Some years ago, worried about my students’ growing dependence on their devices, I read some Stephen Talbott (here and here), where I found repeated reverential references to some wise-sounding personage named Owen Barfield, whose observations on the relationship between consciousness and technology Talbott could not stop quoting. I no longer remember exactly what Talbott wrote about Barfield. But I finally looked him up and discovered he was an influential member of The Inklings (J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis et al). The Inklings! Who doesn’t love J.R.R. Tolkien? Who hasn’t read The Screwtape Letters, or The Chronicles of Narnia? But Barfield wasn’t a fantasy icon, nor was he a Christian beacon. Instead he was a lawyer who wrote philosophy, a centenarian with a perspective that fascinated me.
I began to devour his writings firsthand ( http://www.owenbarfield.org/ and http://davidlavery.net/barfield/ ), and found to my astonishment that there would be a Barfield Society meeting at the annual conference of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association that very October right here in Salt Lake City. I connected with the organizers of that meeting and began presenting for them at RMMLA the next year, earning kind recognition from Barfield’s grandson for my several papers/essays and becoming so familiar with Barfield’s notion of the evolution of consciousness that it began to be my own. (That’s the key in learning: when it’s no longer somebody else’s idea, but your own.) I’m no longer worried about my students’ dependence on their devices—I’ve diverged a long way from Talbott’s position—but watch here for more links to Barfield scholarship, my own and others.'