June 10, 2008

"From arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style."

That's an observation about the way using a typewriter changed Friedrich Nietzsche's writing — and perhaps also his thinking. He himself said: "our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts." So what is the computer — with access to Google — doing to our minds?

Hey, I asked the question. Pointed at something and asked a question. What more do you want? An aphorism? That would be carrying on to excess, I think.


Hazy Dave said...

Going from a typewriter (even with Liquid Paper) to a computer certainly makes it easier to distill one's thoughts into something at least somewhat organized and grammatical. At least, that's the theory. I seldom did more than one draft of a paper in high school or college. Now I can spend three hours on a 2 paragraph memo!

KLDAVIS said...

Correlation ≠ Causation

I'm highly skeptical of this line of reasoning (especially with respect to Nietzsche). His headaches left him bedridden more often than not, and in such cases he dictated his letters and essays. I doubt a clear pattern could be distinguished between the typed and dictated works. There are myriad other factors at work here.

Google (and/or the typewriter) are but one piece of a larger puzzle.

George said...


bearbee said...

Did going from the horse-plow to tractor make us stupid;
- whatever to printing press
- horse-buggy to the auto
- radio to tv (ok an arguement can be made)
- pencil-paper to calculator?

Does technology make us stupid or efficient with different skill sets but physically lazy?

Palladian said...

God, I got to the second paragraph of this snore-fest and gave up. One thought came to my mind about the article:

That's not writing, it's typing.

Ron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron said...

Guggle has maade us smarter, quicker so we r all 6 Million Dollar Men! Ha! Take that, dead poopy head Nee-chee!

Technology is just the salt on the rim of the glass of our souls as we drink deep the Margarita of Wisdom in our never-ending quest for the tequila buzz of Knowledge!

Aphorism enough for you?

Anthony said...

I'd expect the opposite experience. Writing longhand is tedious, and I'll try to be as concise as possible, and say as little as possible, while in longhand. Typing allows me to more fully develop an argument or explanation.

Revenant said...

The authors have confused specialization with stupidity.

Humans are very good at certain cognitive tasks. We are not, however, good at remembering things. Search engines like Google let us offload important cognitive tasks onto things that are better at them, namely computers, just as domesticated animals and, later, internal combustion engines let us offload physical labor onto things that were better suited for it.

Like the author, I've also lost a lot of the interest I once had in books. But that's because books are so limited in what they can provide. Like a television program, they spoon-feed you information in a specific order and format that may not suit your needs or interests.

Hypertext is a vastly superior medium. I'll spend hours reading through Wikipedia or other online information sources, following the thread of my interest from topic to topic, drilling down into specific subjects of particular interest or following tangents off into unexpected areas.

For example, a couple weeks back a Bob Marley song came on my mp3 player. So I looked up Bob Marley on Wikipedia, hopping from there to Rastafarianism to Emperor Haille Selassi of Ethiopia (who, to my surprise, is the central figure of the religion), and from there to various articles about colonial politics. No book could have given me that. Even if I happened to own books on all those things, which I do not, I would have had to hunt around in them for the information I was looking for, and it is doubtful I'd have bothered doing so on a lazy Sunday morning.

An ordinary American citizen has more information at his fingertips today than the most educated men in the world did a generation ago. It is just a question of whether or not you know how to make use of that information.

William said...

Nietzsche's peachy.

Trevor Jackson said...

Before I got my first cellphone I had probably 2 to 3 dozen telephone numbers memorized. Now I know about half that number at best. Is my brain missing out on the exercise of recall and storage or have I freed up space? Does the brain even work that way?

School kids are also now free to use calculators on more math tests, but they're starting algebra in elementary school.

As for Nietzsche's typewriter and writing, consider Wallace's Infinite Jest. Before the word processor, it's unlikely a book of that size and scope would ever have been written.

LutherM said...

I'd attempt to examine content, ideas examined in the terms of the absence of writing to writing's various forms;

Hieroglyphics seem incompatible with ideas like, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

They may, however, fit quite well with "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.".

The alphabet seems to work quite well in transcribing Homer. Did the discipline of writing improve the playwrights? Consider "He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God". AESCHYLUS, Agamemnon, 1, 177. Is it different when the author writes a letter? "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." PAUL Romans 8: 38-39

Perhaps Chomsky could shed some light on the subject - in another sense, perhaps Henry Adams already has.
(Did the discipline of writing influence "The Dynamo and the Virgin"?)

"Things are seldom as they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream." Sir William S. Gilbert H.M.S. Pinafore, act 1

Mitch H. said...

I have to wonder how much of this is the anxiety of aging boomers and the older gen-xers losing their mental acuity & blaming it on that damned Google.

And since 1882 was mid-way through Nietzche's productive career, I suspect that particular analysis of his post-1882, post-typewriter material as "aphoristic" is objectively unsupportable.

In short, you're just getting dumber, grandpa.