Wednesday, December 13, 2006

An Old Fashioned Girl After All

Perhaps I've read one too many Bradbury stories, but I do worry about growing increasingly dependent on technology. For all technology's advantages--and it has more potential than my brain could ever consider-- it has a certain coldness to it. A detachment. And it's not even this cold indifference that scares me--it's that future generations might not recognize this quality because they won't know the warm confusion of getting lost in a library or the privacy of writing in a journal with a wobbly lock or sleepy comfort of dozing with your sister's well-creased novel in your hand. Wikipedia can't hold a candle to the brownish-red, well-worn leather dictionary my father kept in high school--the one my parents kept in the study and forced me to use each time I didn't understand a word they used.

Looking up words in books takes time, journals can't spell check, and novels don't have links for you to click on. But despite the fact that knows my birthday, credit card numbers, every book, film, and CD I've ever purchased, my last four addresses, and the addresses and names of my friends and family, it's impersonal. Storing my name is not the same as carrying a stain on page 84 of Pride and Prejudice from a red popsicle I ate while sitting by the pool one late afternoon.

Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream comforts Hermia by reminding her that "The course of true love never did run smooth." For me, at least, love cannot exist in a realm of logic or predictability. To be the constructivist learner, the student in classroom that's not education as usual, to be a creative thinker and a problem solver and an innovative, active contributor to society, I think you must be a lover of knowledge. And this love, by nature, must be breathtakingly inefficient.


Blogger Karl Fisch said...

You've written about the coldness of technology before, but I have trouble identifying with that. Technology is a human invention and, as such, can be used coldly or warmly. But let's not forget that the very books you are venerating are a technology in and of themselves. Created by humans. I'm sure when the Gutenberg press was invented, many lamented the loss of human conversation that took place because people were reading those darn books all the time. (I'm pretty sure I've written this before, but I'll continue anyway.) And, of course, your very passionate, articulate, well thought-out ideas were typed on a computer and then delivered to me electronically - does that make the emotions any less real? Any less human?

Yes, technology is different. And, yes, perhaps for you it is more impersonal. But be careful assuming that the same is true for everyone - or will be true for future generations. If baby Kakos (most likely named Karl, I'm sure) grows up with technology, maybe he will feel the same way about Amazon as you do about the stain in Pride and Prejudice. Or maybe he will write lovingly about the creaky hinge on the laptop he had as a child.

As far as whether the love - and pursuit - of knowledge has to be breathtakingly inefficient, I guess I don't know the answer to that. I think it depends somewhat on your definition of "inefficient." Ancient scholars would scoff at the efficiency of reading a book, or looking up a word in a dictionary, preferring to listen at the feet of Aristotle or Socrates. And pretty much all thoughtful humans would cry out in unison at the incredible waste of time that we call grading. An old fashioned lover of knowledge would do everything in their power to change that practice . . .

9:26 PM  
Blogger shamitap said...

Yeah I know how you feel, Ms. Kakos, I just finished reading 1984 and like Bradbury's books it kind of makes you wonder what this world is coming to.
Also, this is really bothering me, but after reading 1984, I really began to dislike the idea of annotating while I read. I mean, aren't books just meant to be read, and that's it? And I'm not just saying this because I don't feel like taking notes on it or finding what kinds of rhetorical devices Orwell uses, but seriously it feels like I'm performing surgery on a book when I annotate. I don't like the feeling of cutting it open and prying into it--I don't like how I need to literally overthink the meaning of a book when I can simply feel it inside me. Most books really aren't written to be peeled apart, they're written so that the message can just hit the reader in the face and that's it. When I read I don't just like to mark any old passage and think "Oh, this sounds like it could be important"--if it's really that powerful, it'll stay with me, and that's how a good book should be. And I know this doesn't really relate to your comment about technology, but I think that we tend to get so caught up in the nit-picky details of annotating that we overlook the sheer pleasure of having the book's message sort of spontaneously settle into our minds. I don't know if I made any sense, but I thought I needed to get this off my chest anyway!
Have a relaxing break!

6:26 PM  
Blogger MollyG said...

I definitely understand, the technology can feel emotionless and Orwell-esque. It took me a long time to figure out that my beloved sarcasm can be taken grossly out of proportion when read on a screen and get me into some trouble. But at the same time it can open up totally new horizons of communications. Just the other day I found blogs where someone could post a prompt and within a single day 200 people could respond to it, or 50 people could post a picture of their hometown on a single given day. The responses came from everywhere, Egypt, Israel, Germany, Australia, even Afganistan. It's remarkable. So even as cold as it can seem, I'm amazed by it other times.

And I totally agree, Shamita. I feel the same way. I always find myself making sticky notes when I find a quote I can use for an essay. I use pink for characterization, yellow for setting, orange for motifs, it makes me feel like I have to read the novel just so I can write about it. It almost seems wrong in a way. Books are meant to have some humanity in them, something to communicate to the reader, not to see how many connections one motif can make to a character. And unfortunately, that mindset carries into other things. I remember last spring just after ALIS, when I went to see Les Miserables, my favorite show in the entire world, and I found myself thinking about how I could make three paragraphs comparing Les Mis to Catch-22. That was when I decided I needed to take a break from ALIS for a long time.

7:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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7:04 PM  

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