LOSING OUR MINDS – THE DARK SIDE OF TECHNOLOGY

Our reliance on technology is giving way to a loss of mental capabilities that used to be seen as second nature to us. For each task that we surrender to technology, we lose the use of mental faculties no longer called upon to perform some of the most basic of skills such as adding, subtracting, spelling, and reading diagrams and maps.

Technology has provided both an avenue to global information processing and sharing and, at the same time, lured us into a dependency where minds used to go.

CALCULATORS

The first calculators were fairly clumsy items. Sharp put in great efforts in size and power reduction and introduced in January 1971 the Sharp EL-8, also marketed as the Facit 1111, which was close to being a pocket calculator. It weighed about one pound, had a vacuum fluorescent display, rechargeable NiCad batteries, and initially sold for $395.

The first American-made pocket-sized calculator, the Bowmar 901B – referred to as The Bowmar Brain – came out in the fall of 1971 and measured a 5 inches by 3 inches by 1.5 inches. It had four functions, an eight-digit red LED display, and sold for $240.

Following closely in August 1972, the four-function Sinclair Executive became the first slimline pocket calculator measuring 5 1/2 inches by 2 inches by 1/3 inches thick and weighed 2.5 oz. It retailed for around $150. By the end of the 1970s, similar calculators were priced less than $10 and were within the purchasing power of the average American.

With my first handy-dandy calculator way back in the early 1970s, I gingerly learned the process of adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. Funny thing though, I didn’t trust the calculator to be accurate. So, for a long time, I double-checked the answers appearing in the window of my rectangular, inanimate adding box by doing them all over again myself. I knew how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide, but I wasn’t sure that little gadget did.

Now it is the other way around, and I double-check my figures with the calculator, or I don’t even bother to do my own calculations. I do the calculations on my $3.50 calculator, which I have had now for about three years. The one thing I do practice is my math skills when I go through a drive-through window. I mentally calculate how much I will get back.

CASHIERING

I had to count back change when I worked at our family’s grocery business. We didn’t have machines that did anything other than ring up the items. Our first cash registers were run by a hand-crank on the side that needed to be turned after we punched in the numbers on the face of the register.

We later moved up to cash registers powered by electricity, but the downfall was that when our electricity went out, we had to override the register and use manual methods again. Or we dug out the old manual adding machines. Either way around we needed to know how to count back change – something that today’s cashiers don’t have to worry about.

The only effort cashiers need to make today is to glance at the register, see how much change should be returned, and shove it into the waiting consumer’s open hand. How sad. I remember years ago, I worked part-time at the Little Professor Book Store. One of my duties at different times was to work at the cash registers. When I ran my checkout I made it a point to count back the change, placing it into the customer’s waiting palm.

My supervisor came over to me one day and said he had been watching me and was I aware that the cash register indicated how much to return. He told me it saved time to just give the change back. I told him I was aware of it, politely thanked him, and went right on counting back change to my customers. I really think the customers enjoyed having the change counted back and not just thrown into their hands.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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SPELL CHECKS / SPELL CHECKERS

Ah, my least favorite of all the brain-dimming technologies. Spell checks cue the writer to a misspelled word by calling the writer’s attention to the word with an underline. Forget dictionaries. Just right click on the word, and you get a list of words from which to select. The problem is, you still must know with relative certainty how to select the correct suggested spelling.

The downside to the spell check is that it won’t identify words spelled correctly but used in the incorrect context, for instance, “weather” for “whether.” Another mistake a spell check won’t catch is a word that has more than one spelling such as “their” and “there.” Finally, words that have letters transposed – form instead of from – won’t be caught.

What a pity that this aid decreases the use of dictionaries as well as the skills necessary to use them. People don’t even bother anymore to pick up a dictionary to try to look up a word. Using a dictionary requires the ability to alphabetize while searching for word spellings. Spell checks prevent the mind from being used to its fullest extent.

DIGITAL CLOCKS AND WATCHES

Time is time, but how we read time has changed. I learned to tell time by using a clock face with hands that could be moved with my teacher then asking us what time it was. I am assuming today’s kids also learn this way. But many watch and clock faces are now digital. Reading a digital clock face takes no thought. You look at it, and the numbers tell you what time it is.

