Plato's Views on the Technology of Writing
In the book Phaedrus Plato offers a lot of criticism for a writing technology that not many of us would ever think as writing technology, let alone criticize it. This writing technology is none other than writing itself. When people think of writing technology they mostly think of the printing press, the computer, the typewriter and such. Yet no one stops to think of writing. Writing has had such a major impact on society that who would ever think that the one of the greatest minds of all time opposed it. Plato was not just a crazy old man afraid of change; his criticism can still be applied today.
For many people, writing has always been around. It’s hard to picture life without writing, books, reading, but at one point all there was was rhetoric. People would entertain themselves not by picking up a book by Jane Austen or Shakespeare. They would go to listen to people give speeches. This is what Plato was used to, and when writing came along he resisted the idea that this new invention, writing, could be good for people.
First, Plato thought that writing would be bad for peoples’ memories. He thought writing would encourage forgetfulness and that people would rely too much on writing as a means of recollection. In Phaedrus Socrates points this out to Phaedrus by telling him a story about the Egyptian king Thamus and Theuth an inventor of many arts. “ For this invention of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves” (Plato 87-88). Plato used the character of Thamus to express his own concerns about writing.
This argument that Plato makes is warranted. Forgetfulness can still be considered an issue connected to writing today. For example, in school when students take notes in class they don’t bother to memorize the information right away as they are listening to it. Students rely on the fact that they took notes and can refer to the notes later on. Consider a student getting ready to do their homework. The first thing that student will probably do is look at his/her assignment book where she wrote down what the assignments are for each class and when they are due. Planners are widely used by students to remember all the assignments for each of their classes and due dates. Many people also use planners for their jobs and daily activities. Some of these people could not function without a planner. Not many people think of planners or notes as promoters of forgetfulness, but they are. Just think of how many people could not remember a spouse’s birthday or an anniversary if they didn’t have it written down somewhere. Think of how many late assignments student would turn in because they relied solely on memory.
Forgetfulness was not the only thing Plato was worried about when it...