This I Believe

Irfan - Atlanta, Georgia
Entered on December 3, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: humanism
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Do Interfaces Really Change Anything?

I believe interfaces completely changed the meaning of literacy but the answers to epistemological questions still remain the same. At first, being literate meant being able to read and write. Then, literacy demanded more like having a college degree. But not anymore. With all the different types of interfaces—the means through which we encounter information—to be considered literate, one would just have to be comfortable with dealing with all types of interfaces.

I was born and brought up my first six years in Warangal, a small village in India. The only interface that existed in the rural environment were the people around me. The knowledge that I acquired in Warangal was the knowledge that was passed on by the word of the mouth. None of the houses had landlines, none had radios, televisions or even consistent supply of electricity. So, to be considered literate in Warangal, a person had to merely be able to communicate and grasp knowledge from the person beside him.

The situation was quite different, however, in Hyderabad, a city I moved to and lived in for the next five years. This urban city held different varieties of interfaces like TVs, radios, and phones. Here, more than one interface assists a person in acquiring knowledge, and that person would have to be able to grasp knowledge from most or all these forms of interfaces to be considered literate.

Hyderabad, despite the fact that it is a major city in India, has fewer interfaces than America. In America, it’s hard to name an interface that does not exist; the biggest difference between Hyderabad and America, of course, is the access to computers and the Internet. This access creates an enormous gap between the meaning of literacy in Hyderabad and America. Unlike in Hyderabad, in America, the standards of literacy are higher because it demands a person to be able to search for information over this vast information internetwork, to find information which is accurate, to comprehend it efficiently, and to convert that information into knowledge.

I believe that despite the presence of such varied interfaces in such diverse worlds, the interfaces’ effect on epistemological questions brings about a singular answer. In America, Hyderabad, and Warangal, for example, human knowledge was never limited—you just had to find the right resources in all the three settings. The origin of human knowledge, similarly, was unknown in all the three locations; you can only trace it so far before you hit a dead end. And finally, the nature of knowledge is also the same regardless of the types of interfaces present; it is always either good or bad. Same knowledge could be used for either purposes. The only difference is the means of access to the knowledge, the interfaces—in Warangal, the methods were very limited, in Hyderabad, the methods were less limited, but in America, the methods are limitless.

Now let me ask you, do interfaces really change anything significant?