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Friday, November 8, 2019

Low Tech

There are some old technologies that work really well.  The codex, for example. You can carry around a book; it is easy to find a particular page of it, or mark it up.  It is a much better technology for reading a book than a screen on which the book is viewed.

The seminar room is a very nice technology. A room of the right size with a table in the middle where 10 people can hear each other talk. We might call the class discussion a technology, as well. For all the talk about innovation, really, the seminar format is something that still works, and it is hard to think of how to make it better. We learn how to do it by seeing our own professors do it in grad school, and then using what we liked and not using what we don't like.  

Pens and notebooks work really well.  They are cheap, portable, reliable, and easy to use.

My classroom has dry erase boards. I got a dry erase marker from the office, and got there, and it didn't work. Chalk is dusty but it usually works better than these, which dry up really fast.

The value of a technology is not in its technological aspect per se, but its ease of use and its usefulness. So if I want to play recorded music, I need a world in which someone has figured out how to record music, store it somehow, and have a mechanism for playing it, but what those recording, storing, and playback methods are is not particularly interesting. You could probably do a music theory course with just a piano in the room, or a music history course with a record player and some old lps.  

Lo tech is not inherently better than hi tech, but a lot of the lo tech has the advantage of not getting in the way of failing. In the seminar discussion, everyone's focus is on the people in the room and the ideas being discussed. There is nothing to distract or get in the way, and there is kind of a purity to that.

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