Technology improves our lives in many ways, but overreliance on it can cause us to “dumb down.” Technology has a tendency to fill in or take over certain tasks for the consumer, relieving us of cognitive activities that we once did ourselves. These cognitive activities get weak or atrophied. We get lazy and dependent on the new technology to do our work for us. We become dumb.
Example: I used my Garmin GPS this weekend at my son’s hockey tournament to find our way back and forth between the hotel and the ice rink. I have always been “directionally aware,” perhaps a result of Air Force survival training and other experiences. I know my way around, even in new locations, because of my sense of direction. I’m never lost.
But on this trip, I used the Garmin (Nuvi) to do the work for me. Then it struck me as I was riding in a car with one of the other families on the way to the rink. Without the GPS, I had no clue where we were headed. The technology caused me to switch off my natural sense of direction. I had shut it down and paid no attention to where I was or where I was going. I felt that very strange notion of being lost. So much for “directionally aware.”
Given the power of innovation tools, we need to be mindful of this as we create medical products, for example, that do the decision making for surgeons, or commercial airplanes that do all the flying for pilots, or educational products that do all the teaching. We are becoming a knowledge society, they say. But I worry that knowledge is getting imbedded in new innovations, and it may be having the opposite effect on our society…it is dumbing us down.
Technology has a bright side, though. Web 2.0 and the myriad of new social networking applications are helping generations reconnect. This technology is not “dumbing us down;” rather it is “younging us down.” I am more connected with my 16 year old son and his friends with applications like texting, Twitter, and Flickr. My Dunbar Number is expanding thanks to LinkedIn, del.icio.us, and Facebook. It is helping me identify with 20 year olds, 30 year olds, and beyond, even though I get one year further away from these groups every July 14th. That’s cool, especially as I find myself speaking to audiences at these age groups all the time. If I don’t connect to them, they don’t connect with me. Innovation helps me connect. It helps me “young it down.”