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Technology-Good Or Bad

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Autor:   •  November 16, 2010  •  993 Words (4 Pages)  •  666 Views

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Is Technology Good for Us?

I suspect that the percentage of the population physically capable of completing a ten-mile run has decreased over the last generation or so. Cars are the culprit. But few seem willing to give up their automobiles to walk more. Apparently the freedom to travel long distances, quickly, and whenever we want is worth the risk of love handles...for most.

Monday's New York Times asks a related question, "Is technology making us smarter? Or are we lazily reliant on computers, and, well, dumber than we used to be?"

I wrote last year,

...aren't we as a practical matter in some ways smarter because we have the Internet than we were ten years ago without it? Our ability to process information is the same, but our ability to access information and communicate it to others has vastly improved.

This New York Times story is itself a good example. Without the Internet the chances that I, a guy living down in Louisiana, would have ever read this article are slim. And not only have I read it, but I have the oportunity to comment on it to a relatively large audience. And, of course, you get to read the article too. I don't see how any of this could make anyone "dumber."

On the other hand it seems obvious that we are losing some abilities as we adopt new technologies. Isaac Asimov's classic short story, "The Feeling of Power" highlighted this tendency. Asimov's protagonist rediscovers the lost art of arithmetic in a world of warring computers.

"Well," said the President, considering, "it's an interesting parlor game [arithmetic by hand], but what is the use of it?"

"What is the use of a newborn baby, Mr. President? At the moment there is not use, but don't you see that this points the way toward liberation from the machine?

Well, not quite. Technologies aren't abandoned unless something better comes along. The rediscovery of the bicycle in the distant future isn't likely to "liberate" civilization from more advanced forms of transit. Pencil and paper won't replace Excel.

Some of this concern about new, easier methods is a sort of luddite nostalgia.

You kids are so spoiled. Why in my day we didn't have computers. We had coal powered difference engines. And we had to get that fire hot to do long division.

But we were thankful!

It's nothing new for the old-timers to bemoan the laziness of young people with new technology.

Only 600 years ago, people relied on memory as a primary means of communication and tradition. Before the printed word, memory was essential to lawyers, doctors, priests and poets, and those with particular talents for memory were revered. Seneca, a famous teacher of rhetoric around A.D. 37, was said to be able to repeat long passages of speeches he had heard years before. "Memory," said Greek playwright Aeschylus, "is the mother of all wisdom."

People feared the invention of the printing press because it would cause people to rely on books for their memory. Today, memory is more irrelevant than ever, argue some academics.

I guess it depends on how you define memory. With the Internet at your fingertips there are some things there seems little reason to know "by heart."

Dr. Watson, describing Sherlock Holmes in "A Study in Scarlet" [source]

"You see," he explained, "I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you

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