Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Mini-Technology Manifesto

Given all the consternation over my post on the book, The Dumbest Generation, I hereby issue this abbreviated technology manifesto.

1. No communications technology is a neutral tool; all have their inherent strengths and weaknesses. As McLuhan said, "The medium is the message." For example, TV favors the image over the word. See Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death.

2. People tend to not intellectually engage mediated technologies as deeply as unmediated means of learning. It takes more concentration to read a book than to scan a screen--and people do tend to scan screens more than carefully attend to them. See Mark Bauerlein, The Dumbest Generation.

3. I have never been a Luddite. I have had a web page since the mid 1990s; I was the first professor at my school to have a fully functional web page for a course; I have a blog; and so on. However, I am not a techno-cheerleader, but a critic. But critics are often taken as heretics by those so immersed in technologies that they lose any sense of distance or perspective.

4. The answer to the problem of media oversaturation is not to have no contact with the Internet, cell phones, etc., but to use them wisely, realizing their potentials and limits. It is also wise to abstain from these technologies from time to time in order to better understand how they affect your thinking and feeling.

5. Writing a blog post that recommends that people unplug is not a contradiction, since by unplug I simply mean this: spend less time in technologically mediated environments and more time in unmediated environments. See point #3.


pgepps said...

...interesting, and I largely agree, though I think mediated/unmediated is far too convenient a line to be really useful. After all, cell phones are undoubtedly less enriching than group blogs with moderated comments and a defined focus, but cell phones are considerably less thickly "mediated." Liturgy is mediation; ecstatic utterance is an attempt to bypass mediation.

"The medium is the message" as "the chisel is the inscription"--that is, as we judge, we must attend not only to our divinations of "intent" or our literal readings, but to the instrument used, the skill with which it is used, and the characters it marks off from the unfinished surface of the medium.

Tom said...


Will you say a bit more about just what "the medium is the message" means? I know, I know: I should read McLuhan. Still, I bet a lot of your readers would be interested in at least a brief account of what McLuhan's thesis means and why we should believe it.

For instance, I understand that TV favors the image, where's books (typically, anyway) favor the word. But that's clear and uncontroversial in a way that "the medium is the message" isn't.

Thanks for any help you can give. So

Gary said...

Why should we allow society to make the rules? Government run classrooms filled with latchkey children who watch endless hours of TV, talk incessantly on cell phones, text nonstop, play games depicting murder and mayhem, watch movies featuring people practicing the mating habits of a chihuahua haven't produced grand results. Some are fine. Those available to us...not so much. So we home schooled our three starting in the 1980s when some were convinced it was only not quite child abuse. They watched an hour or two of TV each week. They played Nintendo now and then. When I grew tired of the socialization criticisms leveled at home schooling, I started responding: "You are right. The schools in Memphis are doing such a good job of socializing our children." My children learned to speak and read and think critically. They held (and hold) their own with all ages in conversation. They have studied worldviews indepth and wrestled with tough social issues and biblical truths.

We share photos on Facebook. I instant message one of them regularly. We Skype occasionally, talk via cell phone regularly, and email news back and forth. But each of them has a life that is enhanced but not ruled by the ever present technologies available. They don't carry hammers around with them, but they know when and how to use one.

Our oldest just took a group of college students into the wilds for two weeks. No Internet. No cell phones. They connected with one another and with God in amazing ways.

Don't assume that we must accept a world in which people watch seven hours of TV every day. If our society is to survive, it will require greater expectations.

James said...

Great blog. Just recently I attended a Rockies game with a "technologized" friend, and was a bit saddened that he couldn't sit through the baseball game without surfing the internet and text messaging on his cell phone. It was a good game, and he enjoys baseball. So why is it that he couldn't just enjoy his surroundings for 2.5 hours without plugging back in?
Sadly, I've seen people doing this in church as well.

Christine said...

A propos no. 2: How is a book an "unmediated means of learning"? The only thing different between it and the internet is the degree of technology used. As Plato demonstrated to us all millenia ago, no information is unmediated.

Doug Groothuis said...

It is unmediated by electricity.

RyanEaves said...

Yes, everybody knows that books are printed by coal and steam driven presses these days...

RyanEaves said...

I wonder how the Amazon Kindle falls into this discussion...

Tom Hinkle said...

Well, Doug, you'd have to say that one advantage to the computer medium is that you can blog something, and then when you get some opposition, instead of owning up to it and defending your position, you can delete the whole post like nothing ever happened. You've used that quite well within the last 12 hours or so.

Gary said...

It is not opposition to ideas, but crass attacks on character that cause the plug to be pulled. If you came to my house for a good discussion and chose instead to judge my motives in such a self-righteous way, I would probably invite you to leave.

Southern Dreaming said...

I wondered where Ann Coulter went. Very strange.

RyanEaves said...

Crass attacks? I read nothing crass in Tom's commentary about Doug and Ann Coulter. Personally, I was looking forward to a solid response from Doug especially since Tom's comment was not reactive or emotive or sarcastic or any of the other debate style flaws that are usually used around here to discount one's opinion in place of consideration of the substance itself. I think many of this blog's readers need to gain some perspective on the difference between an attack and a dissenting opinion.

