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