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Are Humans Getting More Stupid Because of Computers?

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Are humans getting dumber or lazier because of computers doing all the work? For example, spell-check replacing dictionaries? After 20 years, how can some one not know about the BIOS when the computer displays a message, “Press F1 to go into setup”? Or should they choose better instructions? Some of the new questions here seem like déjà vu and to me and probably lots of your readers.

I love these philosophical questions because they actually speak to the heart of what people are thinking and wondering about when it comes to computer from time to time.

My opinion is that people are as smart – or as dumb – as they’ve always been. Obviously, some are smarter than others and people have different strengths and weaknesses but by and large, people are still people even with 20-plus years worth of computers under our belts. I think what’s changed is where and how we spend our time and focus our energies.

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Computers help us do more

Using computers, we no longer have to do certain things that we’ve done in the past, or at least not do them in the ways that we used to. We’re able to spend more of our time doing other things; things we perhaps we would not have had the resources, time, or energy for in the past.

Personally, I can do more and be more than ever before. That’s because I allow technology do the things that I used to have to know and do.

It’s part of my philosophy that I’ve even posted on the homepage of Ask Leo! If you go down to the bottom of the homepage, you’ll see a section labeled “Leo Who?” and you’ll see that I say right there:

“I believe that personally accessible technology is the foundation of humanity’s future. To that end, I teach people to understand and safely use personal computers and related technology so that they can do more, be more, grow more and connect more than ever before – and be an active participant in that future.”

And that’s what I honestly believe technology has allowed us to do, is allowing us to do, and will continue to allow us to do.

Head ScratchCollateral Damage

That also means that some things may fall by the wayside. Things like,

  • Handwriting
  • Relying on things like dictionaries
  • Memorizing spelling
  • Almost any activity that might be more efficiently, or more safely, performed by technology

Ultimately, I really don’t think that people are more or less intelligent than they have been in the past. They’re just leveraging this wonderful tool that they have in front of them. The computer is taking away the burden of having to know some of the things that they’ve had to in the past, making room for new and exciting knowledge and accomplishments.

Now, one thing that I do want to address very specifically.

BIOS

People like you and I have been in this industry for so long that we’re intimately familiar with things like a computer’s BIOS. We’ve probably been in it more times than we care to count.

In my opinion the average computer user should never, ever see a BIOS or need to know what a BIOS is. In my opinion, the extent that they are forced to know about or interact with a BIOS is a failing on the part of computer designers. These things should just work.

In some ways, it’s like when your car displays a diagnostic message. We don’t know all of the different diagnostic error codes that your car might display. It’s unclear to the average driver what a check engine light really means (and obviously, it can mean many different things), but there are people who do know what that means and what to do.

The same is true for the BIOS. There are people who understand and know about that while there are others who don’t want, care, or need to know what a BIOS is. They know that there are people that they can turn to when they need it.

Facebook Perspectives

After recording the Answercast that included the draft of what I’ve written above, I posted the question to the Ask Leo! Facebook Page. Here’s a sampling of some of the comments.

As with any technology, we become stupider in some ways and smarter in others. Many people don’t know how to drive a stick shift, and since the advent of GPS, people are losing the skill of map reading. Lots of younger people can’t do simple arithmetic anymore because of calculators. On the other hand, many are learning computer skills such as Web design, artists are learning computer graphics, and people in general are having to acquire at least basic computer skills. It’s not an either or thing. Most of us have lost the ability to ride a horse, chop firewood, survive on a farm, and I don’t know how to start a fire without matches or a lighter :-). [Mark]

 I’d say that people aren’t necessarily any dumber than they’ve always been – but computers and the internet make it so much easier to display one’s shortcomings quickly and to a much wider audience than in the past. [Wendy] (Definitely an aspect I overlooked, and sadly all too true :-). -Leo)

For what it’s worth, maybe computers magnify the stupidity of some people. One of many examples, I get countless questions on how do you _____…. Really? How do they think I find out how to do _____ ? Search it! And I’m not talking about how to do “whatever” with computers, you can learn how to do almost anything if your motivated and smart enough to look into it. For example, I’ve learned to tile floors, build things, gardening, healthy eating and food additives, raise chickens, fix computers, and a long long list of other varied things because I use my computer to further educate myself on things that make my life more productive and fun and rewarding. It’s right there at our fingertips. Most people learn how to paint a false picture of themselves on Social media for example. Happy Happy Joy Joy, till you talk to them and the truth shines through… but they can’t figure out how to research and just maybe find possible solutions to their problems with this awesome tool that can open up an enormous amount of helpful options. I love my computer and how this tool has helped me grow, but I also get out and live what I learn. I’m “just a girl”, but I put into practice what I learn, I’m not just collecting information, I’m out here LIVING it and life is richer because of it :-). [Tonya]

I think computer are making people lazy more than i would think stupid. I believe there [are] some people that would be lost if for some reason all computers stopped working. [Karl] (The same could be said for automobiles and electricity. I’m sure some see it as lazy, but as I mentioned above I see it more as a new prioritization.)

