively distinct from the tools and “technologies” of past epochs. One wasn’t outsourcing coherent, embodied knowledge when, say, the wheel or the hammer were invented. These things enhanced rather than replaced human competence. In fact, it could be said that computerized technology more often degrades rather than complements or even merely exists alongside human competence. This brief remark obviously does not do justice to the extended debate you all have had, but I bring it up to note that WebMonk’s mean-spirited dismissal of trotk’s argument is positively ignorant. trotk is correct, at least in part.

    Also, yes. The idea that the invention of writing signaled a decline in human life and understanding is neither new nor extraordinary. Much greater minds than ours asserted such. It is precisely for this reason that Socrates refused to write anything. (Of course, ironically, we only know of Socrates’ adamance on this point due to the writings of his apparently rebellious student Plato.) Derrida, for what he’s worth, argues similarly: something is lost when we favor writing over speech. Something is lost when we favor computers over pen and paper.

    Also, Steve Jobs was a jerk, and his company is/was evil.

  • SKPeterson

    From what I’ve seen on t.v. the anti-Wall Street protesters are an ironic collection of technophilic Luddites who don’t get the irony.

    I will note that there have been recent indications that our newer engineering graduates don’t have a good grasp on the basic fundamental mathematics and principles that underlie much of our modern technology. Not that they need to relearn the slide rule, but that they don’t understand the basic knowledge embodied in the slide rule – it is now done by computer. In this sense knowledge has spread outward and replicated itself in countless computer systems, libraries and books, but the hands-on knowledge has atrophied in the younger generation. I’ve seen this myself in the classroom – freshmen and sophomores who know all about using an iPod, but are flummoxed by actually having to face code and constructing a customizable program routine.

  • SKPeterson

    From what I’ve seen on t.v. the anti-Wall Street protesters are an ironic collection of technophilic Luddites who don’t get the irony.

    I will note that there have been recent indications that our newer engineering graduates don’t have a good grasp on the basic fundamental mathematics and principles that underlie much of our modern technology. Not that they need to relearn the slide rule, but that they don’t understand the basic knowledge embodied in the slide rule – it is now done by computer. In this sense knowledge has spread outward and replicated itself in countless computer systems, libraries and books, but the hands-on knowledge has atrophied in the younger generation. I’ve seen this myself in the classroom – freshmen and sophomores who know all about using an iPod, but are flummoxed by actually having to face code and constructing a customizable program routine.

  • SM

    I’d like to call to the attention of everyone engaged in this discussion an article appearing in yesterday’s Washington Post (Sunday 10/9) titled “Steve Jobs and the Worship of Apple” by Michael S. Rosenwald. A few quotes and excerpts follow.

    “In a secular age, Apple has become a religion, and Steve Jobs was its high priest.”

    In 2001 sociologist Pui-Yan Lam “published a paper titled ‘May the Force of the Operating System Be With You: Macintosh Devotion as Implicit Religion’”.

    “His (Jobs) product introductions were not unlike the pope appearing at his Vatican window to bless his followers on Christmas… he would stroll onstage like a biblical prophet, dressed down to a modern version of the basics – black turtleneck, Levi’s jeans, New Balance sneakers. For many Apple followers, this was the nearest they would ever come to seeing God.”

    The writer also talks about “the palpable sense of a battle between good and evil. Apple: good. Bill Gates: evil”.

    And then the ads, always the ads. The iPhone 4 ad with Louis Armstrong’s “When You’re Smiling” in the background while there are visuals of grandparents and grandchildren. “the Apple logo, over a stark white background, appears on the screen, then slowly fades away. The white stays. It almost seems like a flash to heaven.”

    It’s all there folks – charismatic prophets, mysticism, utopian dreams, transcendence – all wrapped up in a pretty commercial package with a technological bow and a Promethean thrill of stealing fire from the gods (but don’t you also hear the faint echo of the serpent: “you’ll be like God”?). When technology starts to spin off into this orbit, chthonic creature that I am, I have to say, paraphrasing Woody Allen, “excuse me, but I have an appointment back on planet earth”.

  • SM

    I’d like to call to the attention of everyone engaged in this discussion an article appearing in yesterday’s Washington Post (Sunday 10/9) titled “Steve Jobs and the Worship of Apple” by Michael S. Rosenwald. A few quotes and excerpts follow.

    “In a secular age, Apple has become a religion, and Steve Jobs was its high priest.”

    In 2001 sociologist Pui-Yan Lam “published a paper titled ‘May the Force of the Operating System Be With You: Macintosh Devotion as Implicit Religion’”.

    “His (Jobs) product introductions were not unlike the pope appearing at his Vatican window to bless his followers on Christmas… he would stroll onstage like a biblical prophet, dressed down to a modern version of the basics – black turtleneck, Levi’s jeans, New Balance sneakers. For many Apple followers, this was the nearest they would ever come to seeing God.”

    The writer also talks about “the palpable sense of a battle between good and evil. Apple: good. Bill Gates: evil”.

    And then the ads, always the ads. The iPhone 4 ad with Louis Armstrong’s “When You’re Smiling” in the background while there are visuals of grandparents and grandchildren. “the Apple logo, over a stark white background, appears on the screen, then slowly fades away. The white stays. It almost seems like a flash to heaven.”

    It’s all there folks – charismatic prophets, mysticism, utopian dreams, transcendence – all wrapped up in a pretty commercial package with a technological bow and a Promethean thrill of stealing fire from the gods (but don’t you also hear the faint echo of the serpent: “you’ll be like God”?). When technology starts to spin off into this orbit, chthonic creature that I am, I have to say, paraphrasing Woody Allen, “excuse me, but I have an appointment back on planet earth”.


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