Research Log 4

At this point, I think my original hypothesis has been largely confirmed: a black-and-white view on the subject is insufficient. My original question was “How important is it for humans to learn information which can be more effectively stored and accessed by other means?” In a certain sense, one can quite trivially establish that it is of extreme importance that humans learn at least some such information. Perhaps it would be most appropriate to discuss the propriety of memorization in each of several different areas.

The majority of my sources can be categorized as discussing the importance of memory in either education and general thought (mostly education) or personal life. Thus, perhaps I ought to split my paper along this line, discussing what sorts of things ought to be memorized and which oughtn’t for each of the areas in turn. Thinking back on my sources, I think my thesis could be something like “Although technology can be very useful in storing and retrieving information, memorization is important in many significant ways to humans, especially in the areas of education and personal life.”


Research Log 3

So far, the topic of technology and memory seems to be panning out fairly well. The last post ended by asking which things are important to memorize. This source seems to speak rather particularly to this issue: “Of course, it’s a spectrum. We’ll always need to memorize information that would be too clumsy or time-consuming to look up daily: simple arithmetic, common spellings, the layout of our hometown. Without those, we won’t be of much use in our jobs, relationships or conversations.” That is, certain facts are critical to success in life, and some of them are of little use if they aren’t on instant recall. He argues elsewhere that certain things don’t need to be memorized, because “As society marches ever forward, we leave obsolete skills in our wake. That’s just part of progress.” Essentially, outsourcing memorization to technology allows humans to aspire to nobler, more impressive goals. This is an angle on the issue I haven’t yet used in the course of my research: even if memorizing things is in itself good for humans, the extra effort it involves might keep us doing more important things which would benefit mankind even further.

This source doesn’t by any stretch argue that memorizing is in itself bad, but rather that it is insufficient for learning. The example she cites in her third paragraph tells the story of a physics teacher whose students knew Newton’s third law, but struggled to actually apply it. Clearly, not memorizing the formula would not have been a better approach to fully understanding the law. Indeed, some of my other sources discuss how memorization is conducive to understanding. However, it does make an important point: learning requires more than simply memorizing. Thus, in some instances, one can see how memorization is not the most efficient route to conceptual knowledge; sometimes, it can be more efficient to simply understand the concepts themselves, referring to outside sources for particular information when required.

These two sources help to balance out my paper, arguing that memorization can be less critical than one might think.

Research Blog Post 2

Slight change of plans. OK, let’s face it: GIGANTIC change of plans. I now intend to write on memory and technology. More specifically, I want to discuss the importance of humans’ memorizing that which computers and other technologies can store more predictably and effectively. This will not likely result in a black-and-white answer. Particularly, the importance of humans’ memorizing a certain thing clearly depends on which thing is to be memorized. Hence, a more nuanced view must be pursued.

After doing some research into the area, I’ve found such a nuanced view to be justified. There was little disagreement that technology (mostly computers and books) could be extremely useful in the field of memory. However, most of the authors I read emphasize the importance of humans’ memorizing at least certain things. These authors can be split broadly into two groups: those who emphasize the importance of human memory for the sake of humans, and those who emphasize the importance of human memory for the sake of the things to be memorized (and hence for the sake of the humans). Thus, at root, the good of humans (or humanity at large) affects the importance of humans’ memorizing things. Clearly, it is important that humans memorize certain things. The next question, then, must be “Which things?”

Technology Paper Update 1

Entry 1

It’s been 3 days without food or water At this point, I plan to write on the use of chemical warfare internationally. Particularly, I plan to center the discussion on the policy of chemical warfare; that is, the legal status of its research and (more especially) use. In order to reach a solid conclusion, I’ll need to look into current and past legal statuses of the technology in order to examine their respective results. In addition (perhaps unfortunately), this paper will most likely require a discussion of the purpose of international law and the propriety of weapons in general. More specifically, the key will be to identify any differences between chemical warfare and other weapons which are uncontroversially legal. This, in turn, will require a discussion of the specific effects of chemical warfare, such as the amount of pain it inflicts on its targets. Of course, as with most ethical topics, the correct answer (whose existence I shall assume) is liable to be rather nuanced; for example, if I conclude that chemical warfare ought, in fact, to be legal, I must consider under what circumstances (and especially on what targets) it ought to be used. Or if I conclude that chemical warfare ought in principle to be illegal, practical circumstances may render its use necessary for some greater good (or, indeed, vice-versa).

Articles such as this rather recent article from National Geographic may be helpful as general resources, but I’ll likely need to focus more particularly on sources which discuss its legal status or results. This publication might be a good place to start; although, since it originates from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Warfare (OPCW), I’ll need to take its bias into account. An article such as this one is closer to what I’ll need, but I may want to find one from a well-known, respected publication. The difficult part will be to find publications which argue that chemical warfare ought to be legal after all, because of the many countries who have signed a treaty prohibiting it. Although, as with any legal issue, I’m bound to find dissenting opinions eventually.

TED Talk: How the Internet will (one day) transform government


1. Shirky discusses the applicability of tools (specifically distributed version control) used by open-source programmers to the political domain.

