Friday, July 8, 2011

THEODORE DALRYMPLE writes, and it's music to THE ANGRY LUDDITE's ears:

[NOTE: ''Theodore'' Dalrymple is the "nom de bloom" of an American medical doctor named ''Anthony Daniels''. He is a contributing editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. ]

50 years from now, no one in Indiana—or at least, no one born and raised in Indiana—will be able to write cursive. On the other hand, everyone there will be able to type, and by then technology might have made the ability to sign your name redundant. If it has not, perhaps you will be able to hire an out-of-stater or immigrant to sign your will or marriage certificate for you.

State officials recently announced that Indiana schools will no longer be required to teach children to write longhand, so that students can focus on typing. This is because writing by hand is so very—well, so very 4000 B.C. to A.D. 2010. We have now entered a new era: A.H., After Handwriting.

The schoolchildren of Indiana—and those of an increasing number of other states—will therefore never know the joys of penmanship that I experienced as a child. In those days, we still had little porcelain inkwells in the tops of our desks. The watery blue ink eventually evaporated to a deep blue gritty residue, and we used scratchy dip-pens with wooden handles, whose nibs were forever bending and breaking.

Our whole world was inky. Our desktops were soaked in ink; it got into our skin, under our nails and into our clothes. We even began to smell of it. For those of us who were even slightly academically inclined, the callus that formed on the skin of the side of the middle finger as it rubbed against the wood of the pen was a matter of pride: We measured our diligence by the thickness of the callus and longed for it to grow bigger.
I still remember my pride in my first full-length handwritten composition: an eight-page account of crossing the Gobi Desert in a Rolls-Royce, accompanied by blots, smudges and inky fingerprints. To my chagrin and everlasting regret, my teacher was not impressed by my formidable effort. She said that I must keep to reality and not be so imaginative.

Despite many hours first of tracing, then of copying copperplate examples, my handwriting never became other than serviceable at best. I was left-handed, and this made things more difficult because, whether I pushed or pulled the pen, smudges followed my writing across the page. Luckily, though, we had emerged from the dark ages when left-handers were forced to use their right hands. Little did we know, it was the beginning of the pedagogic liberalism that has now brought us to the abandonment of writing altogether.
Another character-building joy that may be denied to Indiana schoolchildren is the handwritten exam. They will never know that peculiar slight ache in the forearm, produced by fevered scribbling as thoughts rushed through your mind in answer to questions such as "Was Louis XIV a good king?" (my answer was a firm and uncompromising "no") and struggled to find written expression, only to slow down once it became clear that there were not enough of those thoughts to fill the allotted time. So then you deliberately made your handwriting deteriorate to make it appear that you could have written much more if only you had had the time, but unfortunately you did not. This kind of game continued into my early 20s.

Were my teachers ever taken in by it? I doubt it, but even then I knew it was all really a rite of passage, a slow induction into the adult world that I so longed to join. Since the need for such rites seems to be permanent in human societies, no doubt new such rites will develop for those who focus on the keyboard, but I do not know what they will be. Having reached the age when pessimism is almost hard-wired into the brain, I think they will not only be different but not as beneficial to the developing character.

Indeed, my first reaction to the news from Indiana was visceral despair, not only because the world I had known was now declared antediluvian, dead and buried, but because it presaged a further hollowing out of the human personality, a further colonization of the human mind by the virtual at the expense of the real.

When I scrawled and blotted and smudged my way across the page, I had the feeling that, for good or evil, what I had done was my own and unique. And since everyone's writing was different, despite the uniformity of the exercises, our handwriting gave us a powerful, and very early, sense of our own individuality. Those who learn to write only on a screen will have more difficulty in distinguishing themselves from each other, and since the need to do so will remain, they will adopt more extreme ways of doing so. Less handwriting, then, more social pathology.

hat tip to ET for this

What if reading off screens is not all it's cracked up to be?

What if reading off screens is not all it's cracked up to be?

by The Angry Luddite

Imagine a news article datelined ''Boston, Massachusetts'' in the year
headlined ''MRI brain imaging lab at MIT studies differences in screen, paper
reading,'' that might begin like this:

"Dr Ellen Marker studies reading. But not off screens or in
paper books.
Her research is done in a Boston laboratory.

''The pioneering neuroscientist analyzes brains in their reading
states, hoping to understand the differences between reading
on screens and reading on paper surfaces.

"Marker has a hunch that her studies will later show that reading on paper
is superior to reading off screens in terms of three things:
processing of information, rentention of info in memory and analysis.

"But first, let's see what the scans will be like.

"Marker asks a reporter to put himself into an (f)MRI machine so her
team can study which areas of the brain are activated by reading text
on paper compared to reading the same text on a computer screen or a
Kindle e-reader.

''And this is why this reporter is here. Today this reporter will donate
his brain scans to science.

''Among the things that Marker has discovered so far is that reading on
paper might be
something we as a civilization should not ever give up.

''She says: 'Even though reading on screens is useful and convenient,
and I do it
all the time, I feel that
reading on paper is something we should never cede to the digital
revolution. We need both."

''The scientists load me into the MRI machine and I'm off.

''Next step: They strap my head down, because any movement distorts the
brain imaging. Ever try to read a book without facial movements?

''With the invention of the fMRI only 20 years ago, along came the
ability to look at brain activity. Marker says that by understanding a
function as gigantic as reading, how the reading brain does its magic
dance, a response that hijacks all of
one’s attention, she might also learn how reading on screens could be
inferior to reading on paper.

''Research and teaching take up most of Marker's time, but when she has a
spare moment, she thinks about what all this might mean for the future
of humankind.

''During my first hour in the fMRI machine, researchers map my brain's
reading paths
to find out which parts correlate to
which regions of the brain.

''One of the biggest conundrums turns out to be a nagging
question for all mankind: What if reading on screens is not good
for retention of data, emotional connections and critical thinking skills?''

Of course, the above story is a fantasy, an imagined newspaper article from
the future.

But what if it turns out that reading on screens is inferior to
reading on paper? What then?

But just as nobody heeded the calls that radiation and cancer might impact cell
phone use, will the profit-seeking makers of e-readers listen to people
like the imaginary Dr Marker above, or
even care if she is right?

I think she's tilting at windmills.


The Angry Luddite is not really angry. He is just bemused by our headlong rush to embrace
technology at times without bothering to see first if the coast (read: cost) is clear.

No Copyright 2011 so you have the right to copy this. GO GO GO!

What the Tech Do I Know?

Book title, in progress.

What the Tech Do I Know?

by The Angry Luddite

129 pages
Pub Date: January 2012

Side-to-side comparison of Steve Jobs lookalike and the original Apple CEO.

Side-to-side comparison of Steve Jobs lookalike and the original Apple CEO.

scroll down to bottom

The Angry Luddite explains it all for you

Why we need to unplug from time to time, and why reading on paper is vastly superior to reading off, yuck, screens. You call this reading? No way.

The Angry Luddiite  has a hunch that reading on screens via pixels or E Ink

should\not be called reading per se, but "screening" -- a new term he

has coined for what we do on screens when

we read, as you are doing here. TAL says you are not reading this

post but screening it.

Agree or disagree? He also has a hunch, unproven of course, that

future MRI and PET scan tests on the brain will show that different

parts of the brain light up when we read on paper compared to when we

read off screens, and TAL says paper reading is superior compared to

screen-reading for three major things: information processing, memory

and analysis. Of course, TAL admits he might be wrong. What's your

take on all this?