And with good reason.
By putting a world of facts at the end of a key-stroke, computers have made facts, their command, their manipulation, their ordering, central to what now can qualify as humanistic education. The result is to suspend reflection about the differences among wisdom, knowledge, and information. Everything that can be accessed online can seem equal to everything else, no datum more important or more profound than any other. Thus the possibility presents itself that there really is no more wisdom; there is no more knowledge; there is only information. No thought is a challenge or an affront to what one currently believes.
Ah, yes, I remember the good old days, back before we had all this writing. Now, instead of receiving their education in the time-honored oral tradition, today's students are faced with a bewildering array of scrolls, with no clue to the wisdom or folly of the text they contain. Ignore the fancy handwriting and gilt-edged vellum, and every scroll looks like veery other scroll. Our children have lost the ability to distinguish truth from mere information; all opinions, having been written down, obtain equal legitimacy in their eyes. Wail, wail, wail, for the loss of innocence wrought on our culture by these purveyors of mere words. Oh, for those heady days of yesteryear, when men would wrestle ideas to the ground after days of careful sleepless tracking, tear out their throats with their mental teeth, and raise their metaphorical steaming livers to the sky with a mighty scream. Alas, such men are gone; now the meat of ideas is served on sticks, sprinkled with salt and honey, in exchange for a few shiny pebbles. And today's students have the gall to complain, after swilling that disgusting fermented pig's blood they drink, that the meat doesn't taste good! Traditional academic culture is doomed, I tell you. Doomed!
I'm deeply, deeply suspicious whenever anyone complains about declining academic standards. Over and over again, we hear “When I was a student, everything was much more rigorous; students asked more questions; students knew how to read and write; students were more interested in thinking and learning for its own sake.” But consider the source! Most of the people voicing these compaints are academics, a small group of people that are significantly more likely to embrace ideas, to demand intellectual rigor of themselves, to care about learning for its own sake. They were not typical students. Moreover, students destined for academia are unlikely to hang out with, be socialized by, or for that matter even notice the vast majority of typical students. I'm not accusing academics of social myopia here—although God knows there's plenty of that—but of the natural tendency for humans to surround themselves with people with similar social mores.
So whenever I hear a crusty old academic pine for the higher academic standards they saw when they were kids, I can't help think “Oh, please. How the hell would you know?”