It should surprise no student of history that this moment in time — when many of us feel as if we’re teetering on the edge of a brand-new technological cliff — can also be seen as a familiar human problem. Powers reminds us of when Socrates, the greatest of all oral communicators, was freaking out over “the very latest communications technology, written language based on an alphabet” (though as Powers concedes, “writing wasn’t completely new”). Socrates believed that scrolls would erode thought by permitting people to forget what they had learned because they’d be able to look things up, that “they wouldn’t feel the need to ‘remember it from the inside, completely on their own.’ ” Worse, writing wouldn’t “allow ideas to flow freely and change in real time, the way they do in the mind during oral exchange.”It never occurred to me to think Socrates had worries about writing per se. I thought he committed nothing to writing because he was an interrogator of other people's ideas, and because all these interrogations ended in aporia--uncertainty, puzzlement. He didn't write anything down because he didn't have any theories to write down. But no, Powers says he was worried about writing messing up our minds, like today you might have worries about electronic communication. Fun analogy, whether accurate or not!
On the subject of "messing up," Gary Shteyngart's essay in the review comes across as a big whine, but y'know, I think he's right. "Only disconnect." (Get the reference? Cute!) OK, let's do it, but first I need to do a little blogging. Hope you don't mind if I check a few websites too. I wonder if I have any email.