‘Classic’ vs ‘Expressive’ Use of Technology

In his 1989 book  Disappearing through the Skylight, English Professor O.B. Hardison distinguished two implementations of new technology: Classic and Expressive.

Classic use is to do old things with new technology.

Expressive use is to do new things with new technology.

We see a lot of instances of classic use. The first cars were basically horse carriages attached to engines. Our laptops (and the desktop computers before them) look like typewriters attached to televisions. When people use 3D printers, they often make trinkets that look like they came off the shelves of Walmart.

Precedence is a powerful thing. So it’s no wonder that as new technologies are introduced, we use them to solve problems that we already know. But what if “classic use” and “expressive use” were integrated into our vocabulary? Might the use of these terms help us to see “new” inventions as they are — often classic uses of technology. Might we then be driven to dig deeper into our imaginations, explore unchartered territory, be brave enough to solve seemingly impossible problems? I think so.

 

 

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