The course website that we are using applies a deterministic computer algorithm. This algorithm requires deductive reasoning. If A = B and B = C, then A must equal C. This top down reasoning allows for logical constructs where with the exact same inputs, the output of the computer program will be the same. This way the course designer constructs the course in a manner that we can all consume in a consistent manner. Most of the digital tools we use are built to behave deterministically.
I spent a large part of my career working in video games where we were creating overly simplified strictly deterministic representations of reality. Most computer software we use, thankfully behaves in a deterministic manner. Non deterministic behavior is seen as a “bug” or an error. This technological influx affects how we view the world and want to understand the human brain as a sophisticated computer. This empiricism carries over to a technological philosophical view that our brain can be deterministically controlled just like a computer “brain” can.
For a video game, this is essential, as the player needs to get better to complete objectives, so his input must be handled the same way every time. This makes video games very powerful and psychologically attractive to the end user as they are able to “control” a virtual world, as the real one cannot be so easily manipulated. It is easy to see why we try and impose this empiricism on the world around us, it helps us deconstruct and make sense of what we experience. It reduces the world to bite sized understandable “controllable” components.
If I react the same way to the same circumstances, then I have the illusion of control over the results. This works fine until we realize that the world cannot always be predicted. Non deterministic algorithms required a form of inductive reasoning where we look at probabilities. For example, rain usually occurs after a drop in atmospheric pressure. When the air pressure decreases there is a greater chance of rain. If we observe a large decrease in atmospheric pressure then we can say that there is a greater chance for rain. With inductive reasoning the output can be different than what we predicted, in fact can be wrong. We are surrounded by inductive and deductive truths. The dark clouds outside “look” like it is going to rain. I let go of my pen it “will” fall to the ground. I can predict one with much more certainty and authority than the other.
Technological determinism requires a view of the world, society and people as deterministic and that the output is fixed and repeatable, based on the input. New technologies change inputs therefore the output is changed. More dangerously, it suggests that it can be manipulated. Postman sees that with each new knowledge monopoly there is a changing of guards on who controls information in society (Technoploy, Postman, P. 10). This reductionist view eliminates inductive complexities and contradictions. It implies that there are those who are controlled and those who are in control.
Thamus, when confronted by Theuth, postulates that reading will reduce the effectiveness of memory and that people will become more forgetful. This is applying deductive reasoning to an inductive state. If I can write things down, then there is no reason to remember anything anymore. Is this true? We can influence memory, but can we predict its use or even control it? Do we know enough about how memory works in the human brain to even postulate an educated probability? I think we can safely say that there will be a response, and maybe even a probability to that response, but the output is unknowable and more importantly non deterministic.
Oral language, writing and culture are hard to look at deductively. They are a result of an evolutionary inductive process. This is why, when examining the richness of historical written forms, there were multiple evolutionary branches with Logographic, Syllabic and Logophonetic varieties (Lo, 2013). If it was truly deterministic, then there would be one “superior” language, it would be applied in a consistent manner with no local dialects.
Reversing deductive reasoning is dangerous as well. It is raining, therefore the air pressure must be low. This is not always true. Since we cannot go back in time and experience the changes that occurred when cultures shifted from oral to post-oral we are looking for cause and effect. What Ong is practicing, to a limited extent is reverse deductive reasoning. Changes in society based on the introduction of the technology of writing on its oral forefather is seen as deterministic.
In Technolopoly, Postman practices the same reductionism (Postman, 1992). He sees the classroom change with the introduction of the computer. He postulates a reduction in oral group constructed learning and sees a more insular selfish type of learning happening one on one with the computer and its text interactions. Again, he is applying deductive reasoning to a highly inductive situation. The computer (as it stands today) is solitary and passive. The classroom predating computers is oral and active. Therefore a classroom with computers will be more passive.
I am not claiming that the computer will not change the classroom either in a positive or negative manner, I am just stating that the outcome is unknown. The computer can influence the outcome differently depending on the environment, culture and teacher. To postulate that there is only one outcome is to imply a determinism that is not part of the classroom that I experience.
Of course inductive reasoning makes for less salacious argumentation and reading. Writing tends to bias deconstruction and deductive reasoning. There is an irony in looking at the effects of the written text on society, technological determinism and the cultural differences between oral and modern society in a computer-based, text laden online class. We need to be careful that we are all part of constructing the future for our students and recognize that technology is here with us to stay. No one is prepared to go back to preliterate, preoral times where we are just eating, breeding and sleeping. In fact, some of the oral traditions have re-emerged in this online age where the new town square is virtual and text is used in a more interactive and deliberative way than Ong postulated.
Lo, L. (2013). Types of writing systems. Retrieved from http://www.ancientscripts.com/ws_types.html.
Ong, W.J. (1982). Orality and literacy. New York, NY: Routledge.
Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly. New York, NY: Vintage Books.