20 September 2010

The Cavendish in Me (and You!)

I read Cavendish's "Observations Upon Experimental Philosophy" for my British Literary History class last semester, and I recall my classmates deriding her for her ridiculous perspective on the "Art of Micrography" (the use of microscopes for scientific discovery). Here are some of the passages that invoked scorn:

"Wherefore those that invented Microscopes . . . [did] the world more injury then benefit."

"But as Boys that play with watry Bubbles, or fling Dust into each others Eyes, or make a Hobby-horse of Snow, are worthy of reproof rather then praise, for wasting their time with useless sports; so those that addict themselves to unprofitable Arts, spend more time then they reap benefit thereby."

Hindsight is 20/20, so of course we know what wonders the "Art of Micrography" has done for scientific discovery. We can laugh at silly Cavendish's shortsightedness.

This parallels to our oft-stated perception of internet use. We have a great deal of scorn for people addicted to technology (Facebook, video games, Internet, etc.), and we aren't ashamed of it. Are we, too, displaying our shortsightedness? Have we dismissed Facebook as a worthless waste of time without realizing its potential to do good? I can't say I know a way that Facebook, for example, will change the world for the better, but I do know that it has allowed me to find addresses to write to my friends on missions, contact Tibetans in India, and find old friends who'd moved far away, all of which would have been very difficult without Facebook.

We do, however, have specific counsel from an apostle of God concerning the digital age. Elder Bednar said:

I raise an apostolic voice of warning about the potentially stifling, suffocating, suppressing, and constraining impact of some kinds of cyberspace interactions and experiences upon our souls. . . . I am not suggesting all technology is inherently bad; it is not. Nor am I saying we should not use its many capabilities in appropriate ways to learn, to communicate, to lift and brighten lives, and to build and strengthen the Church; of course we should. But I am raising a warning voice that we should not squander and damage authentic relationships by obsessing over contrived ones."

Technology in the classroom, used appropriately, can "lift and brighten lives" by helping students to learn effectively. However, our scorn for technology obsession likely comes from the "suffocating" effect of misuse, the dangers that inspired Elder Bednar's warning. How are we missing the full potential of technology? How can we keep from slipping into improper use?


  1. Interesting thought. I agree that there is a great potential to do good with the internet that we underestimate. I think that Cavendish may have been right in a sense; however, that those who became "addicted" to the microscope rather than viewing it as a tool to help them in their advancement of science might not have been making the best use of their time. I think it is the same way with the internet.

  2. Waste of time and relationships, right? The basic truth is that we worry about getting ourselves stuck in front of the internet because of the discrete promiscuity or the superficial relationships. Where is the line between "social networking" and "social malingering?" How do you rate time well spent? When is "learning" something worth the time and effort and when is it worshiping other gods? After 8 hours of school and 6 hours of homework (mostly online) can I say that I have helped to bring about the immortality an eternal life of man?

  3. Discussion provoking thoughts, Kristin, especially for members of the church. I think the internet/ social media is just like any other tool that we've been given. It can be used for bad/ it can be used for good; it can be overused or vilified. We have to be careful how we use any tool and always follow the direction of the Holy Ghost for personal guidance.

  4. Julie Beck gave some great insight into the computer (I think she was referring specifically to internet). She said that we should think of it as a tool, like a dishwasher or dryer, that is useful for its intended purpose. There are lots of useful functions for the internet, but we often use it for entertainment, constant social networking, and, at worst, pornography. Can you imagine spending hours being entertained by your dishwasher? No! You just put the dishes in and move on with your life!

  5. One of the things I have come to love about Facebook is its ability to put me in touch with distant relatives that I wouldn't ordinarily interact with. For example, I can now easily send a note to my great-uncle when we previously would not have exchanged snail-mail. I recently met a distant cousin in Italy, and we are able to share experiences about our relatives using the magic of Google Translate. I really do think that most digital tools can be put to a worthy purpose.