We’ve heard it before: “Technology makes kids dumber”

Over at HASTAC, Cathy Davidson reminds us that the current panic about technology is not the first of its kind:

“The discovery of the [this new technology] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves . . . You give your disciplines not truth but only the semblance of truth; they will be heroes of many things, and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing.”

The new technology here? The alphabet. The speaker of gloom and doom about the ignorance of youth, none other than Socrates, complaining about his know-nothing alphabet-crazed students in “Phaedrus.”

Fortunately, one of those students happened to be Plato. He wrote down his mentor’s words. Otherwise we would not know about this stupid younger generation.

Think about it next time you are inclined to think “kids today” are ignorant and their iPhones or iPods or video games make it so.

Since the invention of written language itself we have worried about the same thing, over and over again. Why does it never get old? Why is it so easy to make new technologies bear the burden of all our hopes and fears for the future? How would we think about and use new media differently if they were not staggering under all this conceptual weight?