Plato’s argument that people should not learn to read and write because people’s memory capacity would decrease is extremely intriguing to consider in the context of technology’s role in human retention and general thinking ability.  Studies have shown that most people’s reading attention span has decreased in an era dominated by 140 character tweets.  Personal conversations and human interactions have suffered since the introduction of mobile devices and Facebook.  This phenomenon is presciently described by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” writing in which he asserts that society never truly advances since progress in one dimension results in regression in another.  While human memory has deteriorated first with reading/writing and now with technology such as Google, knowledge has become widely available for all.  Similarly, the rise of all things becoming connected to the internet leads to convenience such as your phone automatically telling you how long it will take to reach your likely destination with no prompting, but poses a potential problem of an enormous amount data being able to be used against you in harmful ways.  A person with ill-intentions could use the same phone data that predicts where you intend to drive.


Personally, I am wary of the new digital assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home due to potential privacy and security issues.  That the devices are likely recording you at all times and storing that data forces consumers to trust that the company will not use your data maliciously and that the data will never be compromised, both of which are impossible to guarantee forever.  In addition, I am not sure if telling Alexa to turn off the lights is better than flipping the light switch or if telling Alexa to order an item from Amazon better than doing so on your computer.  While asking Alexa to buy products is faster, one could buy things and regret doing so later, which is less likely if one has to spend time and effort buying on the computer.  Technology certainly makes our lives more convenient in some ways, but adds more risk.

1 Comment »

  1. Jim Waldo

    October 6, 2017 @ 12:05 am


    I think the moral of the Plato warning is that we are always worried about what the new technology is going to do to us. Personally, I’m glad that I don’t have to memorize all of the tings I have read. But I’m sure that my memory isn’t up to what the Greeks thought of as standard.

    I’m also a bit of a luddite in my personal life. While I have lots of computers around, I tend to rely on manual switches, the well from which we get water, and a wood stove for heat. This is partially because I don’t like giving my data away, but frankly more because I live in an area where we are likely to lose power, so I don’t want to depend on the flow of electricity for heat. Figuring out the failure conditions is often a part of deciding what technology to rely on…

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