The Tech Effect: Are Computers Making Us Stupid?

By JR Raphael
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

Technology lets us do things that once seemed like science fiction. From thoughtless navigation to limitless recollection, machines have made nearly every facet of our lives easier. But in doing so, have they also taken away skills that were once second-nature? An expanding argument suggests the internet and general abundance of technology may, in fact, be making us stupid.

The Atlantic‘s Nicholas Carr points out how his mind doesn’t work the way it used to. Reading long articles or books, he says, seems like an impossible feat now; he loses focus after a few pages. The idea of getting information so quickly and easily has seemingly shifted the way his mind works.

Carr notes how Nietzsche observed changes in his writing style with the advent of the typewriter decades ago. “Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts,” he is quoted as writing.

So could our brains again be evolving, so to speak, as a result of our dependence on modern technology? There’s certainly evidence to suggest some kind of change. A scientific study conducted a couple years ago found the ability to remember personal information — anything from a birthday to a phone number — is significantly lower in younger people who have grown up with cell phones and computers than in members of previous generations.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s seen the effect firsthand: I used to know the phone number of every friend, relative, and business I called with any level of frequency. Nowadays? Not so much. Outside of a few basics, I’ve inadvertently moved from storing the information in my brain to archiving it in my Outlook Contacts list.

Memory may not be the only function affected, either. An ABC News report out this week suggests the sudden ubiquity of GPS technology may be causing us to lose our senses of direction, as well as our drives to explore unknown terrain.

The question that remains, then, is if there is a true physiological shift as a result of all of this. Is technology actually making us stupid? Are we losing brain functionality with every previously mind-driven task we farm out to a machine?

Science doesn’t have a definite answer yet, but maybe you do. The floor is open to discussion — unless, that is, your short attention span and limited memory capacity have already caused you to drift away.

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32 Responses to The Tech Effect: Are Computers Making Us Stupid?

  1. I don't know if we can call this stupid..but yes…our (at least mine) brains are tending to store lesser and lesser information day by day as new and handy technologies/applications are taking up these roles. Even to remind one to get up from the chair and stretch every hour, there is an application on the web. And I simply can't imagine a day without my mobile and the www. Gosh!!! Where are we heading to, to be controlled by pin-head sized chips?

  2. I don’t know if we can call this stupid..but yes…our (at least mine) brains are tending to store lesser and lesser information day by day as new and handy technologies/applications are taking up these roles. Even to remind one to get up from the chair and stretch every hour, there is an application on the web. And I simply can’t imagine a day without my mobile and the www. Gosh!!! Where are we heading to, to be controlled by pin-head sized chips?

  3. I agree that technology in general is stunting our intellect. The ability to "Google" any question quickly & easily makes for people with weak research skills. It strips them of much of the need to critically think about questions. And people seem to take the first "hit" they find via Google at face value. It may be more credible than something like Wikipedia, but it's still suspect to me until I'm vetted my findings.

    Likewise, I consider cell phones to be incredibly detrimental – especially for children. If Mom is never more than a button press away, you no longer have to solve your own problems, plan out your day in advance, or think for yourself. We're crippling our children's ability to think for themselves.

    Texting is another gotcha for me. If you need to get a message to me – and we both already have cell phones – just call & speak to me, dammit! Texting is dumbing down communications for a whole generation and is poised to altogether ruin it for the next.

    (Yeah, regrettably, I caved in & started carrying a cell phone when I was out of town so much earlier this year. But I'm not proud of that – and I rarely use it.)

  4. I agree that technology in general is stunting our intellect. The ability to “Google” any question quickly & easily makes for people with weak research skills. It strips them of much of the need to critically think about questions. And people seem to take the first “hit” they find via Google at face value. It may be more credible than something like Wikipedia, but it’s still suspect to me until I’m vetted my findings.

    Likewise, I consider cell phones to be incredibly detrimental – especially for children. If Mom is never more than a button press away, you no longer have to solve your own problems, plan out your day in advance, or think for yourself. We’re crippling our children’s ability to think for themselves.

    Texting is another gotcha for me. If you need to get a message to me – and we both already have cell phones – just call & speak to me, dammit! Texting is dumbing down communications for a whole generation and is poised to altogether ruin it for the next.

    (Yeah, regrettably, I caved in & started carrying a cell phone when I was out of town so much earlier this year. But I’m not proud of that – and I rarely use it.)

  5. Being that I was raised on technology, I might have a different point of view here. I don't think technology is making us less intelligent, I feel that it gives each individual more time to dedicate towards something else rather than memorizing a phone number. Unfortunately the majority of people are lazy so they choose not to and waste their time watching TV or browsing myspace. That to me is what technology is doing; making the general population lazy, same as the TV, same as the car, same as the telephone. In every generation there is some sort of innovation that will make our lives a little bit easier and some people don't like it, or at least like it right away. just my 2 cents

  6. Being that I was raised on technology, I might have a different point of view here. I don’t think technology is making us less intelligent, I feel that it gives each individual more time to dedicate towards something else rather than memorizing a phone number. Unfortunately the majority of people are lazy so they choose not to and waste their time watching TV or browsing myspace. That to me is what technology is doing; making the general population lazy, same as the TV, same as the car, same as the telephone. In every generation there is some sort of innovation that will make our lives a little bit easier and some people don’t like it, or at least like it right away. just my 2 cents

  7. Nietzsche died over 100 years ago, and lost the ability to communicate in the 1880's. So it's been more than a few decades since he said that.

