The quote below gets a little deep, but it got me thinking. It is from the book The End of Absence by Michael Harris.
“In Plato’s Phaedrus, we hear Socrates describing how a king from Egypt called Thalmus informed the god Theuth that the phonetic alphabet was not so great a gift . . . The god . . . (bragged) that writing would make the memories of Egyptians more powerful and that it would supercharge their wit. King Thamus shrewdly replies:
O most ingenious Thueth . . . this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learner’s souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing.”
I know, this sounds like a Luddite, anti-technology person. But if you have ever dealt with anyone who spouts off some theory or opinion based on what they “read on the Internet”, you may be getting at the sentiment of this excerpt. If you have ever dealt with a teen in a school learning environment who gets all of their knowledge from Google or Wikipedia in lieu of reading a book, this excerpt has a ring of truth to it. If you receive e-mails with the “truth” from grandma or your friend or your crazy neighbor, this excerpt is talking to you.
Technology is not bad in isolation. But the use of it to gain the “semblance of truth” is endemic in today’s world. The unwillingness of people to challenge what they read or see is the problem. The “forgetfulness in the learner’s souls” means that discernment is missing. The first answer or the easy answer or the answer-that-best-meets-my-original-hypothesis becomes THE ANSWER. And that is where the technology is not such a wonderful gift.
The challenge for us is to recognize this willingness to rely on this aid in ourselves. Are we willing to read beyond the first answer? Are we willing to have an open mind? Are we willing to work hard to make something a memory? It is tough to get others to do that, but our thinking is in our hands.