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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Is technology making us stupid?

Generally speaking, I think technology does make us more intelligent and allows us to do things we may never previously have thought possible (or necessary, in some cases). Are we becoming too dependent on it, too?

I'm not worried about computers taking over the world, yet, but I wonder if we aren't gradually being dumbed down by technology. We were warned: Our teachers and parents told us to learn math before relying on calculators to crunch numbers for us. Calculators would make it so easy, they said, that we wouldn't pick up the underlying logic and technique.

I wonder whether cell phones are doing the same thing to us. When I was a kid, I knew my home phone number. We had a second line for a while as well, and I still remember both numbers. I remember the number of the family that lived across the street, but I haven't called them in 15 years. Today, I can't tell you the phone numbers of my three best friends or the home phone numbers of my brother or my father. I don't have to remember them: They're all stored in my cell phone.

This reminds me of a scene in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Indy and his dad have a memorable conversation about the things we remember (and the things we forget):

Professor Henry Jones: Stop. You're going the wrong way. We need to get to Berlin.
Indiana Jones: Brody's this way.
Professor Henry Jones: My diary's in Berlin.
Indiana Jones: We don't need the diary, Dad. Marcus has the map.
Professor Henry Jones: There is more in the diary than just the map.
Professor Henry Jones: Well, he who finds the Grail must face the final challenge.
Indiana Jones: What final challenge?
Professor Henry Jones: Three devices of such lethal cunning.
Indiana Jones: Booby traps?
Professor Henry Jones: Oh yes. But I found the clues that will safely take us through, in the Chronicles of St. Anselm.
Indiana Jones: But what are they? Can't you remember?
Professor Henry Jones: I wrote them down in my Diary so I wouldn't have to remember.
I wonder if this is what cell phones are doing to us. I joke sometimes that my cell phone is my brain because it contains my calendar and contacts. Without it, I'm on my way to Berlin, too.


Mindy said...

Yes, yes, yes! We are becoming too dependant on technology. I am a victim like everyone else and it worries me.

One way (and the only way as far as I am concerned) to keep your mind sharp is to USE it. What will happen when we stop using it as much as it was intended? It may not be pretty.

Rob Robinson said...

We need to find ways to balance the benefits with the disadvantages, I think. You are right that challenging our minds is a critical task.

There's an old Seaquest DSV episode I meant to mention in this post where the future boils down to only two humans. They are so dependent on technology that they do not even know how to relate to each other. They stay plugged in to virtual reality all the time and don't speak or, more importantly, know that they need to reproduce to give humanity a future.

That's an absurd and extreme example, but it does emphasize the importance of retaining our technological independence.