I loved the ferocity of "WHY I AM NOT GOING
TO BUY A COMPUTER by Wendell Berry", the reader reponses, and Berry's rebuttal against those responses. I felt some indignation myself about the self-righteous tone that Berry wrote his argument in, and I felt that many of his arguments were only half-developed. I was particularly puzzled by his point about how using a computer would displace the editor relationship that he had with his wife. Could he not have typed up a draft on his computer, printed a copy for his wife to look over and comment on, and insert edits himself? (Or even continue to hand write and simply have her type up the copy in a computer?) I found that his nostalgia and fear of change probably influenced that argument far too heavily. I also found that his arguments towards how new machines should prevail over older versions were a bit idealistic. For instance, does he really believe that new inventions should be cheaper than their predecessors? If they are indeed meant to be superior or "better" as he claims, isn't it reasonable that they would have elevated worth, and therefore, elevated price? Despite these flaws, I found the entire correspondence incredibly interesting; it seemed to be a battle between two groups that care way too much about the smallest of things.
Wendell Berry had strong convictions about not owning a computer, and he certainly was/is entitled to his opinion. While Berry's reasons for staying with old technology may have been valid for him, as I was reading his piece, I couldn't help but feel like I was being scolded for embracing new technology.
I was struck by one of Berry's statements in particular: "I do not see that computers are bringing us one step nearer to anything that does matter to me: peace, economic justice, ecological health, political honesty, family and community stability, good work." I realize that computers in 1987 were largely seen as word processors and business machines, but I think Berry failed to see the potential of computers. Less than twenty years later computers, thanks in large part to the internet, had arguably become important tools in the quest for things that mattered to Berry. One could argue that computers have helped hold politicians accountable and do other "good work."
I thought the article by Berry on not owning a computer was interesting to read. I especially thought it was interesting that he does not want to buy a computer because he believes that it disrupts family and community relationships. I feel as though computers do tend to take some of this personal relationship away by not actually seeing people you contact, as well as by providing so many social media sites that we become distracted by. These distractions may actually, at times, take us away from social outings or even family get togethers. However, I do believe that many people today who have used computers for a long period of time and have experienced all that they can offer will say otherwise. The Internet offers social media sites that allow you to connect and speak with so many people that you either can no longer see or that live far away. You can also become more connected with individuals' lives by viewing their pictures, videos, and personal experiences all in one place. In this way, I would say that they don't disrupt community relationship but actually may create new and/or better ones.
I surprisingly really appreciated Berry's piece. The one aspect of computers and technology that has always bothered me is the consumerism culture that they foster. Small improvements such as the iPhone 4 to iPhone 4s, send millions to replace their perfectly good phones half a year to a year later. These upgrades promise they can solve our problems (most problems that we are even unaware). And Berry noted this in his piece with regards to farmers. "I have seen their advertisements. attempting to seduce struggling or failing farmers into the belief that they can solve their problems by buying yet another piece of expensive equipment."
I think Berry also calls us to reexamine what we really want and what technology promises us. "I do not see that computers are bringing us one step nearer to anything that does matter to me: peace, economic justice, ecological health, political honesty, family and community stability, good work."
With that being said, with the internet in particular I believe that last point can be argued. Many non-profit groups have been created online, or online sites that allow foreign investment in developing countries. However, I believe Berry's point still is quite poignant, since I feel that few people utilize technology to address those things that are most important to them.
While I found a lot of Berry's points very insightful, I found his protest almost hypocritical. Yes, Berry did not partake in the use of a computer and tried to limit his use of electricity. But as a writer, he had many items published. So he may have not been the one stroking the keyboard, or setting the press, but through his own work were was large amounts of waste and electricity used.
Both these articles were interesting to me because I am typically reading articles that praise technology and this one kind of refutes conforming to these technological norms. When I read these articles it kind of reminded me of my Dad because when the iPhone came out, he was so anti-iPhone and said he would never get one because he liked his blackberry and did not want to be like everyone else. I could believe that Cormac McCarthy wrote over 5 million words on a type writer in a period of 50 years. He bought the "smallest, lightest typewriter he could find". It only costed him $50. He was able to create magnificent and famous work that still is relevant today all done by a typewriter. I did not agree with the Berry article, however, I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion and there are some ways that work for people and they like to stick to what works for them. I think it is very different my me and my generation because we grew up with technology, so I think we are more prone to accepting new innovations and technologies.
