Technology and the Lost Art of Thinking

Think...before you forget how

 My 17-year-old can text faster than I can type. She has more technology in her purse than I had in my whole house when I was her age. 

But even as a teen, I knew not to push a truck with a subcompact car, and could tell you whether it was better to buy a pint of something for $1 or a quart for $1.50.

As evidenced by the dent in the hood of the Mini Cooper and the fact that we spent an afternoon reviewing liquid measurements, she apparently can’t…and she’s a straight A student with acceptance letters from 14 colleges.

Sometimes I worry technology is replacing common sense.

And I’m not alone.

In a review of what he characterized the “electronic collision-avoidance nannies” so popular on high-end cars, Wired’s Matthew Phenix asks:

Is it merely alarmist hyperbole to suggest that technology is creeping in where common sense and driving skill used to live? Do I feel safer because an acronym assures me that my car is looking out for me? Do I feel safer knowing other drivers’ cars are doing the things — like checking mirrors and applying enough pressure to the brake pedal — they should be doing themselves? Not really.

Technology makes it easy to find information. But like the UPS driver who goes unrecognized without his brown uniform, the information is confined to a limited context.

The key is to transform information to understanding. That requires thinking, a skill technology has made all but obsolete.

Every year, my children bring home a questionnaire from the teacher. The newer and less experienced the teacher, the greater the number of questions. But one of the questions is always the same. “What do you want your child to accomplish this year?”

Most parents, in the hyper-competitive suburban New York City area where I live, will write comprehensive answers that invariably involve Advanced Placement and honors courses. My answer, in contrast, is always short and always the same.

I just want my kids to learn to think.

Scientist Bill Buxton puts it like this: Since technology is changing so fast, it is far more important to develop our ability to think, learn and problem solve, than to master Microsoft Office. Sure, you can develop these skills using computers. But personally, I think our time is generally much better spent studying music, history or even hockey.

Buxton is Canadian, which explains the hockey reference. But hockey aside, he makes some interesting points.

The risk of technology making things too easy is the gradual loss of our ability to think—the way most kids have lost the ability to make change for a small purchase in their heads.

Think of it as the ability to connect-the-dots, and relate the consequences of A to B. Think of it as being able to function when the electric grid fails and the batteries in all the calculators die. Think of it as whatever you want.

Just think.



Filed under globest, random, Technology, thoughts

4 responses to “Technology and the Lost Art of Thinking

  1. Yes, your points are good and I agree with them.

    The summer of ’72 I worked for a private contractor building custom houses. The contractor, when interviewing me asked me a number of questions. Questions such as did I know how to read blueprints, had I taken any classes in carpentry, etc. I proudly told him that I could read blueprints since my Dad had taught me how but no I hadn’t taken any classes in carpentry. He looked at me, cocked his head to one side and smiled a face filling smile and with eyes twinkling he said GOOD. Then I can teach you the right way and you’ll learn how to think, not just follow some book learning.

    Turns out, that he had employeed others who could tell you what the answer was supposed to be but couldn’t think outside the book and made huge, costly mistakes.

    As the years have gone by and I’ve worked elsewhere and employeed others I have found that many (certainly not all) of those that rely on gadgets and such can’t think out of the box their “gadget dependence” / “rule dependence” puts them in.

    Certainly these are great tools and speed things up but they don’t always encourage independent thought and analysis.

  2. rockchick7517

    I totally agree with your points made here. At 22 years old, I often find myself forgetting information, not being able to do simple maths and you wouldn’t believe how bad my spelling has become! I can’t blame technology for this, as I choose to use it the way I do, but I do hold it responsible for the reason as to why I can’t do all the things I just stated. I’m now taking it upon myself to turn it around and find my brain cells again, as it scares me to think what sort of mushy state they will be in a few more years down the line!! Getting a blog was my first step in the right direction to regain the ability to write at length, now I just need to learn my times tables again…

  3. Right! and it all started long ago. My first job was managing a Wholesale grocery Cash and Carry (mini Costo) 55 years ago. We had a hand cranked calculator (I think it was a Borrows) so if some grocer bought 5 cases of 24/12oz. Spam for $9.20 per case it would calculate the $46.00 it cost and it would also add up the total of the 10 otems he had purchased.

    One day I was out buying a fishing pole, a reel and 10 lures of the same price, I had to figure if I had enough cash to get them, no machine, I had to calculate it in my head or on paper. I couldn”t!

    I had forgotten how to do simple arithmetic. I vowed at that time to only use a calculater to check my arithmetic from then on.

    Common sense has helped since then to be a much better busnessman than a calculator an HP12 or the best business software produced so far 9but they sure do help when needed.

  4. bluewaveted

    I agree. Technology was created for us to think less and let something else do the thinking. Looks like it’s succeeded.

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