Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Does technology make us stupid?

I recently bought a car with a GPS Navigation system. I got it, because my siblings insisted it was something I should get. I was at first reluctant to get it, because I always prided myself on being able to be intelligent enough to figure out where I am going, and relying on my sense of direction.

While I know it's totally optional for me to use it, I am finding it pretty useful, as I get to know the Los Angeles area. But it did make me wonder, while it's a useful technology, does it make people less able to cultivate mental capabilities to figure out directions. In other words, does it make us stupid?

I think about spell check and grammar check, both are great features, but I wonder if it's making us lazy about knowing how to spell words or write grammatically correct sentences.

It also makes me wonder how the Internet and applications like Twitter affects the way we read and communicate. Andrew Sullivan notes how many are noticing the lack of patience they have for reading long paragraphs. Yves Smith writes:
I notice how the Internet has affected how I read. I have become impatient with longer stories (unless I am on an airplane). I spend most of my time on the Internet, and the vast majority of what I read fits within the browser window. I find that has conditioned my expectations. When confronted with a longer piece (say Sunday New York Times magazine feature or New Yorker length) I find after the first page wondering if it really had to be this long, and often not finishing the piece. Five years ago, I never would have responded this way.
This reminded me of an article in the NY Times, that debated how the internet has changed the way we read. There are many different viewpoints, as can be expected, ranging from those who feel the internet hinders reading skills, to those who point to other benefits that internet brings to those able to take in many different sources of information.

As teenagers’ scores on standardized reading tests have declined or stagnated, some argue that the hours spent prowling the Internet are the enemy of reading — diminishing literacy, wrecking attention spans and destroying a precious common culture that exists only through the reading of books.

Neurological studies show that learning to read changes the brain’s circuitry. Scientists speculate that reading on the Internet may also affect the brain’s hard wiring in a way that is different from book reading.

The United States is diverging from the policies of some other countries. Next year, for the first time, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which administers reading, math and science tests to a sample of 15-year-old students in more than 50 countries, will add an electronic reading component. The United States, among other countries, will not participate. A spokeswoman for the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the Department of Education, said an additional test would overburden schools.
I would tend to agree that the Internet does teach us other skills, with so many websites, individuals have to be able to filter through and organize the concepts and information flowing through the screen. So I don't think the Internet as a bad thing, just different. But I can't help noticing that I, myself, tend to scan through to just get the key words or points. That I don't exactly read as thoroughly as I used to.

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