Personally, I find sooo much info on the Internet about thing I want to know, how could that possibly be making me more stupid? It greatly enhances my skills, abilities, general knowledge and social life. [Larry]

Apparently in the 1400 & 1500s, the new mass technology, books, was suspect. As was writing in Plato’s time when it began to spread beyond the elite scribe… [Bob]

On the contrary.Just keeping up with the computing world with it’s contantly new versons, updated software and vicious malware draws on every brain cell I possess. I stretch my mind daily. Not to mention the worldliness of today’s young children in comparison to my preschool and primary school days. [Judy]

Look at how they are used in schools: “There is no longer a need to know, learn, or memorize anything. Just Google it.” I have heard a number of “modern” teachers say this. I have heard of people who can no longer read or write the handwritten word. And our math skills and abilities? Recall: “What you do not use, you lose.” Kids no longer know how to write. They “tweet write”. They do videos. But to stand up and speak for themselves or writer an essay, or a thesis, or a decent letter? NO. Of course, the adults are not faring much better. This does not mean computers are bad. They are merely tools, which can be used for good or evil. [Peter]

My thanks to those who shared their thoughts there (I couldn’t include them all here).

Have a thought on computer-induced -stupidity? Let me know down below in the comments.

28 comments on “Are Humans Getting More Stupid Because of Computers?”

  1. I think the correct response should be “computers have gotten so ‘user friendly’ that even an idiot can use one — and many do”. 🙂

    As for your other comments…

    I understand that some schools are doing away with handwriting classes, and are even dropping cursive entirely.

    Yes, many people really don’t “need” to know the details of why something failed, but too many devices and programs nowadays have no way of telling someone even if they want/need to know. How many times have you tried to install a software package/upgrade, only to have it fail with nothing more than an “install failed” message? How many possible errors generate the single “check engine” notification? (Yes, the industry has finally gotten to a standard interface where you can buy a device to give you an error number, but how long did that take?)

    The “problem”, IMHO, is that it’s gotten to the point that you don’t really need to know how something works in order to use it, and too many people don’t want to know.

    • The same final comment applies equally well to much of the “old” technology we use today. Consider the automobile, for example.

  2. As technology continues to advance, our ability to repair or maintain that technology dwindles. In his youth, my father used to maintain his own car. If something stopped working, he knew roughly what was wrong and could either fix it or do enough to limp back to a garage to have someone qualified to look at it. These days, it takes a computer to tell you what is wrong with your car – by asking the computer under the bonnet what it knows.
    Humans are not getting more stupid, they are getting more lazy. Why figure out something if you don’t have to? Why phone and talk to someone when you can tweet it? Why go outside when the ‘magic box’ can show you places you could never travel to?
    Technology is isolating us from each other, under the guise of connecting us to everyone.

    • And yet cars seem to last a lot longer. It’s not uncommon to go well over 200,000 miles without problems. My old 1966 Volvo we had to rebuild the engine at a hundred thou. So I think things are getting better.

    • I don’t think I could disagree more. Not only does technology free me to do more than I ever thought possible, I also feel more connected to more people that ever. And I’m VERY certain that without this technology to do so I’d be much more isolated.

  3. Technology doesn’t make us more stupid, just lazier in some areas. Your next to the last sentence is a good example. “My thanks to those who shared there thoughts there (I couldn’t include them all here).” The first “there” should be “their.” 😉

    As Wendy mentioned, technology (especially computers) allow people to demonstrate their stupidity to a larger audience. How people use technology is a reflection of themselves. Consider other drivers on the road, people using cell phones in public places, or texting while driving. Read some of the posts on other sites (especially the tech sites mentioning Win 8) to see how stupid and ill-mannered some people are. Yet, they don’t think of how large an audience they really have.

