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I distinctly remember reading Jacques Ellul’s books on technology, and specifically even remember where I was sitting when I read his The Technological Bluff, where he essentially argues that it is all but over and people will give over to the tidal wave of technology/technique. Here we are more than twenty years later, and if Ellul was right about anything, he seems to have nailed this one.

Like many, I do have a “smart-phone,” an iPad (university issued), a laptop, and a desktop. I do use email and a range of apps. Despite that, I still consider myself a neo-Luddite at heart. How so? For me, I still see these as tools — tools to be used carefully recognizing the intended and unintended consequences. One should recognize the gains and losses with the use of any tool. It does seem the mad rush of the past decade to get an iPad (and other such tools) in the hands of all students to “make us smarter” follows on the heels of the illusion that if we could “simply get a computer in every classroom, in front of all students, they will all be smarter.” This craze started about twenty years ago. Are we smarter?

I have to tell my best students to turn off their cell phones during class or they will constantly be texting. Additionally, I teach in an online, distance program that is extremely rewarding and some of the conversations have been among the very best I have ever been part of teaching on the university level. However, the program is extremely bookish. The students and I read the Great Books and we actually talk about them. We spend about twenty-four hours per semester intensely discussing the books, the ideas, the issues, and the truth of what is.

Being part of a university that just implemented a university-wide initiative to get everyone an iPad by fall of 2012, I have heard some students who are very excited about the additional Angry Bird time and Facebook time they will be logging during class. No doubt, some professors and some students will use it as a tool to access information that may assist toward learning. However, I well imagine that in the near future, I will be telling my students, “ok everyone, set your iPad aside, open your books, let’s look at one another, listen to one another, and let’s think together.”

Before it is too late, read:

Wendell Berry’s Why I Am Not Going to Buy A Computer
Russell Kirk’s Humane Learning in the Age of the Computer
Neil Postman’s Technolopy: The Surrender of Culture to Technology
Jacques Ellul’s The Technological Society, The Technological System, The Technological Bluff

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative BookstoreReprinted with the permission of Musings of a Christian Humanist.

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3 replies to this post
  1. The great Forrest McDonald doesn’t have a computer or a smart phone. It’s just one more reason to admire him. On the other hand it’s a pain in the a** to wait for snail mail once we have gotten used to the instant gratification of email, etc. I text only sports scores and don’t tweet, but probably because I am too old to be coordinated enough. Neoluddites of the world, unite!

  2. I agree that tech may not have made us smarter, but it does open wonderful doors to learning. It’s up to each of us to decide which doors we will pass through. Ironic, that I read your article in the Facebook app on my iPad. An iPad that also has G+, which has been described as “a place where a 40 year old with a high school education can talk to really smart people.” An iPad with Kindle installed, populated with literary classics as well as recently published works.

    The tech is not the problem. The way many choose to use the tech is the problem.

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