Is Technology Making Us Dumber?


We're all becoming more technologically dependent. We have to. But what is it really doing to us? I've had a (very unscientific) theory for years now that new Web-focused technologies and tools are killing our brains. Nick Carr confirmed that in a recent article in the Atlantic. If you haven't read it, do so, and you'll see what I mean. Here's a quick sample:

Over the past few years I've had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn't going--so far as I can tell--but it's changing. I'm not thinking the way I used to think.

It gets scarier as it goes on.

So what's the problem, from a worker standpoint? For one, all these technologies and tools are quite distracting. I'm pretty efficient, but I can barely keep up with my Facebook or LinkedIn accounts. And I'm a telecommuter (my company, thankfully, doesn't resist it), so a lot more of my communication with colleagues is done electronically. That means more stuff to monitor.

Then there's overload. Author and entrepreneur David Silverman wrote about a recent experience with e-mail the other day, and it got me thinking more.

I'm not one to complain (eh, maybe just a little, sometimes), but I have to ask: has anyone figured out how to operate effectively in this cluttered new world? More importantly, have your managers? Do they know what all this new technology is doing to your workload? Or what it will do?

Recent research shows that mobility is helping to boost productivity; same goes for collaborative tools.

I'm not doubting it; in fact, I fully agree. But what I'm worried about is the long-term effect it will all have on the way we work, and the way we think. In other words, I'm wondering how right Nick Carr is.

So what do you think?

P.S. I hope reading this blog post didn't further Nick's case...


6 Comments for "Is Technology Making Us Dumber?"

  • Charley August 03, 2008 1:14 am

    I read Nick Carr's article and I think that maybe he is overstating his case, hopefully to make a point and get us to think. He states that "I've had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory." Others have stated that young people today multi-task because their brains are wired differently. For those who accept the notion of evolution, we know that human nature has evolved over centuries and millenia. It is almost patently silly to suggest that the Internet that we have created has changed our brains in about 15 years. Although we have always had the ability to do several simple tasks in parallel by time-sharing techniques, the Internet - its tools and especially the Web - has caused much distraction and distractibility. Bill, Kathy, and Todd have all provided valuable insights, especially Kathy's thoughts about how to exert control over the technology we have created. A good book that answers Bill's question about how do we stop and control our mindless speed is Carl Honore's "In Praise of Slowness." It gives many hints on how to slow down sometimes and do it in a very meaningful way. It will take an effort to control information and technology, rather than allow the reverse to happen - but we all know that it will be worth the effort.

  • Todd July 02, 2008 3:39 pm

    I would say that technology is possibly making us lazier and even more dependent on it, but in no way dumber. I couldn't even fathom doing bookkeeping, payroll etc... just 25 years ago. With the good, you must take the bad. The bad really isn't a bad, per se--it is a corollary to the technology revolution; one must be able to quickly and accurately absorb information and more times than not, come up with viable action based on what you absorbed and deciphered. So instead of knowing everything about accounting principles, we have software that fills in the gap(s) and assists us. With that comes more information from an ever increasing supply of sources and software upgrades etc... It it what it is. I think this works well for me, keeps me sharp and miles away from being complacent.

  • Kathy Martino July 02, 2008 3:12 pm

    Funny, Internet activity can be akin to being in a casino: everywhere there's something [useless] competing for your attention. It's difficult to find the value and stay focused. That's why I make a deliberate attempt to filter what I read and do on the Net, and stay out of casinos. I ask myself "is this really helping me achieve my goals?" If the answer is no, I walk away. My brain still likes to learn so I do make a little time for exploring on the net and learn what's new and what might be of value to me. The key to skimming info (referring to the article) is that I am aware, mostly because of experiences, that it can be hazardous to use skimmed info for decision-making. For that, I will read deep and gain as good an understanding of something as I can. I think my brain learned that during my school-age years. To keep focus, I remember my goals. Hopefully as a society we can all become more deliberate on the computer about doing what matters in life and on the job. Professionally: for those of us who design and build enterprise software, making our enterprise's software just as fun and easy to use as consumer sites might just motivate employees to work more and Facebook less. Listen to what your users are asking for and there will be a clue--if not an outright good suggestion--of what might be needed to do that. Keep in mind that it's not simply about recreating consumer technologies as is [in the enterprise]; it's about applying those concepts and technologies in ways that matter in your organization and in ways that help people [in your organization] toward achieving their organizational and departmental goals. You might have to experiment a little. And pay attention to the information that matters in one's job for that person to be successful; it's not just about the technology but the information, too. I greatly welcome today's challenge of figuring out how to apply these new ways of collaborating, socializing and consuming information in my organization. It's been far too stale for a long time [in enterprise IT] and this is just what the IT professional doctor ordered for me.

  • Bill Wehmer July 02, 2008 8:12 am

    Interesting article that you reference in The Atlantic. I have also found that I lack the concentration to read like I used to, and, in fact, I skim everything I read. Much like the author, I find that my concentration is good for about five minutes and then my mind is on to something else. In a parallel sense it seems that the current corporate IT environment has morphed into a world that is comprised of rapidly changing subject matter as well, and moving at mach 3. As an IT executive, my normal day consists of back-to-back meetings or interactions with employees, customers and vendors, all typically with a different subject matter. Between meetings or interactions you are trying to check voicemail, work your e-mail, deal with people waiting at your door and answer your cell phone. Top it off with the increasing barrage of instant messaging. To me, it begs the "chicken or egg" question: Has the internet changed our thought process, which in turn has changed our work environment, or has the work environment driven the technology to its current state? Either way, one thing is for sure: it is hard to exit this rapid-fire mode after a normal 12-14 hour day. Is it any wonder that America has sleep and stress problems?! To me the tougher question is: How do we stop it, or at least learn to turn it off?

  • jonmca July 02, 2008 6:17 am

    The information explosion has not increased individual information overload, and made time management and project management skills esssential, but has also fundamentally changed the way all organizations need to operate, and what's required for successful leadership. For example, with wide availablity of information, it's extremely counterproductive to micro-manage, for one person to spend time telling people how to do someting, or even to tell them what to do. The key to success is to communicate a shared goal, inspire people to try to achieve it, help remove the barriers that stand in their way, and provide non-judgemental and honest feedback about how they're doing. Real leadership is shifting from those who are motivated by the need to exercise power and authority to those who have clear vision and the ability to remove barriers to innovation and progress. Everyone can now get information, but few have the ability to inspire others.

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