2. He concludes that the tools are, in fact, useful for achieving more fully the ends of democracy, and thus their use in this regard ought to be supported by the people.

3. Interesting quotations:

  • “No democracy anywhere in the world offers this feature (providing the public with knowledge of the differences between subsequent versions of the law) to its citizens for either legislation or for budgets, even though those are the things done with our consent and with our money.” At first glance, this does not appear to be a terribly important service to provide to the people. However, closer examination reveals the utility in such an enterprise: if the government is to be run as a democracy, the people are to play a role in the legislation, and thus ought to have the maximum access possible to changes in law.
  • “… being given a dashboard without a steering wheel has never been the core promise a democracy makes to its citizens.” This makes clear the difference knowledge of the goings-on of one’s government and actively participating therein; a government which claims to be a democracy and yet merely informs its citizens of its decisions forfeits that claim.

4. Confusing quotations:

  • “More media always means more arguing.” If this is taken to mean that there are quantitatively more arguments when there are more media, this statement seems quite obviously true. However, if is he claiming that there are comparatively more arguments when there are more media, this is less plausible. Which is it?
  • “And this brings up the question, what made [the goverment] think they could get away with [censoring a nine-year-old]. And the answer is, all of human history prior to now.” What does he mean by “now” here? He proceeds to cite similar changes to media in society dating back to the printing press in the 15th century, and so the trend is easily hundreds of years old. Is the change which resulted from the advent of the Internet simply that drastic?

5. Related article: This article considers the negative rather than the positive effects technology can have on social and political issues: they expedite government surveillance. Clearly, they consider this development bad.

Silence and the Notion of the Commons

1. Franklin discusses the role of silence in the context of the commons, or the public sphere.

2. Franklin concludes that silence is an integral part of the commons, which ought to be supported by the government as a fundamental human right.

3. Interesting quotations:

  • “In addition, modern devices make it possible to decompose, recompose, analyze and mix sounds, to change the initial magnitude and sustainability of sound, as well as to change all the characteristics that link the sound with its source. R. Murray Schafer called this ‘schizophonia,’ separating the sound from the source” (Franklin 642). In addition to introducing a clever portmanteau, this explicates a hidden result of the advancement of sound technology: the sound is no longer dependent on the source.
  • “Silence, in addition to being an absence of sound, is defined by a listener, by hearing” (Franklin). Eschewing its common (and, admittedly, correct) definition, Franklin grounds the concept of silence more strongly in the context of people, without whom silence becomes irrelevant (at least to her topic).

4. Confusing quotations

NOW we’re talking…

  • “First of all, we must insist that, as human beings in a society, we have a right to silence” (Franklin 645). It seems that, in an effort to be pithy, Franklin has lost a significant degree of precision. This imprecision arises most importantly from her use of the word right. If by right she simply means to imply that it is better for humans to have silence available for contemplation, then this statement seems rather uncontroversial. However, if she actually means a sort of inalienable or fundamental obligation of the government to enforce a degree of silence, her statement seems much less plausible. What does she mean to say here?
  • “I have yet to see, beyond hospitals, a public building that has a private room” (Franklin 645). Um, how about a library? That seems, if anything, even quieter than a hospital.

5. Related article: This article summarizes an article written by the clever wordsmith Franklin cites (quotation 3.1). The article in question discusses the negative effect the “introduction of unwanted noise” has on natural environmental noise.

The Touch-Screen Generation

1. Rosin discusses the effect on toddlers of their increasingly frequent use of digital technology.

2. Rosin argues that technology in itself is not damaging to toddlers and can, indeed help educate them.

3. Interesting quotations:

  • “Most of them were disappointingly ‘instructive,’ he found-‘drag the butterfly into the net, that sort of thing. They were missing creativity and imagination.” This seems to imply that explicitly instructive educational materials take a dive in efficacy when they lack creativity and imagination.
  • “[Children’s] hands are a natural extension of their thoughts.” This connection is unintuitive; hands and other extremities are commonly ignored as extensions of the mind.

4. Confusing quotations:

  • “In her excellent book Screen Time, the journalist Lisa Guernsey lays out a useful framework – what she calls the three C’s – for thinking about media consumption: content, context, and your child.” I take issue with this alliterative formulation. First, why is “child” last? The whole point of the framework is to accommodate your child, yet it is suffixed as almost a side note to her framework. Second, why is “child” in the phrase at all? If, again, the whole point of the framework is to accommodate the child, it seems as though its inclusion adds no useful content in the context of the phrase (see what I did there?). Perhaps she meant to refer to factors specific to the individual child. Granted, this does not begin with C. Then again, neither does “your.”
  • “[(Gideon wrongly chose Elmo)] As it happens, Gideon was not in the majority.” This seems rather to undermine her previous paragraph recounting the scene, as the story does little to support the argument she proceeds to make.

5. Related article: Balancing benefits, harm of too much screen time ( Miller also discusses the effect of technology on toddlers, but he takes a view on the opposite end of the spectrum: parents ought to institute technology as an exception, not a rule.