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On Ipads, Kindles, and the Theater of Memory

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

“In Defense of the Memory Theater,” (HT Jason Borah) Nathan Schneider writes that he is concerned about the bookshelves, and not so much the books. As electronic books are becoming increasingly popular, and mind-boggling amounts of written materials can be searched almost instantaneously electronically, there is precious little incentive to remember anything.

Losing our ability to remember, though, has intellectual consequences. The essay caught my attention because it strikes upon a subject that is related to my purpose for starting this blog in the first place: reading and memory.

It would not be fair to say that Schneider’s argues against the use of an Ipad or Kindle. That isn’t really his point. But he does invite one to think about the consequences of these new technologies upon our wisdom and understanding. And he especially causes one to consider the extent to which it is wise to put all our eggs into one collective technological basket, especially in light of who we are as human beings. I hope that is sufficient to whet your appetite; I think you’ll find it an interesting read. I’ll leave you with this extended quote, which comes at the end of Schneider’s essay:

As the business of reading technology continues along its trajectory, whether apocalyptic or utopian or both, perhaps those of us who continue to fancy ourselves concerned readers—however much we give in to the new and shiny—might turn our attention anew to what one might call “inner work.” In the part of ourselves which is not technological, we could rediscover the tautology that what makes knowledge so precious is its precariousness, not the surety of our control over it. We’ll need to cultivate the arts of memory and forgetting alluded to in these lines by William Blake, which came to me in a letter from a friend, a librarian who, for years now, has been slowly dying in a monastery:

He who binds to himself a joy Doth the winged life destroy. He who kisses the joy as it flies, Lives in eternity’s sunrise.”

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