Reading a numbered clock face, however, requires recognizing the placement of marks around the face of the clock, and then counting mentally the number of minutes past a certain hour or before another hour.

GLOBAL POSITIONING SATELLITE (GPS) SYSTEMS

I have to admit, reading maps is not one of my favorite tasks when I travel. I have been to 40 of our 50 states, and I have always sat down with tour books, maps, pens, and paper to plot out my trip. I do not have a GPS system, but a couple of my friends do.

Personally, I find it annoying to have that thing talk while driving. Is it really that difficult to read a map and plan your path of travel? Again, technology is replacing a skill that used to be taken for granted.

I can’t help but think of the Zager and Evans song from 1969 – “In the Year 2525” which tells of how technology and science will change our bodies and our minds. We are on a path to relying more and more on technology to do those things that we used to do ourselves by using our minds and the skills we learned.

No longer do we pick up a dictionary, read a map, count back change, perform calculations, or tell time without relying on technology. And, every time we look to technology to perform a mental function for us, we are truly losing our minds.

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About Charlotte A. Weybright

I own a home in the historical West Central Neighborhood of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I have four grown sons and nine grandchildren - four grandsons and five granddaughters. I love to work on my home, and I enjoy crafts of all types. But, most of all, I enjoy being involved in political and community issues.
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12 Responses to LOSING OUR MINDS – THE DARK SIDE OF TECHNOLOGY

  1. wickle says:

    My goodness … I was about to write a post about spell-checkers, and the profound level of ignorance that has come from people relying on them. You did it better, and went so much farther.

    I used to be in banking, and I was stunned by the number of BANKERS who couldn’t do basic arithmetic in their heads. Yes, there are calculators everywhere in any kind of financial institution. I don’t think that they were meant to replace the brain.

    More than that, though, I’m right there with you on the spell checker. People are no longer taught how to proofread, and those few who do, are mostly just scanning for red underlines. Newer mild thee fat hat th spill chick well mis allot of thing that mite bee wrung.

    (“Never mind the fact that the spell-check will miss a lot of things that might be wrong,” just in case anyone couldn’t get that. Not a red line in sight from the automatic spell-check.)

    Great post!

  2. clint jenkins says:

    I HATE SPELLING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Calculus and advaced physics are easier!

  3. Clint:

    Ah, but communication is the only way you can learn about calculus and advanced physics. Texts must be written so you can understand them and instructors must know how to communicate properly to get you the information.

    When I ask my students how many like English, etc., I get one or two hands. I love English and the challenge of writing well.

  4. wickle says:

    My 9th grade English teacher promised us that if we paid attention in class, dangling prepositions would cause us physical pain when we were 30 years old … curse him, I listened!

    Seriously, we had intensive grammar for 3/4 of the year, and I actually sent him an e-mail recently (almost 20 years after I was in his class) thanking him and encouraging him to keep at it. There are some of us who still listen.

    Sorry to double-comment, but this is one of those issues about which I do get passionate. So many people want to pass English-only laws, but don’t care to learn English. I’m not sure it makes a difference which language we use incorrectly, does it?

  5. Wickle:

    Thank you for the comments! I had been thinking about writing about the topic for quite some time, and I finally just made myself do it.

    I remember when I went to school, we diagrammed sentences until we were sick of it.

    I am a firm believer that we can learn all the science and math in the world, but if we don’t know how to communicate, what good will it do? Communication – oral and written – is the foundation upon which we transfer all other knowledge.

    Sorry, I get passionate also when it comes to the English language. I love other languages too, and I think all Americans should have to learn a second language – just like many other countries require of their populaces.

    I agree with your comment on English-only proponents. Our English skills are going downhill every year and yet we want to make our country an English-only haven.

    I did forgot one topic in my post – that of email communication. Talk about getting sloppy! Email has become the bane of English communication. No one seems to think he or she should have to write well when using email as a form of communication.

    I absolutely cringe when I read some of the emails I receive.

  6. kent strock says:

    Having taught English Comp at every level possible, it has NOTHING to do with people not learning English or the problem of Spanish. Diagrammed sentences is the WORST way to teach anybody anything-it is just plain stupid and boring at any level. Perhaps, if you are from the proper economic class you can spend the time to learn the nuts and bolts-but it just plain nuts.

