About cultural loss through technology – a few 1000 years ago
February 18, 2008 by ruediger

The revolving debate about what culture may lose as books migrate from a shelf onto a screen – or if digitizing books is a good thing, or just plain vil – I was amused to come across this story related by Plato in Phaedrus 275 A:

“When the god Thoth first offered the craft of writing to the king of Egypt, the king was not impressed: ‘it will set forgetfulness in the minds of learners for lack of practice in memory’.”

This is only one example showing that as early as when writing took over from oral narratives, in the dawn of History, not everybody was happy and welcoming the new cultural technology.

A similar, critical statement about cultural change and innovation can be found in the Indian Mahabaratha:

“The sellers of the Vedas, the misreaders of the Vedas, the writers of the Vedas, all go on the path to hell.”

I found both quotes in this wonderful book: Nicholas Ostler. Empires of the word. A Language History of the World. Harper Perennial, London New York et al. 2005, p. 183.

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