Americans get dumber every year. It’s true. If you doubt it, just watch an episode of the gameshow “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader.” Most people, frankly, aren’t.
But are we getting dumber or just more dependent on technology to remember details for us? In this month’s issue of Wired magazine, Clive Thompson examines how we’ve allowed machines to remember so much for us, possibly allowing us to focus on other human thoughts and even accelerate intelligence by sharing thoughts online.
I personally embrace the lifestyle where computers can remember the details for me, and when needed, I can pull out that data from its source. In essence, a computer can act like a secondary hard drive for my brain, allowing me to focus on thoughts and ideas that only the human brain can. No matter how advanced a computer may be, it still lacks compassion, emotion, and free will — all components of human thought.
I have this debate on a semi-regular basis with my husband, who is also a search engine marketer and a former school teacher. We’ve discussed often how, in the world of Google and other search engines, we no longer need to remember everything, because we can always “Google” it. The Internet and Google should have changed our education system by now, but I’m not sure that it has impacted education the way that it perhaps should.
Education, until I graduated from high school, consisted primarily of memorization. Yes, there was SOME free thought in there, but probably 50% or more of most Americans’ education comes from memorization of facts. And how many of us truly remember who the 23rd President of the US was? (Answer at the bottom of this post.) Do you use that information every day? Is it necessary information to solve world problems? So why not rely on computers for more of this memorized data as we need it? Why not allow students to learn how to find the information they need as opposed to memorizing facts they have no hope of remembering?
The key in my mind is to determine what is uniquely human capability and what is best done by a computer. For instance, is it necessary for me to remember every birthday of every friend and family member? Why not free up that part of my memory for other things that can’t be simply stored on a technical device?
Well, there is a down side. Thompson brings up a good point — what if you’re “off the grid”? How would you function if you needed the data stored on a computer somewhere?
By the way… the answer to the 23rd President question? Benjamin Harrison. I confess… I Googled it.