Dave does have a way of asking questions that tend to tie our rhizomes in a knot.
So “Is books making us stupid?”
Of course not. We got stupid before Gutenberg.
Leonard Shlain, renowned surgeon and author who was truly renaissance in his integration of the arts and sciences, wrote a provocative book, The Goddess and the Alphabet, with a hypothesis that when humans invented alphabets that they began to reshape our brains in ways that we’re only now understanding. The old electronic metaphor of rewire never seemed right and now with the understanding that the work of the brain is more collaborative and holistic rather than isolated in various sections it seems much more sensible to remix Churchill’s “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”
Shlain’s premise is that literacy reshaped our brains in ways that glorified written expression/communication while demoting all things visual and oral. We may have gotten erudite but we got stupid when we failed to realize the power of our other ways of knowing, learning, and sharing. An unintended consequence (unless you believe in conspiracy theories) was that we marginalized those whose ways of knowing or cultures did not embrace the linear, sequential mode of communicating that an alphabet dictates. Those left behind? Women and aboriginals top the list.
Belenky et. al wrote a scholarly book about women’s ways of knowing that are typically not respected. Interestingly, they identify women as tending toward “connected learners” rather than “separate learners” so a nod there to rhizomatic learning. I don’t think that knowing as a more global, holistic, visual, and oral experience is gender-specific anymore than I buy the old right brain/left brain theories but it gives us a place to begin the conversation.
And Jim Stauffer aka WayUpNorth brings the ways of knowing/learning from the aboriginals to the conversation when he shares his experiences in learning the Tlı̨chǫ language and ways of looking at the world to make an eloquent case for the power of orality.
Jenny Mackness nailed it when she wrote that we need, of course, both written language and orality and that books preserve both history and perspective that we can’t afford to lose. Her argument reminds me of the Slow Reading movement that advocates for the kind of heavy, intellectual, critical thinking that seems more likely with deep immersion in a longer text. Some may see irony in Google’s often contested effort to preserve and distribute this knowledge of books. But the beauty of the digital world is that it may be bringing a return to a more holistic understanding of learning, knowing, and sharing because it does enable us to express and communicate in both visual and oral ways beyond text. I’d like to think that we’re coming full circle and that digital storytelling and the “YouTube aesthetic” of sharing our lives is giving voice to those of us who do think and learn in myriad, often nontraditional ways.