A Favorite Painting

One of my favorite paintings is “The Fighting Temeraire being Towed to Its Last Anchorage to Be Broken Up” (known also by various other titles). In addition to Turner’s artistry, I am captured by its message.

The romantic, beautiful sailing ship is being towed by an ugly, polluting, industrial tugboat to be destroyed. The sailing ship represents the past, and the tug the future, making it a conservative image.

It is also an appreciation of old technologies, a subject I have written on before. I insist that my reception is better on my rotary dial phone, that music sounds better on long-playing records, and that Microsoft Word 5.1a was a great program.

New technologies answer new needs. In most cases the needs are speed, portability and convenience. All of these, of course, are demanded by a speeded-up life, and themselves speed up life even more. Since an iPhone isn’t ugly and choking with smoke like Turner’s tugboat, people don’t realize that new technologies both enable and cause a different quality of life.

A trip on the sailing ship would be slow and inconvenient. It would take weeks to arrive at my destination, and we’d be at the mercy of the winds. But, like the romantic painters, I’m not sure the steam ship would be as good for the soul. Or that cleaning a record and gently lowering the needle isn’t as good a use of my time as checking email.

2 thoughts to “A Favorite Painting”

  1. Hmmm,
    I get the romantic notion. I get the idea that we sometimes need to stop and smell the roses. But I don’t agree that technology is to blame.

    I would hope that the opportunity to teach more people or to teach better would not be hindered by romantic notions. Consider all of the people with more opportunities in the world due to access to online teaching and online courses. There is actually potential to have a higher QUALITY of learning as well (not just speed, portability and convenience) if it’s implemented correctly.

    Technology used incorrectly is to blame. Not technology.

  2. In addition to smelling roses, it’s important to consciously be aware of the purposes we have in adopting new technologies. The goal of convenience, for example, can lead to shoddy work in online education, with teachers just throwing things online. “Teach more people” and “teach better” don’t necessarily go together — in some cases they are very much in opposition. Access is important, but it should be access to quality learning experiences that have taken time and thought in their development.

    It’s not the technology itself, as you say, but it is certainly the adoption of technology without consideration for its various impacts.

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