Trust and The Blame Game

While reading though  A Better Pencil,  I noticed that people experiencing the evolution of writing technology over time viewed it with the apprehension one might direct towards an invading army.

Not sure if harmless tool, or harbinger of the apocalypse.

Subsequently, once the new technology’s purpose and uses were established, it seemed that people immediately latched onto all of the horrible things that could happen, and panic ensued.


However, Baron conveyed the sense that the objects of this skepticism have shifted over time.  Socrates disliked writing because of its inability to actively dialogue, as he placed importance on direct intelligent discussion (4).  He recognized the inherent need for people and their thoughts to be a variable in the equation, and thus distrusted the developments because of the ways humans could use them.  Distaste for modern technology, however, seems to be directed at the technology itself, not the human minds behind it.

Which brings us to the blame game.  Baron writes that computers are “blamed by skeptics for a variety of ills” (xi).  Ned Ludd, if he existed, allegedly wrecked a loom because he “found the increased mechanization of the art of weaving alienating (25).  Placing the responsibility for perceived societal corruption on machines completely discounts their existence as creations of humans.  Technology will likely not develop sentience and the ability to create its own content without the programming or guidance of human action, yet many people seem to place suspicion and blame on the tools instead of stepping back and examining their role in its creation.

The one person in Baron’s narrative who appears to have held human beings responsible for technology and all of its effects was Ted Kaczynski.  As a disclaimer, I don’t advocate for attacking people with the intention of killing or otherwise harming them.  Kaczynski, even in all of his seriously misguided criminal actions, understood that it is people who further the mechanization of society, as well as use the conveniences it provides.  It’s the same idea of “Guns don’t kill people; people with guns kill people.”  Cell phones don’t kill people, drivers using cell phones kill people.  By targeting the progenitors and inventors of the things he so hated, Kaczynski demonstrated a twisted understanding of the ways in which people interact with new technologies.

As humanity explores new avenues for writing technology, we will be called, as Wesch notes, to redefine and reexamine what it means to interact with technologies.  Certain factions will continue to blame advances in language studies and composition tools for the destruction of civilization, and the trust and blame that we associate with the written word in all its forms will undoubtedly be the subject of further debate and revision for many years to come.  Hopefully, though, future critics will not forget the role that human innovation plays in advancing these tools.


2 thoughts on “Trust and The Blame Game”

  1. This notion of “the blame game” that critics of every new generation of technology play provides us with an entryway to help us understand a particular subset of the game itself, namely how people blame computers for ruining not just the English language but also school curricula more broadly.

    Drawing from a recent personal experience, I got into a tiff on Facebook with a conservative mother who homeschools her two young girlscout daughters (and just for the record, I have nothing against homeschooling). The status we argued over/on was posted by a mutual friend asking how she could incorporate social media into her elementary school literature classes. After offering my own suggestions (one of which involved Twitter, even though I wasn’t on it myself at the time), the mother in question responded that she didn’t understand why schools even bothered trying to incorporate technology and social media into classrooms because teachers should focus on teaching “the basics” like math and science instead.

    As an amateur compositionist, I couldn’t take her distaste for new media lightly, so I immediately defended the pedagogical values of incorporating said media into classrooms to enhance lessons and writing skills, not to mention how writing in the digital age (yes, I totally stole our course’s name for my own rhetorical benefit, sorry Joe!) was something we all would do well to learn to navigate.

    Aside from raising my blood pressure, my little tiff with this woman raises some important questions if increasing numbers of faculty outside the realm of the college or university want to incorporate digital media into their own courses: is there a protocol for doing so? What are the long-term pro’s and con’s so we can sell the idea appropriately to administrators and parents alike? How much new media in a classroom is too much?

  2. Gab,

    I agree with you that one of Baron’s main themes is that of trust. We tend to mistrust new technologies, and the people who use them. What I’m not completely sure about, as a reader of his book, is whether he feels that our current situation is more of the same-old, that we just need to calm down and get used to this new pencil, or if he feels that something new, intensified, is really going on.


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