Are Smart Devices Making Our World Stupid?


By: Julius McGee Special to the Boca and Delray newspapers
Informative, controlling, captivating and undeniably addictive – there is no doubt smart devices have significantly revolutionized our world. However, the question that has caused anthropologists, teachers, psychologists, automation authors and technological gurus to debate is whether smart devices are inadvertently causing a decline in the collective intelligence of the human race.
The world we live in today is as weird as it can get. The colossal advancement of novelty related situations and events has put humanity into a high number of ironic, conflicting and contradicting predicaments. The power and effect smart devices have on our lives is mind boggling. Everyone is “jacked in” taking selfies, posting images of their food, following, unfollowing, liking, un-liking, hashtag’n and sending gifs and emoji’s just to keep up. Is this the Twilight zone or an episode of Black Mirror?
In 2015, there was a debate held by the Intelligence Squared U.S. in New York at the Kaufman Music Center, where two opposing teams addressed the subject with an intent of persuading the audience for their votes. Before the commencement of the discussion, 37 percent of the audience were in favor for the proposition that smart devices were hindering our intellectual abilities, while 33 percent disagreed and 30 percent were undecided. After a lengthy debate where intriguing points were put forth by both teams, the result was 47 percent in favor, 43 percent opposed, and 10 percent remained undecided. By evidence of this interesting event, the answer to whether smart devices are making us ‘stupid’ is not as straightforward as one may think. Here are some of the points summarized that were presented by both sides.
In favor
Our lives have become automated. By depending on technological devices to do our thinking for us, our cognitive skills are fading away.
Naturally, humans are not capable of intense multitasking, and digital media’s distractions weaken our focus and destroy our attention.
Instead of widening our intellectual and sociocultural boundaries, social media confines our worlds to echo chambers.
Tech giants know more about us than we know about ourselves. As they relate to us as mere consumers, and as data.
The digital revolution has reinvented the spreading of information, replacing usual constraints with open, unlimited networks. With the internet, humans can work together to infinitely scale knowledge.
With our 24/7, hyper connected networks, knowledge has been democratized, giving increasing agency to everyone and everywhere.
The effective, seamless presence of digital technologies has freed us from menial tasks, thereby opening space in our heads for higher pursuits.
Technology is what we make it, not vice versa. Far from mindless, passive consumers, people across the world are actively engaging with technology to better their lives and societies.
Clearly, both parties of the debate provided compelling points that make you think twice about the effects of our technology. To know whether our advancements in this domain, that is still quite young, is negatively affecting our cognitive more than what it is positively producing can only be known by what the future will tell us. The human race, therefore, has no choice but to experience the weirdness of it all as it comes. Let’s hope we can still retain our mentally gifted abilities, for in regards to the world as it currently is, we will need some intelligent ideas to help our current predicament.