Writing as Technology

I found a recurring tension -old vs. new – throughout the readings and with my own history as a user of “writing technology.”  Basically, the old-timers want to hang on to their values and their technology, while the up-and-comers want to change it and improve it.  At the same time, ironically, the old timers criticize and frown on new technologies for various reasons but, in the end, they end up embracing or, at least, adapting to the new technologies.

Plato passed on Socrates’ oral tradition through writing.  This here is self-contradictory.  As seen in Phaedrus, Socrates maintained that writing was just a crutch to aid memory, that truth and knowledge could only be passed from soul to soul.  Plato seems wishy-washy about Socrates’ conviction. Socrates was all about oration, while his disciple Plato very much valued his master’s teachings but felt that he could best disseminate them visually, not orally. “Despite his touting on logos and Speech, the Platonic ideas in effect modelled intelligence not so much on hearing as on seeing” (Ong 29).  Speech required proximity, while written text did not.  Hence, Plato could reach a much wider audience than his predecessor.  Plato bridged a gap from speech to text that Socrates would not.  I wonder what Socrates would say about Walter Ong’s chapter, “Writing Restructures Thought”?

According to Dennis Baron, Henry David Thoreau perfected the very technology he refuted: the pencil.  This tension may seem ideological, like Socrates’, but it was really fueled by profits.  Without the comfy income Thoreau had from the family business, he could have not funded his expedition to the Pond and written his seminal work (Baron).  So, technology resistance is about money.  As seen in Baron, new engineers refute old engineers’ technology not out of pride, but out of fear that their livelihood will be compromised.  But the new engineers find ways of making better, cheaper products that can benefit all.

When I was in High School, my mom came into some money and bought us a brand new IBM PC for $6500.00.  We didn’t know what to do with it.  Most of my peers had no means to buy computers, and those who did could only get Ataris or Commodore 64s, which they actually used much more than I used the IBM, for gaming mostly.  My own resistance to technology has been both ideological and material (monetary).  I always like computers but could only afford the “clones” or generic brands when they became available.  Big Business controlled what computers I had access to. So, as a consumer, I always favored the “new engineers,” because they would usually make things I could afford.  But I can totally understand why the “old engineers” will always criticize the new – the old becomes obsolete…and broke.

Ideologically, I resisted the cell phone for years after everyone around me was carrying one.  And then the smartphone.  And then Facebook.  But as a power user of “writing technology” – as a writer and human being wanting to be in conversation with the world, I now embrace all that technology because it makes my job a little bit easier.

 

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One comment on “Writing as Technology

  1. Hey, Renato. I really appreciate you mentioning this tension of old versus new. In terms of writing and how far writing as a technology has come for humanity, I wonder if writing will ever be old. After all, because of the technology that we have today, with social media platforms like Instagram or Snapchat, and communication platforms like Facebook video chat, Skype, and Facetime, is it possible that we may be going backward since we’re using visuals to communicate things for us? Are we headed towards Socrates’ oral tradition again? Kory did mention that he did not like phone calls (or did I hear him wrong?) Some people do not like texting, and would rather communicate face to face or at least through a medium that enabled them to see and not just hear the person they are talking to. I think it’s curious that the technological mediums we use to communicate are advancing, but how we use them to communicate visually and orally at a face-to-face level harkens back to Socrates’s oral tradition.
    In fact, I don’t think it stops at just using Skype or Facetime to communicate. We like to communicate even with emoji’s and emoticons to show somehow how we react to something in whatever situation we’re in. What might be the next new technology humanity will come up with to communicate or “write?”

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