This is one of those pieces that, while reading it, you nod your head and audibly say, "yeah! you're so right!" His argument that computers directly replace people, like his wife, who could have done the job just as well struck me. As a person who is terribly attached to their technologies, I wanted to react by arguing his point. I believe that the technologies that I utilize really do make my life and work easier in many ways. But do they really? Could I do it in another way that would be just as efficient and not "rape the land" as Berry argues? I think that our current computer society is entirely skewed in its thinking that everyone needs technologies like the computer. The thought that these technologies improve our lives in ways that make life without them unimaginable is actually terrifying to me. It is even more terrifying to me that I am totally a part of this. I could not imagine my life without my smartphone or my laptop. I think that an iPad would make my life better. This entirely consumerist way of thinking and acting within the world terrifies me because I see it as a factor in what is quickly becoming our downfall. We are less an less connected to our environments outside of our built spaces, both physical and virtual. Everything that we value is virtual. Nearly all of our capital is virtual. If computers ceased to exist, as would our economy... Much too deep to get into now, but the point is, no good can come of our dependance on such technology.
I find myself slightly offended by the article written by Wendell Berry. His case against the computer seems angry and biased. If he had just wrote the article about how he himself prefers to write with a paper and pencil, and have his wife type it up on a typewriter, I would admire him for that. Its fine if you do what makes you the happiest and makes your work the best it can be. But his article attacked energy companies and people who used the computer. He said that the computer harmed the environment by mines by cutting forests. But I want to ask him, where does the wood and graphite come from in his pencil? Where does the ink and plastic come from in his pen? Where does his paper come from? The raw materials for these things come from trees, chemicals, and oil. The processes for getting these things harm the environment as well. And as for the typewriter his wife uses, he says in his article that “the new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces,” and “it should be at least as small in scale to the one it replaces.” The typewriter is much bigger, heaver, and more expensive than the common pen and paper, so how does he justify using that? Why does he bother buying pen and paper at all? Why doesn’t he just go around reciting everything orally? None of Berry’s arguments really make sense to me.
Honestly Wendell seems like an old curmudgeon. He makes computers sound like the enemy that's destroying our country. But maybe in his mind, thy are. At first, I thought he was incredibly romantic for a grumpy old man. He would rather forgo the ease of a computer to hand write his stories and spend more time with his wife. And then I thought, is he speaking to her while he writes? Does typing require that much more mental concentration? Wouldn't he be sitting there, engrossed in his story regardless of if he was typing or handwriting? Or does he mean that it provides other distractions such as the Internet. He could get a computer without getting wireless or dial-up. He could have a computer simply for word processing. I know he has other environmental reasons for not using a computer, but he seems a little closed minded to me. But hey, to each his own. I give him props for writing everything else, and he'll probably be repaid with some carpal tunnel.
For the Berry article we all end up sounding very much like his original detractors. its too bad that he doesn't see some of his hypocritical statements. His article, had it not felt like a moral barrage, would have been stronger in my eyes. He could have stated his prferences rather than making it seem like those that didn't do things the way he did were more wrong.
When I read about Cormac McCarthy, his opinions were more of what I expected from Wendell. the longevity of the typewriter is so much greater than that of the computer. His estimate of 5 million words blows my mind.
I also read the supplemental reading and found it very fascinating. It is a really strange and modern dilemma to have to deal with this concept of screen time and figuring out the effects of its use. I would think that it can be similar to any other toy, although if I were to have kids I would still prefer if they would play with legos or read. If they are very interested in some kind of app or game, I will most likely allow them to use it freely at the appropriate times.
For the Berry article, I remain fairly unconvinced of his argument that the pen is mightier than the computer. His arguments are laced with hypocrisy and weaken his argument throughout. He argues of the lack of need of typing and the heavily unprovable statement that there is no way he nor anybody else could write better or more easily with a computer than with a pencil. This he bases entirely upon intuition without anything but his own anecdotal experience, obviously tinged by his biases, and applies it to everybody else. He says that until someone can write a masterpiece such as Dante's Inferno on the computer and it could only be made with a computer and not upon pen and paper, it is not worth pursuing to use. This is incredibly flawed, considering the fact of computers' relative newness and the fact that writing upon paper has had thousands of years to develop and create these masterpieces, not only that but his claim that only if a piece can be proved to be made only because of the association to the computer can it be connected and give validity to the computer, but he draws from Dante's Inferno, which could as easily have been a story from an oral tradition, and need not require a pen nor paper for its existence.
I do not agree with his argument that an improvement need be superior in every aspect as well as being cheaper and "better," whatever that means. The interesting part of the article in my opinion is his idea that an improvement should not disrupt anything good that already exists, but this has already been disproved through his own usage is the pen and paper itself, disrupting the established ancient tradition of the oral story, which allowed people to both learn, retain, and be able to recite these poems from memory. His argument is based on hypocrisy and though it is interesting for reflection's purpose, his argument itself is weak and in almost every way flawed.
This page contains a single entry by Capper Nichols published on April 8, 2013 7:36 AM.
"What Computers Mean for Man and Society" - Herbert Simon was the previous entry in this blog.
"We are the Web" - Kevin Kelly; "The Web Means the End of Forgetting" - Jeffrey Rosen; Post Secret is the next entry in this blog.
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