Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Thoreau online

I went to a workshop yesterday in which an English professor talked about his experience getting started in teaching with technology. He said he had been struggling to find a book for his student that had the classic essays he wanted to teach, and he thought maybe he could find them online instead. He said he almost cried when he found Thoreau online.

I almost cried to think of what Thoreau would say about what we are doing. A man who said "Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes" and asked "What's the railroad to me?" would see instantly that we are pursuing innovation for its own sake, not because it is actually better. Now I don't dismiss that entirely; one of the values of technology is to keep me and my students from getting bored. But Thoreau deserves his due for suggesting that it is enough that "I have travelled a great deal in Concord" and musing that "We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate."

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