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back to article Tom Stoppard: Tech is destroying the written word

Heavyweight luvvie Sir Tom Stoppard has said that new technology in the home is destroying children's - and thus society's - appetite for the written word. He also considers that today's educational system places too much emphasis on maths and the sciences at the expense of the humanities. Stoppard made the remarks while …

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an Ancient Sumerian says:

"Clay tablets are destroying the spoken word. Now that people can use this new-fangled "writing" they won't need to remember anything, or speak. They'll just write messages to each other."

All the other stuff about too much emphasis on science and not enough on humanities. Sorry, sunshine. It just sounds to me like you're spitting your dummy out of the pram 'cos no-one's buying your books any more.

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WTF?

Parents...

If parents read to their children then children will take to reading and litterature. My three year old has access to all the modern distractions of moving images you'd find in a "tech" person's house. Yet she loves the 45 year old hand-me-down Ladybird "well loved tales" books that pass to every kid in our family and many others old and new. She also loves a trip to the library to chose books.

Bring your own kids up right and don't worry about the barbarians. Don't blame the technology if you are a weakass parent.

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Games and Reading

Yes, reading to children and being seen reading books for enjoyment is a good way to pass on the love of reading. My son has been discovered awake and reading books in bed several hours after his bedtime recently.

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a

Shock - old man complains of social change!

I can't wait till we are all old so we get to complain about the latest hoojamaflibs stopping the young'ns enjoying our whatsnames.

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Not Enough Science

If we're concentrating too much on maths and science, why do we have an excess of media studies graduates and not enough engineers, scientists and maths teachers? Or is it just the way the subjects are taught that is the problem?

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Grenade

Not so much media studies.

Take a look at the figures and this is what you find:

M1 - Law by Area 17,346

W2 - Design studies 16,674

C8 - Psychology 15,327

G4 - Computer Science 11,328

N2 - Management studies 10,708

N1 - Business studies 10,597

So, we have designers to copy designs, lawyers to sue them for it, psychologists to declare that this all this litigation is stressful, comp-sci guys trying to keep it running, BusSci guys trying to make money out of it and managers getting in everybody else's way and doing nothing of value.

*shrug*

Media studies would be an improvement on some of those.

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Gold badge

Not so much science either

Don't see any science in the above list.

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Wonderful assumptions

I love the assumption from this guy (and many others of that age) that, because something happened when they were a child, it must have been a good thing. Presumably, this assumption is based on the sure-fire knowledge that the world was a better place back then. Black people knew their place, homosexuals lived in fear, a man was well within his rights to beat his wife for no apparent reason, girls were pretty much third-class citizens, millions worked in appalling conditions and died early from work related injuries and illnesses, tens of millions of people died in two world wars, the poor were left to die in the streets etc. Ahh, the good old days!

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Grenade

The biggest problem...

The biggest problem in schools at the moment, especially Academies is integrated Humanities where you have Geography teachers teaching History to under-14s. A subject like History is crucial and whilst the subject knowledge is relatively limited to under-14s it really should be taught by a professional in that subject; otherwise you might as well go with the Tories idea of parents setting up their own schools!

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Flame

only in England

Sorry, but in Scotland you need a degree in your subject to teach it in a secondary school. We don't let the janitor teach the class like in England...

AC? Of course, my English colleagues will read this too.

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On the internet no-one know you are a Tom

The dog it was that died ... not the written word, Tom

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Might be onto something though...

Half the people I work with can't recognise when they've spelt something incorrectly unless a red wiggly line appears underneath it.

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DJV

Agreed

Except that a good proportion of the other half don't even understand what the red wiggly line actually means and carry on regardless "no mater wot there speling iz liek!" Of course, I blame icanhascheezburger.com

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Unhappy

universal spelling checker?

Since my powerpoint checker defaults to some language based on my personal profile, my slides are 90% redlined if they are in another language.

Thus, carry on regardless.

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Unhappy

smell chuckers

Your onto a looser their.

(Apologies to people who like the language to be correct.)

