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.
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.
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
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.