From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literary Technologies chronicled the ways in which writing was the original form of technology, stating that the definition would always be static as it adapted to the changing world. Since the article was penned in the mid-1990s, his piece has only become more relevant. Today, our generation is completely submerged in the world of technology, with many students seemingly unable to function without their smartphone in their hands at all times.

Dennis Baron, author of From Pencils to Pixels

Baron goes on to discuss the opposition new technology always faces from traditionalists, stating that contemporary technology always won out as it became more accessible and user-friendly. Using examples dating back to Plato, who believed that writing would hinder oral communication, as well as more recent examples of inventions such as the typewriter. He also touches on the universal need for accessible writing, crediting the computer for increasing technological literacy. Though originally intended to be used for more scientific and mathematically-based necessities, word processing had become its most popular feature. He argues that writing cannot and never will have a concrete purpose, because it will always be useful for so many different things. Likewise, new uses will always be found as technology advances.

The Typewriter

Pencils was prophetic in discussing the loss of intellectual ownership that could potentially come with technology, which is now a very prominent issue of today. Students seem to need constant stimulus in order to get through everyday life, many looking at Facebook or Twitter under the guise of “taking notes” in class. Extending into academic work, it is now easy to find rewritten answers and explanations to prompts students used to have to find answers to on their own. Fake money, which use to be very easy to spot, is beginning to be made to look more and more authentic with use of technology. However, it should be made clear that these problems are not the fault of technology itself, but rather the societies that choose to abuse it. Like everything, it can be used for good or for bad. Instead, it is important to find definition of intellectual property and look for ways to minimize the problems brought on by those who abuse new technology.

With technology comes the issue of intellectual property, as well as plagiarism.

The Machine is Using Us condenses many of Baron’s ideas into a pithier, more modern digital media. The video accounts all the ways in which technology has advanced our written communication, beginning with a pencil and paper to a HTML-laden, special effects driven Youtube video. He also provides insight into the downfalls of technology that Baron could not have predicted, showing how it can be used as propaganda to greatly misinform the public. He uses the milder example of a Wikipedia entry being tampered with, as anybody can do that regardless of whether or not they have any credibility. Worse, it often goes unchecked by site moderators. Though this usually doesn’t cause much harm, most educators ban Wikipedia from being used on any academic assignment, those with a greater understanding of history can certainly see how the easy spread of lies could be incredibly harmful.

Internet sources often contain misinformation, and this site is a perfect example of that.

Michael Wesch, the creator of the video, ends it with a warning that computers could begin to think independently from the users. Enabled with the power to access endless data, the power they have is unprecedented, far exceeding what even the most brilliant mind could ever retain. He implies that if consumers are not careful, then we may be the ones who end up being used by machines, rather than the other way around. He concludes the video by challenging viewers to evaluate the things we see online, and ensuring their credibility. It is our responsibility to organize the information being taken in.

Michael Wesch