Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Is Technology Making Us Dumber?

When I was in high school my teachers would get on my case about using Cliff Notes instead of reading the entire book. They would argue that I’m not getting the foundation of the writing by simply reading a sample constructed in a little pamphlet. Cliff Notes were making us dumber. Fast forward several years and every now and then the headline of an article will read “Is Technology Making Us Dumber?” It’s no longer Cliff Notes? Why? Well, Cliff Notes would be too much work probably. Why read a 350-page book when you can read a 30-page pamphlet? Why read a 30-page pamphlet when you can just Google it? The progression will probably not stop there. Research is beginning to show that Google, and search engines like it, are making us less likely to go through the trouble to store information in our brains because we know it will always be there. Information is so readily available now; it is literally at our fingertips. How does this change the way we learn? Well, for starters, we don’t learn the same type of things that our parents did. We learn different things. We learn how to find information quicker. We learn how to disseminate between a legitimate source and one written by someone with a vendetta against the subject matter. Each generation becomes increasingly more information savvy. Does that mean better? I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s fair to weigh the two on the same scale. Sure, 15 years ago a high school student could have told you the plotline and characters of The Call of the Wild by Jack London on the spot. Now students can tell you, but it will take a second or two; just long enough for them to grab their iPhone out of their pocket and Google it. Smart-phones bring up another type of technology that contributes to the tapered use of our brain. When was the last time you had to remember someone’s phone number? When was the last time you remembered someone’s address? These memories are things of the past. We have phone numbers and addresses in our contacts and if we can’t find it, we just text someone that will. Technology is great, don’t misunderstand me, but we must be very careful about replacing our internal memory (our brain) with external memory (phones, computers, and clouds). There are obvious advantages and disadvantages to both; all I am suggesting is that we need to weigh our options carefully.

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