There is no doubt that the digital revolution has penetrated every aspect of our communication processes. Most of us do all of our writing on keyboards and much of our talking takes place on a cell phone, although most people prefer text to talk.
These changes in our reading, writing and talking practices have inspired both enthusiasm and fear. Computers are praised as tools for democratizing information and liberating the oppressed, for leveling class and gender distinctions, for expanding the frontiers of knowledge and bringing both enlightenment and a better life to everyone. Yet they are also condemned as vehicles for controlling information flow, restricting access to knowledge, subjugating the world's oppressed, increasing the gap between the haves and have-nots, spreading lies, fraud and disinformation, and condemning us all to a life of ignorance and carpal tunnel syndrome. . . read more
Attendance: This is a discussion course. Your informed presence is essential. Excessive absence and poor preparation (in other words, failure to read the assignments in time for class discussion) will affect your final grade.
Plagiarism: The digital revolution may be changing how we think of intellectual property (we'll look at this issue in detail in this course), but even digitally-enabled academic culture requires us to acknowledge all of our sources and to do our own work.
In the Phaedrus, Socrates warns against writing because it will destroy memory, but we remember what he said because Plato wrote it down. Was Socrates right? Do new technologies destroy our ability to use older ones?
Week 2 The difference between speaking and writing
Tu Sep 1: Theories of literacy.
We privilege the written word, but often for the wrong reasons. Are there cognitive differences between speech and writing? Does writing convey advantages that speech doesn't? Is the common distinction between oral and literate societies really appropriate?
Speech is older than writing, yet we tend to think of writing now as more important, more permanent, and more valid than speech. How did this strange situation come to be? How do technologies of communication spread through a society? How do we learn to trust the technologies and the texts that they produce? How do we adopt and adapt those technologies to our communication needs? How does a technology move from interesting curiosity to something that we can't do without? Is the computer unique in this regard, or just one of many such inventions?
Week 6 The impact of technology on reading and authorship
Tu Sep 29:The death of the book?
In 1494 Johannes Trithemius, Abbott of Sponheim, wrote that the copying of manuscripts was superior to printing:
The word written on parchment will last a thousand years. The printed word is on paper. How long will it last? The most you can expect a book of paper to survive is two hundred years. Yet, there are many who think they can entrust their works to paper. Only time will tell.
Yes, many books are now available in print but no matter how many books will be printed, there will always be some left unprinted and worth copying. . . . The devoted scribe. . . will guarantee permanence to useful printed books by copying them. Otherwise they would not last long. His labor will render mediocre books better, worthless ones more valuable, and perishable ones more lasting. . . . He is by no means defeated by the printer; he must not cease copying just because the art of printing has been invented.
Printed books will never be the equivalent of handwritten codices, especially since printed books are often deficient in spelling and appearance. . . . Copying by hand involves more diligence and industry.
[In praise of scribes, Ch. 7]With no sense of irony, Trithemius recognized that the new technology of print could reach a wider audience, so he had his essay about copying by hand printed on a press.