Haven't we been here before?

13th April 2001 at 01:00
Dear Sir, I read daily of your fears surrounding this new technology. Young people are becoming obsessed, we are told. They stay up all night gleaning information that was never before accessible to them and over which their parents have scant control.

Traditional teaching methods are being superseded and the profession finds itself obliged to embrace this new technology in order to retain the interest of the young. Sir, all I can say in defence of the printing press is that books are here to stay. We cannot disinvent them, so we must adapt.

William Caxton, printer Of course Bill Caxton, like his doppelganger Mr Gates, had a personal interest in this debate. But his letter to the Daily Chain Mail was no less right for that.

Every time technology moves forward it throws up challenges, and invariably the response of the unsubtle mind is to scream that this innovation simply should not have happened.

I have heard arguments for the disinvention of just about everything, from the H-bomb to human cloning - both f which allegedly encourage us to play God - and yet the worst thing to have happened in recent years has been that most medieval of afflictions, a plague which has ravaged the countryside.

In truth, daily life changes less than headline writers would have us believe. Despite technological innovation, human beings are still creatures who seek love, comfort, knowledge and society. The only difference these days is that we often do so on the Internet.

At the weekend I caught my younger daughter visiting the BBC Knowledge "ask a teacher" site for her physics homework. At 12, Ginny already knows more about science than I've forgotten. I was impressed to see that Britain's teachers have embraced this new way of interfacing with the student mass.

"Does it work?" I asked.

"Well, they won't answer personal questions, they won't do your homework for you and sometimes, even when they've explained it all, you still don't understand what they said."

It seems to me that nothing's really changed at all.


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