Plato is sitting at the feet of his mentor Socrates, writing down what the old philosopher says. What Socrates is saying, ironically, is that writing is bad for you: It rots your memory. Preserved in Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates’s opinion of the then-emerging technology sounds strange to us now—until you recall that that’s pretty much exactly what pundits in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have been saying about TV, video games, and texting.
Dene Grigar, director of Washington State University Vancouver’s program in Creative Media and Digital Culture, laughs and nods. She’s also the president of the Electronic Literature Organization, an international team of scholars and artists dedicated to creating, preserving and evangelizing “born-digital” art and literature.
“Remember the fireside chats?” she asks, harkening back to World War II and Roosevelt’s cozy, comfort-food style of delivering encouragement to a nation at war with fascism.
“Read the reviews,” she continues. “People didn’t want fireside chats, people didn’t embrace them. The president making himself available?” The demonstrative redhead waves her hands, a gesture that says, Shocking! “No! You’ve got to be behind a podium.
“The Industrial Age is a model for us,” she continues, tromping up the stairs to her lab. “They were struggling with transitioning from an agricultural economy to a manufacturing one. Mechanizing jobs, the introduction of machines into everyday life.” She enters her lab and concludes, “We are struggling through a lot of these issues that we’ve already struggled through before. But now with different technologies.”