A further problem is that the differences between "they're/their.there", "your/you're" and "loser/looser" seems to be beyond the abilities of far too many forum posters (though El Reg standards are much higher of course!) - and they all pass spell checkers, so don't even get a wiggly underline to prompt a second look.

Worst part? I now sometimes doubt my own spelling!

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Happy

and spell chequers...

Eye halve a spelling chequer.

It came with my pea sea.

It plainly marques four my revue,

Miss steaks eye ken knot sea.

Eye strike a quay and type a word,

And weight four it two say,

Weather eye am wrong oar write;

It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid,

It nose bee fore two long,

And eye ken putt the error rite,

Its rare lea ever wrong.

Eye halve run this poem threw it.

I am shore yore pleased two no.

Its letter perfect awl the weigh,

My chequer tolled me sew.

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As Plato once said about writing

'And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.

'The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.'

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re:As Plato once said about writing

And is it irony that we only know Plato said that because it was written down?

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Headmaster

re:As Plato once said about writing

Yea, ironic too, that the permanence of the written and printed word, properly cataloged, is the foundation of the incremental advances of science and technology in the western world. Yet, those very advances now threaten to undermine such permanence and categorization - with ephemeral digital storage requiring advanced technology to access and rivers of unorganized information eroding existing systems of classification while challenging attempts at providing equal or better alternatives. By uncritically accepting the new as better, we implicitly hang our future on the indefinite continuation of present optimal circumstances that, in the history of our species, have never been known to continue indefinitely. (To further explain - or confuse, an individual's intelligence - beyond simple reasoning skill and its rapidity, is not inherited by that person's brain but, rather, assimilated from one part or another of our "written cultural intelligence". Lose the latter, or the ability to find it, and we're all back to the "darker" ages.)

There are important issues at stake, although they are not the ones described by Stoppard, and they should not be buried under irrelevant arguments that divert attention from those issues.

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Grenade

I love it when people

burble on about how "progress" is destroying <insert sacred cow here>.

txtspeak ? Try reading the books of 700+ years ago. Handwritten, using very expensive materials, you would maximise every square inch of paper (vellum technically). Result ? Abbreviations, icons (smileys anyone) and all other means of "corruption". In Latin.

Back then, people had amazing memories. Messengers were quite capable of hearing a 10,000 word message once, and repeating it verbatim - usually in a langauge they couldn't speak (Latin, again). Then came printing, and the ability to store information in books, and that was gone - forever.

Ya di dah.

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Anonymous Coward

Presumably Sir Tom is unfamiliar with Harry Potter and Twilight

which, last I looked, seem to have done a fairly good job of engaging a generation with traditional bookreading and also got them writing their own in response (yes, yes, illiterate drivel, for kids, fucking wizards, fucking vampires, etc, but that's not germane to these comments) and at least a proportion of those will go on to have a lifelong love of reading.

I've seen these sorts of pronouncements made before, and they stem entirely from an underestimation of how adept kids today are at picking and choosing from multiple, diverse sources of information and entertainment.

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Anonymous Coward

You're trying to do a spelling flame about the word "spelt"?

In case you really didn't know, the past tense and participle of "spell" in British English is "spelt", spelt thus.

Spelt is also a kind of wheat, of course, and a very rare verb whose past tense is "spelted".

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Coat

Good point, time we stood up for ENGLISH

...as would be recognised by Her Majesty. No more "Favorites" in the Explorer menu of a supposedly British-English machine. No more "color" and "center" in HTML. And that shiny doesn't-rust metal has five syllables. And "cancelled" has two 'l's.

Symbol of protective covering for self-evident reasons. :-)

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I particularly like

when people talk about the 50s as being the good old days where everything was wonderful and you could leave your door open. I particularly like it when people quote murder statistics from the 50s. I casually point out to them that the most likely offenders are going to be men from 18+, and that the only reason they had the good old times was probably because there was a shortage of such men because of something that happened 5-10 years earlier. I do like how people quite happily grab a 10-15 year period of time and suggest that the world is getting worse because in that time period things seemed really good, when all it really means is that their own lives were pretty good in that short period.

