Abacuses and Dictionaries

In class on Friday we all discussed multiple literacies and they effect that they’re having on modern classrooms. On item that came up was how some students these days, because of the massive improvements in technology and such, no longer know how to look up a word in a print dictionary. “GASP” says the classroom. Now this does sound absolutely ridiculous when you first hear it mainly because it makes us all think “are kids really that helpless these days?” But is it really that terrible? I don’t think that this case proves in any way that students have become helpless and lazy, i think that it reflects the major technological improvements in the past years, and the dependence that we as a culture have on these new technologies. Let me put it this way, when was the last time that you used an Abacus to solve your math problem? I know that my Abacus has slowly been acquiring some dust in my closet, probably because i have a calculator app in my pocket, and on my computer, and i have a real calculator. Are the mathematicians of the Biblical days gasping at this, or are they jealous of my slick and fancy calculator app? Should we really be disappointed in students who don’t how to use print dictionaries, or should we embrace the fact that there are faster and more efficient ways of getting the same information? I don’t think that if a student looks up a word online rather than in a dictionary they are missing out on some vital process. A dictionary app is faster, and easier, and the student acquires the same information that they would find in print. I also don’t believe that the average student wouldn’t be able to look up a definition in print if someone gave them a ten minute lesson on it, I just don’t think that the ten minute lesson has ever been necessary. In the same way, I’m pretty sure that I could learn how to use an abacus if someone gave me a lesson, but unless i’m planning on being a banker for Potiphar, learning how would be a waste of my time. I’m going to go ahead and stick to my calculator app, and i think students are going to go ahead and stick to their dictionary apps. 


About alexdenu

Senior english major at Colostate University. Publishing, self-publishing, e-books, OCR corrections, reading, lit analysis etc.

2 thoughts on “Abacuses and Dictionaries

  1. kreidern says:

    You bring up a really good point. These advances aren’t all bad. I guess the reason why we’re so upset is that print books are still a perceived “important” part of schooling and society. Now, in my opinion, it is seriously only going to be another decade or so before books are more or less obsolete (kind of like CDs and VHS). But for now, reading books on a page is much more “scholarly” than reading an e-book on the screen–for a variety of logical and cultural reasons. So, not being able to look up something in a print-based dictionary is like saying they don’t know how libraries work. It sounds bad now, but in a few years it won’t really matter, because everything–all information–will be found electronically, not on a page. It’s just the next step in our cognitive “human evolution.” The future is change, and I don’t know about you, but I guess I’m excited and eager to jump on board for the “what’s next” in society. Things are speedily transforming into a technologically-run world. We do shopping online, not go to outlet malls. We communicate through Facebook, not meet at a restaurant to chat. We even date online, and travel the world online, and read books on a screen and store our music in tiny little MP3 devices. And it’s come, now, where we can utilize Twitter and blogging as homework and school-based assignments. What’s next? I kinda like where this is going. Robots to cook for us? Efficient machines to automatically do the mundane, while we continue to better ourselves and society? Will we have computer chips in our brains that make phone calls for us? Anyway, the possibilities…are endless. As you said, we’re way passed the abacus. All we have now is to accept it.

  2. lindalynee says:

    I couldn’t agree more. As I was saying in class, I don’t think that it is necessary for students to have to look up words in a dictionary. Unless they do not have access to a computer, iphone, ipad etc. With this new technology boom, I feel as though students don’t need to have to look up words in a dictionary, take ten times longer to find a word, when they can find the same word with the same definition online in about 3 seconds. Personally I don’t think that all of the new technology that we have is a bad thing, if anything it makes things faster and more efficient, but doesn’t make us lazy. It makes it more helpful for us to get more things done. If the only way we are going to be able to communicate with each other is e-mail, printed letters and phone calls, why would we need to spell completely perfect on our own. We are going to be communicating through our computers, then we are going to utilize things like spell check and dictionary.com. The big questions is, are dictionaries completely necessary for our generations and the generations after us?

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