All I want to do here is to juxtapose two quotations. The first comes from Philip Greenspun’s blog:

What has the increasing pace of technological development done to old people in our age?Let’s start by considering factual knowledge. An old person will know more than a young person, but can any person, young or old, know as much as Google and Wikipedia? Why would a young person ask an elder the answer to a fact question that can be solved authoritatively in 10 seconds with a Web search? . . .The same technological progress that enables our society to keep an ever-larger percentage of old folks’ bodies going has simultaneously reduced the value of the minds within those bodies. It is sad to contemplate. Perhaps the answer is for every old person to become an expert personal computer and network administrator. Those skills always seem to be in demand by the general public.Another answer would be to develop obvious wisdom. Unfortunately, the young people who are most in need of an elder’s wisdom are the least likely to realize it. Only a small percentage of old people throughout history have managed to maintain high status and value purely through wisdom.

The second quotation comes from Walter Benjamin’s great essay “The Storyteller”:

Every real story . . . contains, openly or covertly, something useful. The usefulness may, in one case, consist in a moral; in another, in some practical advice; in a third, in a proverb or maxim. In every case the storyteller is a man who has counsel for his readers. But if today “having counsel” is beginning to have an old-fashioned ring, this is because the communicability of experience is decreasing. In consequence we have no counsel either for ourselves or for others. After all, counsel is less an answer to a question than a proposal concerning the continuation of a story which is just unfolding. To seek this counsel one would first have to be able to tell the story. (Quite apart from the fact that a man is receptive to counsel only to the extent that he allows his situation to speak.) Counsel woven into the fabric of real life is wisdom. The art of storytelling is reaching its end because the epic side of truth, wisdom, is dying out. This, however, is a process that has been going on for a long time. And nothing would be more fatuous than to want to see in it merely a “symptom of decay,” let alone a “modern” symptom. It is, rather, only a concomitant symptom of the secular productive forces of history, a concomitant that has quite gradually removed narrative from the realm of living speech and at the same time is making it possible to see a new beauty in what is vanishing.

Wisdom is always in short supply; wisdom is never in great demand.

Text Patterns

November 2, 2009


  1. The Greenspun post is one of the more disturbing I've come across recently. Only in the bubble of the blogosphere would someone come to believe that becoming "an expert personal computer and network administer" is the best way to guarantee one's social value into old age.

    Do these bloggie/twitter folks truly believe that knowledge consists of random access to disconnected facts? I'll take a mind schooled and disciplined by a lifetime of reading over Wikipedia any day.

    Thomas Fuller: "Once a dunce void of learning but full of books flouted a libraryless scholar with these words: 'Salve, doctor sine libris.' But the next day the scholar coming into this jeerer's study, crowded with books; 'Salvete libri,' saith he, 'sine doctore.'"

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