Technology doesn’t dumb us down

Everyone has been talking about an article in The Atlantic magazine called “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Some subset of that group has actually read the 4,175-word article, by Nicholas Carr…

It is hard to think of a technology that wasn’t feared when it was introduced. In his Atlantic article, 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…

But for all the new technologies that increase our productivity, there are others that demand more of our time. That is one of the dialectics of our era. With its maps and Internet access, the iPhone saves us time; with its downloadable games, we also carry a game machine in our pocket. The proportion of time-wasters to time-savers may only grow. In a knowledge-based society in which knowledge is free, attention becomes the valued commodity. Companies compete for eyeballs, that great metric born in the dot-com boom, and vie to create media that are sticky, another great term from this era. We are not paid for our attention span, but rewarded for it with yet more distractions and demands on our time.

The pessimistic assumption that new technologies will somehow make our lives worse may be a function of occupation or training. Paul Saffo, the futurist, says he could divide the technology world into two kinds of people: engineers and natural scientists. He says the world outlook of the engineer is by nature optimistic. Every problem can be solved if you have the right tools and enough time and you pose the correct questions. Other people, who can be just as scientific, see the natural order of the world in terms of entropy, decline and death.

Those people aren’t necessarily wrong. But the engineer’s point of view puts trust in human improvement. Certainly there have been moments when that thinking has gone horribly awry — atonal music or molecular gastronomy. But over the course of human history, writing, printing, computing and Googling have only made it easier to think and communicate.

Only the superstitious believe that something is not “knowable”. People love to have faith in mysteries because. then, the mysteries can’t be challenged, investigated, analyzed and understood.

There are people – beyond priests – who build a lifetime’s profession from anti-science, anti-optimism, anti-understanding. They call their anti-intellectualism by different names depending on the times. But, their fears are always overcome by history.

Unless you can’t read this, of course.

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