      • Indeed, you are correct, sir — and I would certainly hope that's not something anyone would dispute. I might point out, though, that I never said "a few decades ago." I simply said "decades ago" — which is, in fact, the case. But you know, given the nature of this article, it would have been hilariously ironic if I had gotten it wrong.

  8. Nietzsche died over 100 years ago, and lost the ability to communicate in the 1880’s. So it’s been more than a few decades since he said that.

      • Indeed, you are correct, sir — and I would certainly hope that’s not something anyone would dispute. I might point out, though, that I never said “a few decades ago.” I simply said “decades ago” — which is, in fact, the case. But you know, given the nature of this article, it would have been hilariously ironic if I had gotten it wrong.

  9. I think that becoming "stupid" or just losing the ability to think or memorize something does not depend entirely on technology. The brain, just like any other muscle in our body needs to be exercised, otherwise it will become numb and start to lose functionality.

    Most of people have lost "not the ability", but "the interest" in doing things without a computer or other electronic device. And don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that you should start doing your accountings in paper, but people now can't do a crossword puzzle if it's not online, you can't play sudoku if you're not in the web browser.

    As for me, I try to do some of the "regular" stuff the "old fashioned" way, as long as I can. I like to exercise the brain doing puzzles and that sort of stuff and personally I don't feel my brain getting any "stupid"-er…

    More then technology, I would give credit to personal commitment and interest in having a "healthy" brain. But that's just IMHO…

  10. I think that becoming “stupid” or just losing the ability to think or memorize something does not depend entirely on technology. The brain, just like any other muscle in our body needs to be exercised, otherwise it will become numb and start to lose functionality.

    Most of people have lost “not the ability”, but “the interest” in doing things without a computer or other electronic device. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you should start doing your accountings in paper, but people now can’t do a crossword puzzle if it’s not online, you can’t play sudoku if you’re not in the web browser.

    As for me, I try to do some of the “regular” stuff the “old fashioned” way, as long as I can. I like to exercise the brain doing puzzles and that sort of stuff and personally I don’t feel my brain getting any “stupid”-er…

    More then technology, I would give credit to personal commitment and interest in having a “healthy” brain. But that’s just IMHO…

  11. I could agree and disagree to this. I agree that so much of our lives depend on computers and cellphone and sometimes we neglect our basic people skills. Don't forget though, that there are several pros to computers and the software we have these days.

  12. I could agree and disagree to this. I agree that so much of our lives depend on computers and cellphone and sometimes we neglect our basic people skills. Don’t forget though, that there are several pros to computers and the software we have these days.

  13. ###The Gutenberg Effect: Are Books Making Us Stupid? Clearly, having information available at our fingertips whenever we want just by going to our bookshelf or library is going to make us less reliant on our own memory, and hence more stupid. We no longer have to remember and practice the oral histories our elders taught us, relying on these "history" books to replace that time-honored practice. Mathematicians, engineers, and navigators will forget how to calculate logarithms and trigonometric functions, when they can just look them up in tables. Our graduates are becoming complacent. "I don't need to memorise this stuff," they say. "I can just look it up in my 'text' book when I need that information." Has civilization come to a stand-still as a result of this horrendous technology?

  14. ###The Gutenberg Effect: Are Books Making Us Stupid? Clearly, having information available at our fingertips whenever we want just by going to our bookshelf or library is going to make us less reliant on our own memory, and hence more stupid. We no longer have to remember and practice the oral histories our elders taught us, relying on these “history” books to replace that time-honored practice. Mathematicians, engineers, and navigators will forget how to calculate logarithms and trigonometric functions, when they can just look them up in tables. Our graduates are becoming complacent. “I don’t need to memorise this stuff,” they say. “I can just look it up in my ‘text’ book when I need that information.” Has civilization come to a stand-still as a result of this horrendous technology?

  15. Why remember something like a phone number when you don't need to? You're freeing up more space for more important things..

    Using a computers' memory is like writing down a note on your hand so you don't forget something, except now your hand is infinitely big and you can see what other people have written on their hands.

    • Yes, if you use your extra brain power for something else, then it does make you smarter. I'm afraid, though, that most people are more often than not made lazier instead.

  16. Why remember something like a phone number when you don’t need to? You’re freeing up more space for more important things..

    Using a computers’ memory is like writing down a note on your hand so you don’t forget something, except now your hand is infinitely big and you can see what other people have written on their hands.

    • Yes, if you use your extra brain power for something else, then it does make you smarter. I’m afraid, though, that most people are more often than not made lazier instead.

  17. I just had a debate with a friend about this subject and then looked into it. Turns out we as humans are smarter than ever. Higher IQs, higher test scores on the broad scale as well as at the top tier. Genetic and environmental factors are both considered contributors. Even the things that some people, such as my friend, think make us dumber, like TV and computers, are proven to do the opposite. That was my guess and there's some evidence to back it out there. We are bombarded with many more opportunities to think and process information, wether it's useful for one thing or another or not. This processing of info from TV, the internet, etc., serves as both problem solving situations for our brains as well as rapid downloading of information into our memory banks within our brains. People are smarter today. I'm just passing on information and it makes sense to me.