Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Insufficiency of Technology

I have been reading some of the “Strictly Personal” newspaper columns of Sydney Harris in my morning reading.  Harris combines the enviable (to me at least) talents of being both thoughtful and articulate, even eloquent. He is sophisticated, urbane, intellectual, but he is also practical, almost common.  And he is liberal.  No matter, because I enjoy him for his talent, though I often disagree with what he says.

This morning I came across a piece he must have written before or in the early stages of the computer revolution.  His article is titled “We Pay a Heavy Price for Gadgets.”  He isn’t talking about I-Pads, Smart Phones, and digital wizardry–his reference was the radio and television.  Nevertheless, he sounded a thoughtful warning about the essential insufficiency of technology to the mind and spirit of mankind, portions of which I thought were appropriate to a column on “Living Philosophies.”  They are reproduced below:

“...there is a law of diminishing returns in such devices.  The worst thing about a man-made miracle is that it soon comes to be accepted as commonplace.
This psychological fact–the dwindling returns of pleasure from mechanical objects, so that we constantly require new gadgets to titillate our jaded emotions–is one of the soundest reasons for giving our children [a] ‘humanistic’ education.... 
For it is only in the world of the mind and imagination that we can find the eternally recurring springs of enjoyment. 
Nobody who has ever taken the trouble to read Shakespeare can ever tire of his poetry; nobody who has learned how to listen to Beethoven has ever been known to grow weary of his ‘old’ music. 
Works of art contain their own sources of rejuvenation; and the greater the work, the more ‘new things’ one can find in it year after year.  Hamlet is an inexhaustible play; you can never get to the ‘bottom’ of it. 
Children who grow up with an understanding and an appreciation of this heritage have infinitely more to sustain and delight and console them through life than those children who are given nothing but material objects. [Sydney J. Harris, The Best of Sydney J. Harris, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976, p. 329.]

Lets think together again, soon.

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