I've often wondered if our fascination with everything technical would have a negative effect on our metal development. We rely on technology for thousands of tasks today and while much of the improvement in our standard of life comes from technology, we must also acknowledge all the negatives that it brings to the table.
A recent book published by a German neuroscientist Dr. Manfred Spritzer highlights the dangers of exposing our children to technology at a young age. He tells us that
children who use electronic styluses on a SMART board instead of learning how to write [will have their] brain kept in check. It inevitably has a negative effect on learning. This type of negative feedback is also exhibited in adults. When a person navigates the road solely through the use of a GPS device, she does not develop the ability to orient herself in unfamiliar surroundings.
I've often experienced this issue of lack of orientation when dealing with friends accustomed to using the GPS to find their way. While giving them directions on how to get to a certain place, I consistently use directional names like
go west on highway 7 or
when you get to Hurontario, go north towards 401. The response I get always astonishes me.
Which way do I turn, left or right, to go north? or, and this is the more common response,
it's too complicated, can you just give me the address, I have a GPS. Don't get me wrong, I am not anti-GPS or anti-technology. I think GPS systems are very useful if you are going on a trip to an unknown far-away place, lets say Chicago, and you need to find your way around without too much hassle. But I believe that looking at a physical map helps you learn how to navigate much better. It will also come in handy when your GPS unit unavoidably messes up and takes you to a completely different place.
Google, our home and native land. We can't live without it, but we can certainly live with it. It is almost unbelievable that only fifteen years ago we did not need the Internet, or Google, or its previous incarnation Yahoo. We went about our lives in a normal matter, getting our information the old way, mainly through the tube. Even then experts were telling us we watched to much TV. We read less and focused more on the lives of celebrities than the well being of our future generations.
Experts tried to warn us. We thought we knew better. We wholeheartedly ignored their advice. What's more striking is that our parents' attitude toward technology was so much alike to the experts' warnings. They did not like it. We attributed this fear of technology to their fear of change. Yet both our parents and the experts were right. Too much of anything is bound have a negative feedback. Too much technology will, in the end, make us less able to adapt to changes in the physical world.
Getting back to Google, I would like to discuss its constant presence in our lives. Almost all of the actions that we perform on the internet starts out with Google.
I want to make a lemon merengue cake, just google it.
What does neuroplasticity mean?, just google it.
What's the latest scoop on Britney Spears?, just google it. And finally,
I just took an immense dump, so tweet about it. Google and now Twitter and Facebook have taken over all aspects of our lives. In the
olden days when you wanted to make a lemon merengue cake, you would call your parents, grandparents, aunt, cousin or your best friend and get the recipe. This interaction would call upon the need to communicate, converse and interface with one another. This type of social relationship, that would develop out of the simple need for a recipe, can not be had with Google. Google is not your parent, grandparent, aunt, cousin or your best friend.
When I lived in Ukraine, we had a set of dictionaries in our place. Our book shelves were stocked with anything from thesaurus to medical terms dictionary, my mom was a neurologist. So far as I knew, pretty much every household had a set of dictionaries stashed away somewhere on the bookshelf. When I moved to Canada, one of the first things that we acquired was an Ukrainian-English dictionary. When that was not enough, I remember buying a set of three English only dictionaries, a thesaurus, a glossary of english idioms and metaphors, and a general dictionary. We still own these, although they are rarely used nowadays. Today, we use Google to find the definitions of words. Our friend Google is so nice that it even provides a convenient way to find definitions for our words. Just type
define: whichever word and it will neatly display the definition at the top of the search results.
The access to information is at our finger tips. It is so readily available that the information hardly needs to be memorized. Why try and remember something if all you need to do is type it into Google and Google will provide it for you? Why try and train your memory if all you need to do is ask Google and Google will answer you? Why try and expand your memory capacity if Google has millions of memory slots already filled with all information and retrieving that information is much easier then storing something new yourself?
Twitter is the new kid on the block, relatively speaking. It is part of what is now dubbed the
social media. Social because many people participate in it and media because, well because it apparently stores information in some non-transient state. People participate in Twitter conversations, tell the world something about their life, and listen to what others have to say. They are socially engaged in a world that does not exist. Since Twitter is not a physical place, it can not serve as a place where people meet one another and interact physically. It had come to our world and replaced the place that ancient Greeks used an Agora for. Twitter has become the new place to hear and create town gossip, although now that the town is officially dead, the gossip is on global scale. Still Twitter can not be said to be social. People do see each other when they tweet, their emotions can't be ascertained by sight and they sure can't hear each other when they interact online. If a set of computers had
The media label of Twitter is also misleading. Media implies a storage mechanism or material. The word media, carries an implication that whatever is being stored actually has some significant value for the future generations.
I have taken a dump or
Wazzzzzzup my peoples does not carry any significant value. It must be said that the only value it carries is negative and any mechanism or material that tries to preserve it for the future is not worth the upkeep. It is a good thing then that Twitter does not store any of its information in a retrievable form. If electricity were to disappear for a significant amount of time, any information stored on Twitter's servers would be lost forever. Google's vast memory banks would become useless as well. Regardless of the current or future states of these media, it is still sad to see the present degradation of our collective and individual minds.
I have not dedicated much of my attention to exposing other misleading social media pariahs and their influence on making us dumber and unfocused. This will be remedied in time. Facebook, YouTube, FourSquare et al., are all part of the paradigm that contributes to our collective stupidity. The saddest thing of all is the effect all technology has on the youngest generations. Multiple studies to date have been warning parents about the dangers of early exposure of young babies to technology. Dr. Spitzer, mentioned above, has published two books, backed by countless scientific data, warning about the complete and irreversible brain development deficits in young children exposed to too much technology. South Korean scientists have labeled this phenomenon - Digital Dementia. We all have it now. From young to old, the skills we learn through physical interaction with one another and our surroundings can not be replicated on the screen of the iPad or via a keyboard of the laptop. The social and communal link can not be retained by pumping out an endless series of 1s and 0s via Twitter, Google or Facebook.
You have been warned.