In the Sunday NYTimes today there is an article about a Waldorf School in Silicon Valley that has no computers in the lower grades.
The cover picture -- front page of the times and pretty big too -- is of a school girl lying on her back, legs dangling over the table, reading a book.
What she holds in her hands is a technology. It is a codex. If she were reading a scroll she would not be able to lie on her back like that; she would have to sit at the table and unroll the scroll on the table to read it. She would not be able to go back and forth to reread sections very easily.
In addition, it is a printed codex and not a manuscript. We all know about that revolution.
Once upon a time, the printing press and the codex were brand new technologies. They were resisted by traditionalists and extolled by enthusiasts. Now these technologies are invisible.
Printed codexes never fail. Only once or twice in my life have I encountered a defective book -- one where the pages were somehow messed up or bound in the wrong order. Paper and pencils never seem to fail either. Nor do knitting needles and wool, as mentioned in the article.
It may be that the element of failure itself defines what is technology and what is not.
On my kitchen counter sits a black, bakelite, 1950's era, piece of technology that was once the property of Bell Telephone and leased to my grandmother until the '80's, when Ma Bell was broken into parts. Stamped in the thick metal base plate are the words, "BELL SYSTEM PROPERTY NOT FOR SALE." It was just another piece of equipment in Bell's network and it didn't belong to you any more than the telephone pole on the street belonged to you. Bell owned the whole network and made damned sure that it all worked the way it was supposed to.
Compare that to my iPhone 4s. SIRI, the voice recognition geni, is a remarkable achievement. David Pogue, technology editor of the NYTimes, calls it "magic". And he is not easily pleased. And yet SIRI fails constantly. And that's not the only problem. I get dropped calls. The system hangs sometimes. The battery dies after a day's use. Facetime only works on wifi.
The rotary phone does not seem like a technology to us and yet the iPhone does.
Given the right economic conditions and technological advances, people will begin to see some of things they call technology today as simply the things they are. Online or digital educational resources will become invisible as technologies and the hard work of learning will be what it always has been, from learning the order of operations in arithmetic to writing long, complex arguments of literary analysis.
What used to belong to the world of technology will belong to you. It may say "Property of Bell" or "Apple" or "Intel inside", but it will be the property of the people.