News

The World of Technology - Part II

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | January 31, 2009

"It has become appallingly obvious that technology has exceeded our humanity." 
Anonymous

Several years ago my friend, Bob Rhoden, introduced the term "counter intuitive" in a Board of Trustee meeting. Prior to his comment the discussion was mostly one-sided with hardly anyone raising a question or challenge. His fresh perspective was welcomed because he framed it as a necessary "counter intuitive" insight. 

Almost everything we read about technology affirms its value, even necessity in our lives. And I would certainly agree that we all have become dependent on its place in our public and private lives. Most of us could hardly function without it. 

But two articles have presented me with a "counter intuitive" perspective on technology. The first article was published in The Atlantic Monthly (July 2008) titled "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" by Nicholas Carr. As an author Carr is indebted to the Web for the way it helps him do research. He says, it is now "becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind." 

But Carr also acknowledges the Net is "...chipping away at my capacity for concentration and contemplation...Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surfaces like a guy on a Jet Ski." 

If this "counter intuitive" perspective challenges you as it does me, I would encourage you to read the entire article. Carr references Bruce Friedman who describes how the Internet has altered his mental habits. "I have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the Web or in print." 

Perhaps the most thought-provoking author Carr sites is Maryanne Wolfe, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University who claims, "We are not only what we read. We are how we read." Or as she argues, "Deep reading is indistinguishable from deep reading." 

Unfortunately, Carr also says, "The Net's influence doesn't end at the edges of a computer screen, either." Now we need all kinds of short-cuts, abstracts, text crawls, pop-up ads and abbreviated devices to get and keep our attention. 

Sally Thomas shares her own "counter intuitive" perspectives on technology in her article "iPhones Have Consequences" published in First Things (November 2008). 

Her primary ideas come from Mark Bauerlein's new book The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future; or Don't Trust Anyone Under 30. The title itself is quite fascinating. 

According to Thomas, Bauerlein is confronting trying to "confront and dismantle the claim that digital technology is producing a higher-powered, better-informed, all-around smarter new-generation than, say, the .01 percent of the Facebook population born in the 1960s." 

Thomas goes on, "While apologists for digital technology in the classroom trumpet computer smarts as an entire new form of intelligence, an 'e-literacy revolution,' Bauerlein offers page after page of studies that suggest 'e-literacy' is really a new speak for 'illiteracy.'" 

At its heart, Thomas describes, Bauerline's book is not about machines but what he calls "The Betrayal of the Mentor" i.e. the educational and cultural establishments have sold out tradition and authority in favor of "collaborative learning" models and objectives like "working with every young person's sense of self." 

We are in a tug-of-war with technology which is pulling us forward into an unknown future. The bells and whistles are intoxicating. I just got a new camera and I love its new features. The touch screen, powerful zoom lens, and efficient instructions are incredible. I would never want to go back to my other one. 

But we also need the counter intuitive voices to keep our souls nourished and our lives grounded. We must not ignore them. If we do, as John Kenneth Galbrarith said, "We are becoming the servants in thought, as in action, of the machines we have created to serve us." 

Think about it.


Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu