Is Technology Making Us Dumber?

I rarely delve into the philosophical here, but I’ve just run across a couple of articles that I find interesting. I think it’s appropriate to comment on them here because amateur radio is a technical hobby

The first article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, ran in the July/August 2008 issue of The Atlantic. It’s not aimed at Google as much as it is at Web culture in general. Carr says:

I can feel it, too. Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet.

The second article is “Technology Doesn’t Dumb Us Down. It Frees Our Minds” by Damon Darlin. This article ran in the September 20, 2008 issue of the New York Times. It’s a response to The Atlantic article. Here’s a key quote from that article:

It is hard to think of a technology that wasn’t feared when it was introduced. In his Atlantic article, Mr. Carr says that Socrates feared the impact that writing would have on man’s ability to think. The advent of the printing press summoned similar fears. It wouldn’t be the last time.

Is the Web changing the way we think and do things? Yes, probably. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well, it all depends. Llike all technology, it depends on how we use it. Darlin goes on to note that when the HP-35 scientific calculator came out in 1972, “it was banned from some engineering classrooms. Professors feared that engineers would use it as a crutch, that they would no longer understand the relationships that either penciled calculations or a slide rule somehow provided for proficient scientific thought.”

Has the calculator hindered engineering progress? Hardly?

As if that weren’t enough to think about, read this blog post, “Google…Integrating Lives.” This is from a blog called Notes From the Digital Frontier, and it’s written by a dozen college students and young professionals. These kids have always had computers in their lives. That’s amazing to those of us who only dreamt about personal computers when were kids.

Since they’ve grown up with them, they know how to use them. Or, at least the successful ones will know how to use them. I don’t think that we have to worry about technology making us dumber.

How does amateur radio fit into all this? Well, I’m not sure, exactly, but I know it does. Perhaps it’s this. Kids (and adults, too, for that matter) who get involved in amateur radio will have a better appreciation for the technology (mainly electronics) that now run our world. I think that’s a good thing.

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