    The “science” and pedagogy of that approach only leads to higher dropout rates and lets teachers off the hook-unfortunately the administrators are left of the hook even more. From my experience, I didn’t pay any attention to the diagramming, I was just bored, but I scored incredibly high on the SAT and GED-because I came from the right background.

    I have taught HS students, college students and GED students and what we have been doing definately doesn’t work (see NO child left behind). How can we say it is with the incredibly poor graduation rates? Why are they leaving school and if they pass the test does it matter?

    They are leaving because school is boring and incredibly drilled-or slighted towards athletes or the “gifted”. They aren’t stupid-believe me they are NOT. Go back to Dewey and his pragmatic approach to education. It isn’t about just being the top of the class…there are other skills and abilities needed, but we honor the leaders and the top of the class. Teachers are taught his philosophy, but when put into the Political/educational system it becomes completely pointless and a liability-and leads to them leaving the system or being dead weight.

    Yes, many students are sloppy, but to say they are going downhill “intellectually” is ahhh interesting. Because people don’t speak the queen’s English doesn’t mean nutin. Sorry, but as a social scientist your sample is incredibly screwed. Yes, lots of right wing dorks can’t do English when bashing Mexicans, but in teaching GED students in the criminal justice system they have a much better perspective on how the “system” operates which betrays a much broader understanding of what is going on than articulate politicians/media people.

    My point is that doen’t blame teachers etc. The problem has to do more with socio-economic and political power issues. Hell, channel 21 is airing a story about seagulls. oi vay. Maybe they could do a story of how mothers might have picked up a pot charge aren’t allowed to get food stamps to feed their children and prepare them for school?

    sorry but this is a bigger and more poignant problem

  7. Kent:

    First, I said diagrammed sentences was how we were taught when I went to school – that was in the ’50s and ’60s. You state:

    “The “science” and pedagogy of that approach only leads to higher dropout rates and lets teachers off the hook-unfortunately the administrators are left of the hook even more.”

    Can you give me some drop-out statistics that are linked to your statement? I remember when I went to school, our grading scale was higher – 95-100 was an A (not 90 – 100). Why have the grading scales been inflated?

    You state:

    “Yes, many students are sloppy, but to say they are going downhill “intellectually” is ahhh interesting.”

    Here’s what I actually said about English skills:

    “Our English skills are going downhill every year and yet we want to make our country an English-only haven.”

    I don’t see anywhere in my sentence where I mentioned going downhill intellectually. I also did not intimate anywhere in my post or follow-up comments that students are stupid. Stupidity is not the reason so many students get away with poor English skills.

    You mention that you have taught for many years, then what do you think is the problem? The whole point of my article was that technology is taking over functions that we used to use our minds to do. That is a simple fact.

    I also teach at the college level. I can tell you that what I see on a daily basis is a lack of communication skills and an attitude of not caring. Students use text messaging and emails as main forms of communication. These forms appear to lead to decreased concern about using good English.

    And, just tell me, what is wrong with speaking and writing well? I don’t think I know anyone who speaks the Queen’s English, and our language has been transformed tremendously since the colonists first came to this country. Perhaps they spoke the Queen’s English, but certainly not too many in our country do today.

    And really, school was pretty boring when I went. I don’t buy that as an excuse for leaving. Many things in life are boring. Sometimes the administrative part of my job is boring, but I do it and try to learn something every day.

    As to your example about those in the criminal justice system, they may very well know what’s going on, but that won’t get them a job when they are released. Two of the most important things that an inmate can have when he or she gets out are a job and a place to live.

    So, please tell me what you think is the underlying reason behind the lack of communication skills.

    Just so I understand what you are saying, please tell me what example I am using that is screwed. Again, my article was about how we are allowing technology to take over tasks that we used to use our minds to do.

  8. kent strock says:

    Charlotte,

    I was in a bad mood last night and was being a wee bit provocative. The question you raised about the reason behind our communication problems is the key question. I don’t have a problem with students who write and communicate well…it would make my job easier if they did. Given my experiences, and background as a social scientist, I am skeptical of the criticism and the focusing on what students “should” do. Pleading only gets one so far. Given my bias, I tend to see why and how students adopt to the system that is presented to them.

