The Future of Ideas

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

With the increasing popularity of the Kindle, Nook, iPad and other digital reading devices, people have voiced concern that intelligence will decline as paper books decrease. Only time will tell, of course, but worrying about new inventions dumbing down society has been around for centuries.

In 370 BC, Socrates shared concern that the new reliance on the written word was going to hinder true insight. He argued that true art could only come from speaking and that true scholars and artists would continue to communicate via speeches rather than writing.

When printed books became more ubiquitous, thanks to Gutenberg and the movable type printing press, people in the fifteenth century thought that the increased volume of books would cause people to study less and become more lazy.

Did the popularity of writing and books stunt intelligence? People rarely die of polio anymore thanks to the vaccine created just last century. Major advances have been made in almost every field thanks to the invention of plastic. Millennials are statistically the most educated generation alive today.

New methods of producing and consuming information typically don't cause people to become less smart. Instead, they allow ideas to reach more people than they did before. Is the true magic of books the paper itself or the ideas held within?

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