29. Phi Beta Delta: Verbal Learning and Ritual

The invention of the printing press and the growth of public education were to an extent complementary. Of course, when the written word began to gain the ascendancy, oral skills were challenged. Troubadours are not common these days. So a fair question is whether the rituals of Greek societies are going to be impacted by computer technology -- is the computer now, like the printing press was, a challenge to existing norms?

The answer is almost surely yes, but it is not a challenge that we should fear. Some time ago, Phi Beta Delta was one of the first Greek societies to put its ritual on a website, with a Power Point program. There is a certain ironic twist to this, because it could be argued that such computer ritual helps will abet a return to verbal learning. There is another analogy, to the way in which email has actually restored the old art of letter and note writing that had so declined. People write more to their friends now, via the Internet, than they did via the post office.

Ritual is the stuff of which Greek honor societies like ours were originally made. Its diminishment would be a break with a long history. With ritual, the initiates are bound not only to the present membership and the membership through the years of Phi Beta Delta, but to the whole tradition of academic fraternalism. Undoubtedly our rituals will show that we are in a new age of computer technology (who could doubt that), but if the new technology is used with intelligence, it should enhance the impact of the ceremonies. We need to remind ourselves that since the days of university life in Paris and Oxford, nearly eight hundred years ago, academia has always been changing: it is really not how fast we are moving, but where we are going that is important.

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