    That system, at the HS and college level, is pure craziness and doesn’t have anything to do with reality. It doesn’t engage their imagination as individuals or as economic agents. The increasing number of HS dropouts points to this problem. Much of this problem has to do with “No Child left behind”. Having had to be in that system- it is pure hell and does nothing to help the “smart” students or those at the bottom of the scale. I guess where we differ is that the problem isn’t so much as technology as class or social forces. I will give NCLB credit for forcing schools to account for the “lower” functioning students rather than advance placement classes, the problem is that it produces a social/psycho educational environment and structure that helps nobody. It seems that many students become alienated and dropout or accept a middling privileged attitude when they enter higher education. They have become accustomed to getting B’s and A’s without having to do anything and being not challenged think that “college” should be an extension of HS and as long as they pay their tuition they are entitled to an A grade. Unfortunately, given my experience teaching in “higher education” in Fort Wayne, I can see why they think that and why they make use of the system.

    They aren’t stupid and they talk and realize that the administration is after their money and they have incredible leverage. I am guessing that you have encountered the “nursing student effect”-it is well known throughout the country. This problem is entirely an economic/political problem and has nothing to do with what the students should or could do.

    Sorry, if i am rambling and I prolly have no useful policy inputs, but I am trying to figure this out.
    Yer Pal,
    Kent

  9. Kent:

    Hey, we all have our days. You are absolutely correct though when you address the issue of students accustomed to getting A’s and B’s and then hit a reality check.

    We have students who go along class after class getting good grades and then when they hit a hard class, they don’t understand how they got that “C”. I personally think classes should be as challenging as possible without working above the degree level the student is seeking. Heck, maybe even working above the degree level would be acceptable because it would be challenging.

    But here is what I can’t quite get a handle on – when I went to school, like I said, it sometimes was boring and unchallenging. Believe me diagramming sentences every day of the week almost put us to sleep, but we did it. I guess I never wondered why we were diagramming sentences – only that I needed this information and this was how I got it.

    So if school was kind of boring when I went, and it is kind of boring today, why are more students dropping out? Do they not see the value of an education? Is it hopelessness? Is it learning disabilities?

    I am just trying to figure it out.

    But back to my original topic of technology. I don’t think technology is making students drop out. I think technology, as I said, is making us dependent and taking away our desire to perform mental functions that once were common to us.

  10. kent strock says:

    “So if school was kind of boring when I went, and it is kind of boring today, why are more students dropping out? Do they not see the value of an education? Is it hopelessness? Is it learning disabilities?”

    Well, school/society isn’t that simple. “Hopelessness” or realizing and adjusting to what is around them is the bigger question. No, learning disabilities are spread throughout the socio-economic spectrum. Bigger or day to day issues play a much bigger role than putting up with boring lectures. Half of FWCS students qualify for free lunches, way too many people are locked up for pot charges, 70% of people on house arrest are black and maybe 5% are middle class folk, it costs 100 Bucks a week to be on house arrest-money that could be spent to pay child support. If you can’t pay the 100 bucks a week then you have to do 20 hours a week of cleaning the colliseum or shoveling snow-time not spent with kids doing homework etc.

    The house arrest program has become a moneymaker for the county/republican party.

  11. kent strock says:

    Despite my ramblings in the last post too many students face these issues of the criminal justice system- which only breeds contempt for the “system”. When on Friday cops serve warrants they pick up kids for “walking while black” without ID, why wouldn’t their reaction be one of ..wtf? Or when the “code enforcement” dept., which is only an arm of the landlord lobby, is used to circumvent search warrant requirements, why not be cynical and not take school seriously???

    If you have no faith in the integrity of the system, given experience, why play along or think that studying will improve things. Or if you mother can’t get foodstamps because she has a pot charge 15 years ago? What other “crime” is treated as such a race issue? I can’t understand why a kid who can’t get food because of pot wouldn’t be pissed off when everyone white and black is smoking pot. When there is NO redress to the government (which is controlled by the Republican mafia), contempt and frustration becomes predominant. But hey, Henry got elected without addressing the African American community or their issues.

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