The human race has come along way from the simplistic ways of the neanderthal man(and woman) to the innovative people we find ourselves today. Resultantly, its fair to say we live much safer and prosperous lives than our ancestors. While often unrecognised, we have technology to thank a large part for this. But while technology has helped us achieve amazing feats of accomplishment, it has also resulted in outsourcing many cognitive functions to computers. The internet also operates as a hub of information for us but we’re becoming too addicted to its infinte resources limiting both our creativity and intelligence. So is technology inadvertently damaging our intellectual potential rather than enhancing it?
The Role of Technology Today
As we become more adjusted to technology, we’re becoming too reliant on it. For some, this reliance has bordered on an unhealthy obsession. Many kids and young people today are being superficially diagnosed as smartphone addicts. However, smartphones in the scheme of things are just a symptom of the problem. The underlying issue is peoples compulsive addiction to the internet and its endless stream of information filling our brains. Our brains are being hijacked by useless distractions such as cat memes, selfies, and mindless internet surfs.
In context, it would be irresponsible not to acknowledge the huge role technology has also played in education and helping us to solve problems. The instant fix for most people’s issues rests with a quick Google search. I’ve solved numerous tech related problems thanks to the internet. But herein lies the difficulty. With our smartphones, the internet is now available 24/7 and we over-indulge. This means we miss out on more important things going on around us. Paradoxically, its also stunting our intellectual development as we’re wasting time on frivolous Google searching when we could be reading a book or learning a new skill.
Over-reliance on technology to carry out our cognitive tasks could also result in issues down the road. More kids find maths and similar cognitive tasks difficult to do today without a calculator. Increasingly technology is making better at short-term memory and processing information quickly. But we find it harder to hold onto this information. This is probably largely down to our brains filtering substantial information so it can cope with the vast amounts of information coming its way each day.
We Think Less
As previously mentioned, one of the main benefits of technology is that it stores information which eases excess mental pressure on our overtaxed brains. Need directions somewhere? Use Google maps. Need to do maths? Take out a calculator. Forgot that piece of code for a website? Google it. We’re required less to be information regurgitators and to become more like information filers and searchers. Technology does the cognitive grunt work for us. While this offers great benefits such as a wider breadth of knowledge, it comes at a cost of depth of knowledge in particular areas. It can cause our brains so spin too fast and not remember anything long term.
In our rapid brain states, constantly mentally flicking from A to B, we’re losing our ability for deep thought. Countless articles exist lamenting the substantial decline of creativity in kids today. This is in sharp correlation to the growth of technology and its innumerable distractions available in the form of video games, internet surfing and Netflix streams. Unfortunately, people don’t think anymore. They consume.
All of this results in peoples inability to sit still. I’ve found blogging a wonderful way to counteract these tendencies towards mindless consumption as it forces me to do deep thinking. But many no longer make time for writing or discussing their thoughts on important issues. And when they do, copy and paste has become the flavour of the day.
The situation culminates in losing our critical thinking, reflection, contemplation, and introspection. Regretfully, Halo 5 doesn’t have a mission where you sit down and digest where it all went wrong. Then express to your senior officer how you’ll address these issues next time. That would involve thought. And thinking is boring. Maybe if people started thinking they would realise that maybe most of their days shouldn’t be spent living in a fantasy world. Maybe they should instead try to carry out important missions in the real world.
” Technology is making us shallower thinkers, multi-tasking, unable to digest speeches, even songs, perpetually flicking. “
– Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think
As humans, we crave new information. Our brain is an edacious learner constantly on the hunt for fresh sources of knowledge. But when supply overloads our brain, we become scatter brained helplessly chasing in different directions. In ancient times this was a vital trait. Constant vigilance and lack of deep focus helped us spot predators which kept our genes alive. Today, however, it leads to a lack of focus which culminates in a lack of productivity. Procrastination has a lot to answer for.
We procrastinate on important things we know we should do but don’t. And technology makes procrastination so easy. Interruption disrupts flow states and the embedding of knowledge into our long-term memories. Compellingly checking email accounts. Clicking on that Youtube video with the caption “You must see this video”. Scrolling through Instagram and Facebook checking out what people are up to (and perhaps unconsciously comparing your own life to theirs). None of this leads to productivity or highly creative output.
Inability to be Present
Creativity comes from embracing boredom and finding beauty and passion from the ordinary. Unfortunately today we cannot cope with boredom. And thanks to technology we never need to. Why sit there with a pen and paper when you could be swiping right on Tinder. Our attention span is perpetually declining with latest results showing a shift from 12 – 8 seconds.
All of this further feeds our inability to focus and just be present in the moment. Instead, we’re constantly distracted and perennially seeking short-term gratification whether it’s in the form of a quick internet search or a swipe right. Technology does not teach us patience or delayed gratification.
This inability to be present has also resulted in people reading less. Reading requires the ability for you to immerse yourself in a book and let go of your thoughts and distractions. These days, distractions permeate our lives. The percentage of American adults who read literature — any novels, short stories, poetry or plays — was estimated to have fallen to a three-decade low in 2015.
Hopes for the Future
More and more jobs are being outsourced to automation. People are losing their jobs because technology and machines can do it better, faster and more efficiently. This drastically highlights our need to think more and boost our intellectual capacity. Then we can be directors of this future capitalist society and not merely victims of it.
I think we all need to digitally detox more often!