When Plato was teaching his students he was often frustrated by their note taking and reference to written records. Plato was of the opinion that the new technology of literacy was creating a generation that was unable to think and meditate on what they were learning because of their dependency on the written word.
Today, technology is providing us with a broad array of new media with which we record, replay, produce, publish, communicate and collaborate without using literacy or numeracy. Academics, publishers and governments are alarmed at declines in the reading of printed publications and student’s declining performance in the classroom. They are claiming that “computeracy” is creating a generation that cannot read, write or perform mathematical operations because of their dependency on digital communication.
The truth is literacy and numeracy are simply primitive techniques for encoding information. Composition and mathematics are just a bag of mental tricks for processing information. And most of us do most of it poorly anyway.
Grieving over the loss of literacy and numeracy is like grieving over the inability to weave cloth or tailor one’s own clothes. Computers have made literacy and numeracy very much like the mechanization of textile production.
What is happening in classrooms, to publisher’s sales and bureaucracy is not a decline in the intelligence of our next generation. It is an increasing obsolescence of traditional literacy and numeracy.
Our children are not thinking at lower levels. Instead, they are not wasting time with the mental effort required to mechanically process at the level of traditional literacy and numeracy and applying themselves to higher level thought.
The current method of submitting papers for peer review is completely obsolete. HTML was an attempt to take the primitive technology of the printed page, reference and citation and emulate it with the small addition of hyperlinks.
The yet to be fully realized method of academic publication will be the publication of databases containing problem and hypothesis, subjects and researchers, schemas and forms, data and queries, measures and units, amounts and currencies, results and conclusions all available for peer review and public consumption–research databases and white databases. And beyond that entire models in common formats which we are seeing in Computer Assisted Design Systems and Geographic Information Systems, for example.
This new generation using new media is modeling the universe in ways and at scales that were impossible with pen, paper and chalkboard. They are even beyond printing press, radio, television, recorded audio, recorded video and most physical storage. And the new generation can already interact globally in all of these new media.
Where are the people that are supposedly preparing them for life in this new world? Complaining that their students are not interested in reading text books. Even pumping normal children full of Ritalin to deny they as educators are not worthy of their students’ attention.