The world and the way its people live in it have undergone drastic cultural changes recently and will likely continue riding the crest of this globalized technological wave. In “The New Technologies of the Word”, Baron explores the growing importance and adaptation of English and the increased focus on preserving local linguistic heritage. While Brian Trent’s “Technology and tomorrow: a challenge to liberty” delves into the current stalemate between technological capabilities and the US Bill of Rights. Despite the differences of specific foci, both Baron and Trent demonstrate the urgency of identifying the consequences of recent technologies and of a reevaluation of the possible side effects of adopting emergent technologies as well.
Both authors agree that the sudden onslaught of globalizing communications technologies contributes to the acuteness of the implications—both positive and negative. Shakespeare’s characterization of the world as a stage and “all the men and women merely players” seems particularly poignant today. For Trent, the most urgent concern is for privacy. As he points out, the oblivious traveler is often taped on a camera phone now, but an exorbitant amount of information is available through credit reports, online information systems, keystrokes, traffic lights, and countless other devices. According to him, consumer technologies are providing justification for the governmental and advertising agencies to intrude on rights of privacy and personal security.
Although Baron expresses some hesitance about the future of such technologies, he argues that computers spread the availability of many reading materials while simultaneously globalizing English into a tech-savvy barrage of acronyms and accepted spellings. E-mail messaging was once heralded by critics as the end of ‘proper’ English, “a leading force in the inevitable decline and fall of the English language), but instant messaging has created an expectation of a new culture of in-the-know acronyms and virtually eliminated the need for whole words—unless these words cannot be simply replaced by a smiley face. (99-101) Technology provides a distraction from the world in place of participation within it. Baron points out that much of modern communication is no longer conducted in a face-to-face setting, meaning that the individual ability to express oneself is increase but also that the emotional breadth and interpersonal benefits of communication are decreasing. (107) Thus, if Shakespeare could revise his statement it might characterize men and women as the world’s puppets rather than players with a will of their own.
Baron observes that “the computer has altered the ways we write and read significantly in the past 20 years”, and Trent compares this time period to the lag between the cultural reality and its literary depiction in Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. (95; “Technology and tomorrow: a challenge to liberty”) Although Trent’s argument portrays him as an alarmist, briefly covering rights issues of copyrights, privacy, a futuristic segue into (literal) tell-all clothing, and a conspiracy theory about a Big Brother governmental program, Baron’s have-have not continuum is not divided among material possessions or among information, as is Trent’s, but among knowledge as a means of gaining these ends. Specifically, Baron predicts that the ownership and usage of computers will expand the gap between non-computer owners’ potential and their prospects. (105-111) Nonetheless, this benefit cannot be fully realized until technology does not distract from the pursuit of knowledge and interpersonal connections, as is wont to happen when a mobile phone rings during class time or a wedding.
Technology has advanced rapidly in the last twenty years especially, leaving legislation and practice in the dust. There is little legal precedence in place for protecting copyrights, limiting censorship, and deciding the parameters of the government’s rights to monitor private citizens; the potential advantages and disadvantages are just now emerging before the public eye, but the race to become the technological elite has overshadowed concerns for the effects. Baron compares this technological quest to the Promethean pursuit of fire. With knowledge comes a curious experimentation that does not consider what should be done until the innovators have been burned.
Baron, Dennis. “The New Technologies of the Word”. What’s Language Got to Do With It? 7 March 2005. W.W. Norton & Company. Print.
Brian Trent. “Technology and tomorrow: a challenge to liberty”. Humanist. FindArticles.com. 05 Feb, 2012.