Opinion 17: To Publish, You Should Use the Paper Medium

By Doron Zeilberger

Inspired by Steven Krantz's brilliant 9/97 Notices Editorial.

Written: Sept. 27, 1997

Of course I did not mean that! But I got your attention! All the greatest poets and story-tellers never wrote down their stories and epic poems. The great Homer was an oralist. Classic texts like the Iliad, the Bible, and the Talmud were passed on from master to disciple, and from Rabbi to talmid. It was a tragic concession when Rabbi Yehuda HaNashi reluctantly agreed to use that new-fangled medium of paper to make the `oral Torah' into a holy writ. At least the (written) Torah was written in the much more durable parchment.

Paper is very unreliable. It rips easily, and it burns. Remember the great library of Alexandria. Besides, it is so unprestigious. I am sure that the ancient analog of Steven Krantz's proverbial stupid, pompous and narrow-minded dean (surprisingly, Krantz's caricatured dean reminds me so much of his creator) would not have granted tenure to someone who published something in writing. By writing something down, you tacitly admit that none of your students is willing to learn by heart your opuses, so that they could be transmitted by the only legitimate medium: recitation!

So don't get lured into fashionable new technology, the paper and pencil! It also plays havoc with education. Kids nowadays are addicted to taking notes, and relying on them. What happens to good-old verbatim memorizations? Once you recite the multiplication table one hundred times, you really know it! Using paper-and-pencil to do your math may be `efficient' in the short-run, but can never replace the deep conceptual understanding achieved by recitation and incantation.

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