Technology dominates our lives. Most of us walk about carrying supercomputers with more processing power than NASA had for the Apollo 11 mission. These labor-saving devices promise freedom, but we are more enslaved than ever. Eliminating communication barriers means that we may be interrupted at any moment by a call or text. Constantly dinging notifications (real or imagined!) trigger a Pavlovian response to glance at our screen. The time saved by our devices is quickly devoured as we consume the hours on social media trivialities.
Is Facebook suffocating our ability for public discourse? Is YouTube degrading the morals of our children? These are the sorts of questions that our cultural conservatism inclines us to ask. We read Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, or Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, and become acutely aware of the dangers of the digital tools we use every day. How do we rightly judge between good and bad uses of these machines? Like so many cultural debates, it’s a question of intentions and presuppositions.
In his 1987 essay “Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer,” Wendell Berry offers a rationale for his reluctance to make the transition from pen and paper to mouse and keyboard. Berry was only interested in technological change if it was as affordable, as compact, or as useful as his current technology. If new technology offers no clear advantages over traditional methods, why upgrade? He concludes his essay with a list of justifications for upgrading technology, and his final criterion is germane to education, especially in a civilization saturated with technologies of various stripes.
In Old Testament times, people carried personal idols around with them to receive guidance and blessing from their deity. Unfortunately, this tradition is often perpetuated in modern times by the way we carry our smart phones. We fear to part with them. We constantly check them to see if they have any messages for us. When posed with a tough question, our first reaction is to ask them for help.
Just a few weeks ago, an NPR report revealed the findings of several recent studies on parental smartphone dependence and the effect it has upon their children. The results are not surprising, filled with things we already know and, therefore, need to hear again and again.
As rhetoric and arguments tend to come up in the classes that I teach, we invariably spend some time talking about enthymemes. An enthymeme is a specific type of logical argument--a syllogism--in which either a premise or the conclusion is left implied or unspoken. So, for example, the statement, "Josh is a good husband because he does the dishes for his wife" is an enthymeme with one given premise (Josh does the dishes for his wife), one given conclusion (Josh is a good husband), and an implied premise (Men who do the dishes for their wives are good husbands).