I love that you reference Leaping Poetry! That’s one of my all-time favorite books.
Tim O'Reilly
92

Tim,

I have read quite a bit of your writing and respect and appreciate it greatly. That’s why I am an avid reader and participant here. The WTF subject matter is on my mind daily, and I am fascinated by these discussions. Your work is one of the main things that drew me to Medium.

I completely agree that there are tradeoffs. I would not say that “literacy” in the sense of “book-reading” or the written alphabet itself is a bad thing or that memorization was better and should never have been challenged as a way to store knowledge. But it’s a matter of degree and accretion. As knowledge and information proliferates there is no way the human brain can store it all. I have nothing against hard drives. But each magical “innovation” being sold to the consumer as must-have new convenience chips away at the very nature of what it is to have a (human) brain, to be present, and to be a participant in a social fabric that is bigger than our own instant gratification. I think as a society we need to look at nuance, and see that small changes have enormous consequences. Take away one “inconsequential” plant, the milkweed, and the butterflies disappear. Alter one gene in billions and the benign becomes cancerous. Give your memory of birthdays to your phone, and also the map of where you are, and also. . . . where does it stop?

The conversation about AI is one driven by the gospel of inevitability. It’s coming, we must adapt. Well, it’s only coming if we buy into it. We can question the inevitability and ask for a different kind of conversation based on values. We already have a 24-hour conversation about the next cool app or thing that will change our lives, and that’s called marketing, which we can’t escape, because every device, (including the hose to my gas tank on my ’88 Toyota,) is attached to a screen telling me what I need next. See Matthew Crawford’s excellent book, The World Beyond Your Head.)

I have been spending a lot of time lately with a friend in her 70's. She can quote entire pages of poetry and text at the drop of a hat. Her brain retains the intelligence of her old-fashioned Catholic school upbringing. She also reads books and listens to them on tape, and her retention of both is laser-sharp. This stupid skill of “rote memorization” is actually a powerful and fundamental building block of intelligence. It is one of the parts of our brains in danger of atrophy, as it is outsourced and replaced by technology.

I love magic as much as anyone. I grew up reading C.S. Lewis, and I often think as I do my work in Photoshop that I have actually stepped through the closet and am living in Narnia. I marvel every day at what is possible with my new tools. I also can see the endless rabbit hole of more more more, the shiny things, and in me and the rest of us the magpie-impulse to drag every shiny thing into our nest. Our tech economy is built on this impulse. I’d rather we focus not on the next manufactured need we didn’t know we had, and on the existing problems that need solutions, many of which involve the soft tech of our social, economic and political structures.