  4. Are people getting more stupid? It depends on how you define stupid. I don’t believe that people are getting any less intelligent but I do believe that most people have lost the capacity for critical thinking. Too many people are willing to let others do their thinking for them. They accept the vast amount of information that is fed to them daily without applying even the most basic bullshit test. All that is required is whether or not that information agrees with what they already believe to be true. Greta Christina often poses the question “don’t you care whether or not what you believe is true?” Surprisingly, the answer from most of us is “not really”.

    • While I agree with your comment – that people are losing the capacity for true critical thinking – I don’t blame technology for that. It’s more of a societal issue, in my opinion.

  5. I’m 31. I can read, write and perform arithmetic, even though I’ve been around computers and calculators my whole life. Computer is to a pencil and paper what a chainsaw is to an axe. 100 years ago man carried a sharpened wedge mounted to a stick into the woods and felled a tree. Today a man carries a chainsaw and fells the same tree in a lot less time, and he can probably fell a tree with an axe too, maybe not as quickly as a man who has more experience with an axe, but he can still do it if he needs to.

  6. Like Einstein said in 1935, ” If we get more technology we will soon be raising a world of idiots.” And if we look around today we’ll see it all over, in third grade they were taught Multication and Division, and I have to teach them the same thing all over again in fifth grade before they go to middle school, everyone actually believes they’re going to become Rock Stars…..

  7. I think they make people impatient. The number of posts I have read on forums where people are whining and complaining about a fews seconds it takes to start up their computer. Makes me want to reach out and slap someone. 🙂

  8. I disagree with the notion that BIOS shouln’t need to be dealt with. BIOS provides a user with the most basic understanding of their hardware’s interactions and ultimately provides the insght to diagnose the various systems…what could be more beneficial than understanding this important device to the point of being able to bring it back from downtime more quickly?

    BIOS is like CPR-everyone should know it well.

    • Hi Steven,
      Having spent over 30 years in the Information Systems arena, one would think I had plenty of reasons to become familiar with BIOS, especially since I have been using PCs for over 20 years. Quite the contrary, I have never felt a compelling need to delve into the hidden mysteries of Windows. Similarly, I never felt the need to learn how to overhaul a car engine or replace a transmission.
      That may make me ignorant, but a happy one at that.

  9. Out of all the comments that I read, only one had a perfectly written sentence. Therefor, the people that think computers are helping them, are obviously mistaken. There were plenty of spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes. What does this say about people being lazy or stupid? Or perhaps they never learned these things in school for whatever reason. Very seldom do I read a book, a newspaper, or anything else without finding at least one of the above mistakes.

  10. Don’t think it’s an issue of people getting dumber, it’s an issue of people becoming more progressively dependent on technology for our day to day – if you know how to access it, you can gain a wealth of knowledge to increase and hone your skill set, even being able to pull in pro tips and over-the-shoulder vantage points off youtube on how to get a job done, as an example. So, you can kind of become a “specialist” in a few things, rather than a jack-of-all trades (where you kind of have to be self-reliant to be handy) rather than selling and bartering your service. This is what our parents and grandparents had over us, they could fix what they broke, we on the other hand are either buying a new one or calling the repair guy. Think it’s making us more helpless, if anything.

  11. Don’t forget the old quote:
    “When you make something idiot-proof, the World develops a better class of idiot”

  12. I reckon the last one from Bob rings true for me – don’t know whether its’ my vintage years, but I always seem to be left far behind in the tech race….struggling & crawling to keep up the pace with changes.
    Cheers

  13. Are we getting more stupid? Most of the comments above are based on personal belief, such as “I don’t believe people are getting more stupid.” Interestingly, some scientists, however, disagree with that premise.
    A recent study finds that intelligence of Westerners has declined 14 I.Q. points since the Victorian era. Read for yourself at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/22/people-getting-dumber-human-intelligence-victoria-era_n_3293846.html.
    The study is based on the fact that “women of high intelligence tend to have fewer children than women of lower intelligence.”

    Interestingly, this lowering of “inherited” intelligence tends to be somewhat offset by “environmental factors, such as better education, hygiene and nutrition.”

    Does all this mean that while the average intelligence quotient slowly declines, science may come to our rescue? After all it is mainly due to computers that we eat, live and breathe better than ever before. So my conclusion is that while we may be getting stupider by the day, computers are coming to our rescue.
    P.S. My faithful companion, my laptop, found at least 15 spelling errors in my brief treatise. Hurray for computers!

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