Which Technological Advances Are Bad?: Over at Crooked Timber, Chris Bertram Comes Out Against Literacy **UPDATE** and Musical Instruments too!
No. I'm not going to give him a link. UPDATE: Chris Bertram asks for a link http://crookedtimber.org/2012/12/27/noah-smith-had-me-going-for-a-minute-there/ and promises "this post was a dig at generalized uncritical tech-enthusiasm, a more nuanced post is in preparation." /UPDATE
Chris Bertram: Noah Smith had me going for a minute there:
I just love econobloggers, with their capacity for Swiftian satire. Dry as dust, yet clearly having a laugh, they aim to reel in the poor saps who are take them seriously, but they are big enough to continue to play along, making as if they really mean it. Until now, I’d thought of Tyler Cowen, Bryan Caplan and, perhaps, even Arnold Kling as being the true masters of the genre. But I’m pretty sure that Noah Smith surpasses them all with a new blog on eyeglasses and literacy.
Smith does a really excellent job of pretending to be keen on the augmented-eyesight and mechanical-memory future he imagines. So, for example, we get
the ability to read and write would greatly enhance life. You would never need a bard, a nomenclature, or a griot. All you would need would be your own augmented eyes and notebook. You could refer back to notes you had taken five years ago. Imagine the possibilities for writing letters so that you could virtually hang out with friends half a world away! And why stop there? If you wanted, you could read a novel and pretend that you were Akhilleus, or Elizabeth Bennet. You could imagine a world very different from the one around you.
But understandably, he feigns enthusiasm most successfully about the prospects for the economy:
literacy technologies have the potential to improve human productivity quite a bit, as my examples above have hopefully shown. Humans who can read can access vast amounts of knowledge and expertise, can interface with the thought and experience of people and the past. They can make themselves better-informed and more well-adjusted just by glancing at a page--they will be valuable employees indeed, and will prove useful complements to machines and natural resources.
Indeed, employers could make it a condition of employment that workers be literate! Actually, I think Smith missed a trick there, by failing to imagine how this might affect workplace dynamics. Oh well, I expect someone will be along to explain how such mandatory-literacy contracts would be win-win. Brilliant.
UPDATE: And Chris Bertram Comes Out Against Musical Instruments! A "friend" sends me this:
@crookedfootball: Experiential benefits of some technologies wear off: music possible example. Temporary bounce, but no real enhanced well-being.
Seems to me that Alameida has a decisive counter to the claim that the use of musical instruments produces no real enhanced well-being:
I'm not optimistic: Bertram has, after all, already moved from denouncing cyborg technologies to denouncing musical instruments. UPDATE: Chris Bertram states that his "Experiential benefits of some technologies wear off: music possible example. Temporary bounce, but no real enhanced well-being" is not a dismissal of musical instruments but rather of CDs and iPods. I am looking forward, however, to Bertram's condemnations of clothing and of stone tools: