Saturday, January 1, 2000

January 2000

This is a placeholder post linking to this month's entries in the pre-Blogger format.



Nevertheless, if computer science does not begin and end with programming, neither will it give up its secrets to those who cannot program. I greet the news that high school students do not program our millions of microcomputers as an English professor might greet the news that the school library is terrific but the kids don't read. Here is a puzzle worth much more than a moment's thought. There is an inverse relationship between the availability of microcomputers to primary and secondary school students and the chance that those students will do something substantial with them. I am not saying that the relationship is causal, but the association is there.

--Paul de Palma, "http://www.when_is_enough_enough?.com: Putting Microcomputers in Their Place," The American Scholar, Winter 1999, p. 67

... For decades, after all, we Americans have carried on all our intellectual controversies pretty much the same way. A book comes out, offering a radical new take on a painful and delicate topic--the genetic component in intelligence, or the reasons for the Holocaust, or the fall of the American intellectual. Initial reviews and articles make clear that the author has something new and controversial to say. Prominent writers and thinkers take positions. Quarrels break out at public forums.

All of a sudden, a story emerges: not the story of the original book, which becomes at most a sidebar, and usually nothing more than a first paragraph. Rather, the conflict becomes the story. Individual positions and posturings, particular reviews and debates, generate still more publicity. The actual theses and substance of the original book lie buried and forgetten, unread and distorted, under the tons of invective hurled at the author and his or her detractors. In many cases, no one actually seems to have read the original, though everyone has read the cover article about in the New York Review of Books.

Journalists need to find a dramatic hook for every article and to summarize complex, colorful theories in stark black and white, two good ways to heap more fuel on the fires they cover. Radio and television shows--and the World Wide Web--do more to confuse than inform. Often they give currency to falsehoods. Nuances drop away, distinctions disappear, group divisions harden. In the end, the debate often pulls entirely free of its original moorings. Once the wheels begin to turn, the
School of Athens turns into the Garden of EarthlyDelights: off go the philosophical masks, out come the grimacing demons that had been hiding behind them. ...

--Anthony Grafton, "Arndt and Eichmann at the Dinner Table," The American Scholar, Winter 1999, p. 108

Those books that do not already exist in electronic back files, or are not digitized, will disappear.Virtually all of the ancient works we possess were copied into codex form during late antiquity or the Middle Ages; works that remained on papyrus vanished. Anyone who has searched in vain for a record album, only to find that it hasn't been converted to a CD, has seen this process at work today.

--Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, "The Book Is Here to Stay," reviewing The Evolution of the Book by Frederick Kilgour, and Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cervantes by James O'Donnell, in The American Scholar, Winter 1999, p. 139

If The American Scholar is in digital form, it's not on-line.