This property applies to all media, not
just the new high-tech ones. Socrates complained about writing. He felt
it forced one to follow an argument rather than participate in it, and
he disliked both its alienation and its persistence. He was unsettled
by the idea that a manuscript traveled without the author, with whom
no argument was possible. Worse, the author could die and never be talked
away from the position taken in the writing.
Users of media need to be aware, too, that technology often forces
us to choose between quality and convenience. Compare the emotions evoked
by great paintings and illuminated manuscripts with those evoked by
excellent photographs of the originals. The feelings are quite different.
For the majority of people who cannot make such comparisons directly,
there is an understandable tendency to accept the substitution as though
nothing were lost.
Consequently, little protest has been made over replacing high-resolution
photographs of great art (which themselves do not capture the real thing)
with lower-resolution videodisc images (which distort both light and
space even further). The result is that recognition, not reverie, is
the main goal in life and also in school, where recognition is the highest
act to which most students are asked to aspire.
When convenience is valued over quality
in education, we are led directly to "junk" learning. This
is quite analogous to other junk phenomena, pale substitutions masquerading
for the real thing. Junk learning leads to junk living. As Neil M. Postman
of New York University says, whether a medium carries junk is not important,
since all media have junk possibilities. But one needs to be sure that
media incapable of carrying important kinds of discourse for example,
television-do not displace those that can.
Media can also lure us into thinking we are creating by design when
in fact we are just tinkering. Consider the difficulty of transforming
clay-a perfectly malleable and responsive substance into anything aesthetically
satisfying. Perfect "debugability," or malleability, does
not make up for lack of an internal image and shaping skills. Unfortunately,
computers lend themselves to such "clay pushing"; they tempt
users to try to debug constructions into existence by trial and error.
Finally, as McLuhan noted, the instant communication offered by today's
media leads to fragmentation. Sequence and exposition are replaced by
isolated, context-free factoids, often presented simply because they
WALKWAY through a garden (top) outside the Open School
was designed by the third graders, who chose a herringbone pattern to
ensure easy access to all plots. The children settled on the pattern
after creating and debating many models, often with the help of their
computers. The garden is part of the Life Lab project, in which children
plan, plant, tend and enjoy the fruits of their own garden (bottom)
as a way of learning about the interaction of living things with the