Furthermore, this isn't Doug's "house." This is a public blog hosted by Google and available to anyone on the Internet. The purpose of this medium is to post your ideas and opinions and receive kudos and criticism about them. Doug has not stated his purpose for removing his last blog entry so I will reserve my judgment. But if it is because of Tom's comments then I think that is abject cowardice.

Perhaps the comment feature should be turned off completely if only agreeing opinions are to be accepted. However, I would warn that preaching to the converted does no benefit to the society that Doug is attempting to improve.

Sarah Scott said...

Some commenters here seem to be suffering from a case of "incivility desensitization". Or, in other words, they no longer recognize what is clearly abject rudeness. I recognize, however, that this comment may not do any good as the nature of this problem holds the strong likelihood that those affected will not even recognize their own egregious discourtesy (or if they do, they may not care).

Nevertheless, apparent victims of this mind-and therefore argument-dulling affliction show one or both of these symptoms:

1) They seem to be unable to formulate a lucid counterargument, and replace their would-be argument with either ad hominem slinging or other incivilities such as emotive, angry outbursts and vile sarcasm.

2) If they are not overtly uncivil, they do not see the rather obvious incivility in other comments, and believe that viciously defiant, personal attacks are simply a harmless expression of disagreement.

This mental malady is debilitating to the engagement of ideas and of good arguments. It leads people to falsely assume that because incivility is not tolerated, then neither must be counter arguments. This is completely false and detrimental to productive dialogue.

"The choir" is not the only group being "preached" to here. Rather, the posts are directed at people willing to think and respond courteously.

RyanEaves said...

Sarah- Tom's post was none of those. Did you read it? To paraphrase: Someone asked why Doug would use Ann Coulter to support his viewpoints when she does not follow what one might consider Christian priciples. Tom said that Doug was willing to use Ann Coulter to support his argument because he favors politics of fear over politics of reason, which is what Ann Coulter does as well.

If that is vile and offensive, then well, there is no reason to defend an empty fort.

Hyperbole is an argumentative flaw too.

Now go ahead and tell me again how I missed the point and I am incapable of understanding my own flawed reasoning skills. It's becoming my favorite song.

Sirfab said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sirfab said...

Sarah: from experience, I can say that sometimes Dr. Groothuis mistakes disagreement for offensive speech. (But when he subscribes to Ann Coulter's divisive and incendiary rhetoric or publishes posts about "The Dumbest Generation" all is well.)

About a month ago, he deleted one of my posts, without justifying why (which he does not have to, but since you are the one that brings up civility and courtesy...) Before that, he publicly said to me and John Stockwell that he would stop responding because we were rehashing old arguments and shirking from the issues--as if he were not guilty of the same himself (many times). Then, after we went the extra mile to respond to the issues, not a peep from him.

Additionally, Dr. Groothuis and many of his readers have a habit of making divisive and unsubstantiated claims and of using the same techniques that dissenters are accused of (and banned for), but go silent when called upon to respond.

I stopped posting to this blog not because it does not have interesting topics (sometimes, so I still read from a distance) but because, increasingly, Dr. Groothuis seems to treat it like a pulpit, not a forum. That's his prerogative, of course, and he seems to like it just fine that way.

Doug Groothuis said...

Well, well, what as hubub out there.

1. This is my house, not a public forum. It is a free service that I control. You can control your's as well.

2. If I deem comments to be offensive or not worth responding to, I pull them or pull the whole post and responses. I may pull an entire post with comments because of one or more comments, while I don't mind some of the others. If I see the whole thing going in an ugly direction (such as the Coulter link), it dies.

3. I cannot keep up with all the attacks I get here. I have books to read and write.

4. More and more, I am seeing the very limited value of blogs.

Tom said...

I'll confess to being sometimes a bit put off by Doug's tone but, good people, we do need to keep in mind that it is his blog and he has every right to run it as he wants. If we find it thought provoking--or maybe even just provoking--we are welcome to read and comment. If we find it preachy or condescending, then there are doubtless better ways to spend our time. No one is a prisoner here.

Mostly, Doug's responses to commentators are in kind with the comments he receives. Sometimes there are substantial posts that Doug neglects but, I suspect, his failing to respond has more to do with time constraints than anything else. He has said on several occasions that he doesn't intend to get into long, protracted philosophical discussions here. Although I'm sometimes frustrated with his failure to engage, I do understand that time is short. If he can make reference to a work that explains the point alluded to in more detail (as Doug frequently does to his own writing), that will be a better use of his time than explaining things all over again.

We would all do well to remember that there are (mostly) well-intentioned human beings here; show a little love, y'all! (And yeah, I'm saying that to myself as much as I am to anyone.)

Doug Groothuis said...


Your comments were not the offensive ones

Doug Groothuis said...

"Jesus" is banned from the blog for obvious reasons.