Friday, 31 July 2009

Is the internet a threat to general knowledge?

Well, was writing?

What has changed in the past generation is that the internet has come along, and the question stands: is it a threat to general knowledge? When I put that to John Lloyd, creator of “QI”, the subversive BBC quiz show presented by Stephen Fry, he gave a very QI answer, referring me to the story of the Egyptian god Thoth. I looked it up, and it was told by Plato. It goes like this: Thoth has invented writing and proudly offers it as a gift to the king of Egypt, declaring it “an elixir of memory and wisdom”. But the king is horrified, and tells him: “This invention will induce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it, because they will not need to exercise their memories, being able to rely on what is written…rather than, from within, their own unaided powers to call things to mind. So it’s not a remedy for memory, but for reminding, that you have discovered. And as for wisdom, you are equipping your pupils with only a semblance of it, not with truth.”

-Brian Cathcart, Intelligent Life magazine, Summer, 2009

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