Silent Reading


Clay Shirky chimes in on the backchannel discussion (i.e. just how rude is it that in modern meetings people are passing notes in quantity all the time with others both inside and outside the meeting?). He does his bit to move the thread along and rounds up one of the usual suspect, i.e. “Yo vested-interests! Get over it! Too late now. Cat’s out of the bag. Deal.” He throws in the usual story about a previous debate of this kind. The one about calculators in school.

I recall the calculator debate. I was in college. Some students could afford a potent calculator, most couldn’t, I couldn’t Some people had access to symbolic math software and others didn’t. I did. Matlab over the internet could do some of my homework almost with nearly zero effort. My perception at the time was about fairness in the face of widely disparate computational power.

My son recently took a math SAT II test with an approved calculator that could do an awful lot of symbolic math. I wondered how many of the students knew that. How many had been prep’d on the calculator’s capablities? How advantagous to the calculator vendor if he could get an entired generation skilled in his calculator’s UI.

The oldest story of this kind – i.e. stories about out cries over the disruption to existing structures triggered by new technology – I know is about silent reading. Apparently there was a time when men only read outloud, or at least most of them did. About the time the printing press appeared the idea that you could read silently, not even moving your lips, spread across Europe. This created all all kinds of concern amoung those who felt that they were responsible for looking after the thoughts of the population.

That’s of course all entangled in the story of the Protestant revolution. Boy is that a classic story of innovation leading to the displacement of vested interests (aka the hub, aka the intermediary) in that case the role of the chuch as the intermediary between man and God.

0 thoughts on “Silent Reading

  1. Chris

    When it comes to calculators I just wish schools were consistent in their usage of them. In my elementary school they taught me on calculators in fourth grade so when I switched districts in 5th grade I wasn’t allowed calculators anymore…my math skills were horrible and I did badly. Then in 11th and 12th grade the new district decided that we should always use calculators and that they’d be required in college…too bad we’re not allowed to USE them at my college. I sense a pattern

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