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.
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.