<rant>

I'm pretty sure that if you look at most 20 years previous to any point in the 20th century you can find something equally disgusting as the thing the person is ranting about in the first place. Racism and sexism are easy ones, you've got the two wars, at the start of the century you've got medical ignorance and things like the stupidly high death rates on maternity wards because of poor hygiene, or the gin houses in London, or the knife crime in London at the start of the century. Or how about the anarchist terrorism? Or the razorblade gangs in Glasgow when my mum was growing up? It gets easier as you go further back because you end up being able to add on all sorts of medical advancements and poverty to quality of life.

</rant>

I don't think writing will end up disappearing, but I think there needs to be more publicity about it to keep kids reading. I do thinks books are a "good thing", but I also think that the wealth of knowledge that is available through different, new mediums (which will only become more impressive with 3D, it may just be a gimmick, but I think it's a pretty enjoyable gimmick) allows our kids to really find out amazing things from a young age, and really question the world around them, and you can't knock that..

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Unhappy

Computer science

is to science as plumbing is to hydraulics.

"The Devil's DP Dictionary" (1981) Stan Kelly-Bootle

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Poor Tom, next stop obitary

I work as an software coach, and hardly ever use the written word, instead I teach through the use of example and targeted games.

I find people learn ( and remember ) so much more this way than sitting through a series of dry text based power point slides

Wonder when I am older will I look back at the young things with their 3-D, virtual reality head sets and long for the days of the iPad when I could read the screen............

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FAIL

Actual science

"All in all, at least two students are reading humanities for every one doing actual science - unless you count such extremely popular subjects as Psychology, Computer Science and Sport Science among the sciences."

Absolutely. Psychology is clearly just a humanities subject since all it involves is experimentation, observation, and theoretical abstraction. Nothing whatsoever like an actual science subject like high energy physics, which is predicated around the much more lofty axes of experimentation, observation, and theoretical abstraction.

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psych? science? hmmm.

> experimentation, observation, and theoretical abstraction

but no actual measurement. No S.I. units, no standard definitions, no quantitative relationships, no mathematical analysis, no proofs, no agreed cause-effect laws and most of the "experiments" are one-offs - conducted on small groups of american students with only descriptive and self-reported outcomes.

It's closer to 13th century alchemy, where some crude observations of when an obscure liquid is added to a common solid, it changes colour. With no understanding of the make-up of the compounds in question, nor the effects described, nor the ability to predict what other chemicals will do under the same circumstances.

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Psychology is clearly just a humanities subject because...

,,,it only involves reading a few books and a couple of essays to get through each year of the course. When I was at university, it was the subject of choice for girls who had came to university to find a husband and did not want a heavy workload but wanted to feel superior to those taking Sociology. Media Studies is another possibility - get a degree for watching TV and reading a few newspapers then writing about it.

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@AC @pat3

According to the OED

spelt = past and past participle of spell

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Languid language

Would that the written word were a wondrous weapon of wide eyed whippersnappers. Alas technology transforms the tongue to a common conveyance and slave to scientific soliloquy.

Then again, perhaps that's why people started writing things down in the first place. Sure maps and pictograms might be the quick way to find a lake or show how to kill a buffalo but it isn't going to be much more advanced than that. Sure a picture is worth a thousand words until you want to make something like beer or bread and you find that you need a lot of pictures that can be replaced by a small number of words... how many grams of yeast? damn it rewind the video!

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Happy

Spelt

I stand corrected.

Still don't like it though. Spelled seems better somehow, conforms to convention.

And usually I am quite a British English stalwart!

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@only in England

You don't need a specific degree, there are equivalencies. So your chemistry teacher needs a 'science subject' degree - which includes business and sports science - not necessarily a chemistry degree.

The Institute of Physics got a little bit upset about this, the government was claiming a huge number of new expert science teachers - most of whom were silly science grads.

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Boffin

xkcd needed here

http://xkcd.com/435/

OK, OK may not be *strictly* in line with the topic, but worth the visit I think :-)

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heads again?

Damn, that's 5 million consecutive.....

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