Is the Internet making us dumb?
by Robin Rowe
HOLLYWOOD, CA (Gosh!TV) 2016/10/16 – Modern teachers have reignited a forgotten ancient debate started by Socrates. Teachers are asking, is modern technology like the Internet making students dumb?
The Greeks faced a similar question with the emergence of books. The great Greek scholar Socrates was so contemptuous of writing that he never wrote anything down. We know his words because his student Plato wrote them.
In Phaedrus, Plato lays out Socrates’ argument against writing. It seems that all the great scholars of the time considered writing a cheat, like using a pocket calculator or Google. True masters memorized everything verbatim, often using the elaborate trick known as the memory palace or method of loci. Use books? That’s for simpletons. The Greek scholars learned though active debate, what today would be Twitter.
Do aids to memory and learning make us dumber? If you give a child a calculator, will she never learn to do math in her head? If you let a child google the answer to a question, should the credit go to the child or Google? What about adults? Are we all getting dumber as our reliance on technology increases?
As Exhibit A, consider Thomas Twaites, inspired by The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to attempt to create a toaster from scratch…
What is the value of a modern education when students can’t even build a toaster? Not even after cheating by looking up the answers in Wikipedia. Socrates is ultimately proven true, that book learning is a reminiscence of things learned interactively, not really knowledge. That you can read a novel doesn’t mean you can write one.
It gets worse. The U.S. has lost the industrial capability to build an iPhone from scratch. Apple CEO Steve Jobs was asked by President Obama how to bring iPhone jobs back to the U.S. The Republican presidential candidate has said he will make those jobs come back. Why not? The tech infrastructure has all moved to Asia. To bring the jobs back, the U.S. would have to rebuild a massive infrastructure. For the iPhone alone it would mean training 700,000 factory workers and 30,000 engineers.
Maybe it does get better for U.S. manufacturing. Chinese mega-factories like Foxconn may be doomed. The rise of 3D printing and robotics may drive labor costs down to the point that shipping goods half way around the world is no longer economic.
Will 3D printing make us dumber? Smarter? Neither?
The convenience of having a replicator was first shown widely on Star Trek. Although not yet able to transmit and rearrange subatomic particles, functional 3D printers are available today, If you aren’t ready to buy a 3D printer, you can even rent one at a neighborhood Kinkos or Staples. Available 3D printing materials include plastic, rubber, metal, even stainless steel.
Perhaps the most vital thing teachers can pass on to students is how to use all this powerful knowledge responsibly, with kindness and love for the good of the planet and mankind.