With the technological revolution in full swing, we’ve grown highly accustomed to accessing the Internet for information, using GPS devices or mobile map apps to find our way around, and downloading ebooks instantly. Much of this information is available for the taking, free of charge. Never before has humanity had such unfettered access to such a wealth of information.
In Chapter 6 of Brian X. Chen‘s book, Always On: How the iPhone Unlocked the Anything-Anytime-Anywhere Future–and Locked Us In, he discusses the effects of today’s mobile technology on our intelligence. Chen provides specific examples as well as studies supporting both increased and decreased intelligence resulting from exposure to technology. Reading this book got me to wonder whether we are indeed smarter because of our access to this information or if we are becoming too dependent on tech for our knowledge.
Writer Joshua Wilner also addressed this topic recently in his recent article, 69 Ways Technology Makes Your Dumberer, where he discusses how technology shortcuts are doing the thinking for us. From both the article and readers’ comments, it seems that quite a few people are blaming tech for a “dumbing down” of society.
We’ve Never Been Smarter
By having instant and nearly universal access to worldwide data, we can learn quickly and easily without traipsing to a library or even opening a book. We can navigate new geographic terrain without knowing how to use a compass or refold a road map. We can edit documents without having to retype reams of paper and fix corrections without using Wite-Out.
We can now more easily discover the views of political candidates so we can become more informed voters (and witness their downfall through social media gaffes or hidden cell phone videos). We can debate issues online and, if we keep our minds open, learn the basis for beliefs different from our own.
Students no longer need to memorize the periodic table of the elements, they can have that information handy on their cell phones. They no longer have to memorize a series of equations for physics, they can access that information readily on the Internet.
Curious about history? Ask Google, Siri, Bing, Wikipedia, the History Channel or any number of resources instantly available for free information. Always wondered what the highest known prime number is? You no longer have to figure that out for yourself. A Prime Page website is available to give you that information any time you want it.
Researchers no longer have to waste time digging through mountains of information to uncover what has already been discovered. They can more easily leverage the work of their predecessors to avoid previously made mistakes and new inventions and discoveries.
Educational apps are designed to engage children, making learning fun with cool graphics and teaching through games. Young children can learn math and reading skills as they play with apps. Children with learning issues can benefit from apps that present concepts in interesting ways so they can set their own pace as they play. Even PhD students at universities are learning through gaming.
Amazon’s Kindle and other ereaders give us instant access to nearly any book that has ever been published. Features such as Kindle’s Immersion Reading can help readers focus better on content, absorbing information through reading and listening.
We’ve Never Been Dumber
Tech has made it so easy to access information that we no longer have to retain as much information in our brains. We can reserve those precious cells not for knowledge about important information but for knowledge about stupid pet trick videos, celebrity gossip and what our college roommate’s ex-boyfriend’s cousin had for lunch. We now have time to waste on superfluous activities such as scrolling through Facebook, tweeting our thoughts and perusing through Pinterest. No need to waste time foraging for nuts and berries when a few clicks on a website can usually get groceries delivered by the end of the day.
This plethora of instantly available information also provides us with infinite potential for distractions. Who wants to spend time studying when your new favorite video game is beckoning? When you can access millions of videos on YouTube, Netflix or Hulu? When you can check social media to virtually visit with your friends?
Tech gives us the ability to multi-task more than ever before, often making the completion of each individual task more challenging and the results less than optimal. In the case of texting while driving, multi-tasking can have fatal consequences.
What do you think? Has tech made us smarter or dumber? Vote in today’s Wonder of Tech poll:
Like any other tool, tech tools can be used for good or bad. When used wisely, tech can be an empowering resource that lifts us to higher levels of knowledge and insight. When abused, tech can be a black hole of distraction, luring us away from productive use of our time.
What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you think the next generation will be smarter or dumber? Do you fear for them or envy them becoming accustomed to infinite, readily accessible information? Let us know in the Comments section below!
* Tablet photo courtesy of jumpe at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Update on MagLight Plus
If you read Friday’s article, MagLight Plus – Your Handiest App When You’re in the Dark, and wanted to buy the app, I have good news for you. The developer of MagLight Plus has kindly provided me with some promo codes so Wonder of Tech readers can get this app for free. Please email me at Carolyn@wonderoftech.com if you are interested in getting a promo code for this app.
Note that MagLight Plus works on the iPhone 4/4S/5 and the iPod Touch 5th generation.