Open Thinkering


A non-Luddite rebuttal of technology integration?

Image CC BY-NC-SA Stuck in Customs

I stumbled across this quotation from the Chinese sage Chuang-Tzu, writing 2,500 years ago, in Marshall McLuhan’s The Gutenberg Galaxy (p.29-30):

As Tzu-Gung was travelling through the regions north of the river Han, he saw an old man working in his vegetable garden. He had dug an irrigation ditch. The man would descend into the well, fetch up a vessel of water in his arms and pour it out into the ditch. While his efforts were tremendous the results appeared to be very meagre.

Tzu-Gung said, “There is a way whereby you can irrigate a hundred ditches in one day, and whereby you can do much with little effort. Would you not like to hear of it?” Then the gardener stood up, looked at him and said, “And what would that be?”

Tzu-Gung replied, “You take a wooden lever, weighted at the back and light in front. In this way you can bring up water so quickly that it just gushes out. This is called a draw-well.”

Then anger rose up in the old man’s face, and he said, “I have hear my teacher say that whoever uses machines does all his work like a machine. He who does his work like a machine grows a heart like a machine, and he who carries the heart of a machine in his breast loses his simplicity. He who has lost his simplicity becomes unsure in the strivings of his soul. Uncertainty in the strivings of the soul is something which does not agree with honest sense. It is not that I do not know of such things; I am ashamed to use them.”

Technology integration in education may seem to make sense in terms of society and the future, but is that everything? What about individual identity and the ‘spiritual’ dimension?

An open question.

6 thoughts on “A non-Luddite rebuttal of technology integration?

  1. Very thought provoking.

    How many times do I check Tweetdeck or email when I really don’t have to? I have been guilty recently of letting the technology get its hooks too deeply into my lifestyle.

    On the other hand, I’ve recently been reflecting on how my own process of learning has changed since I started using tools like Twitter and other web2.0 tools. I hope I’m becoming a more effective, more self-aware and less self-centred learner. If we all end up “unplugged”,as it it were, I hope those skills would last long after the standby light has finally faded.

    And it’s those sorts of skills I hope I’m helping students to develop as well, not just how to make nice videos or podcasts! Technical skills are pretty meaningless without being able to think like a human being.

  2. To my mind, the old man was working like a machine: repetitive, unthinking labour. Machines do the machine work so we don’t have to. The main attraction of social media is the ‘social’ part – anything less machine-like I can’t imagine.

  3. A thought-inspiring post. I really thought about this for along time. I think it was that this parable had to do with farming, and being a farmer as well as a teacher, it resonated. I also posted this and a little more on my blog. Thanks!

    I would argue that the old man was using a “cunning implement” himself to move the water into the ditch, a pitcher. It is a tool, and the leap from the vessel he held in his had to the well sweep isn’t that great. There will be some differences. He may not have to stand in the water. He may not get his hands wet. He may not have to use as many calories in moving the water with the well sweep. It isn’t nearly as huge a leap from the pitcher to the sweep as it would be from the well sweep to center-pivot irrigation.

    It also isn’t that I don’t understand what the old man is saying. By using technology, we make a trade off. We sell something to get something. The further the old man gets from standing in the water, irrigating with a pitcher, and the closer he gets to center-pivot irrigation, the further he gets from his land as a living, interdependent whole. The closer he gets to the huge disconnect we have now between the food that we eat and the environment that provides it. Not much Tao in that.

    I use Twitter. I have a blog. I have email. And as much as that brings me into contact with people that I would have otherwise never have met because we are continents away or because our paths simply would not have crossed, my life is enriched. It’s difficult to express how fulfilling it is to make contact with people like that, but I do not use this same technology with the students that I meet every week, because we can have a different kind of interaction.

    My class and I use English Log 2.0 to communicate and express ourselves with each other, and it is a tool that no computer can match now. We write about what is happening in our lives. We draw pictures of things that inspire us. We keep lists of stuff we are learning. We send each other candies or origami taped in the pages of our notebooks. We tape pretty leaves and flowers that we find on our way to school.

    If another teacher were to pass through our class and suggest, “Hey, you know, you could do that on the Internet,” I would reply, “It is not that I do not know of these things, but I would be foolish to use them.”

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