Living on a smarter planet?

You would never get tired people telling you that we are living in the age of smartness.In fact, there are few organisation who has taken the ‘theka’  to build a smarter planet. While I was doing boring stuff with Google to help finding me papers I can cite in my M. Tech. thesis, the Atlantic magazine came out with an article that Google is making us dumb. The most respected research magazine Nature had an opinion about it. It is worried that a lot of author are just citing the reference without even reading them and also developing an habit of not going to libraries to browse journal and stumbling upon something very new. Instead they use internet to search, i.e. to search what they already have an idea about hence the chances are very less to come across something different. (Sorry can not locate the link, trust me it’s been like that. – will put it here once found.) But if you google, chances are very extreme that you’ll hit something which you have no idea about.

There are few people who lives a lot of time in future. One of them claims that technology has made us very smart.The ‘fluid intelligence’ —the ability to find meaning in confusion and to solve new problems, independent of acquired knowledge. Fluid intelligence doesn’t look much like the capacity to memorize and recite facts, the skills that people have traditionally associated with brainpower. As to say that the generation who copies wiki links and consider itself smarter than the previous generation just like a drunkard who thinks that he can drive.

Then there was tweeter. Now people tells me that they do not read my blogs because they are long. Keep it small. But how can I express myself in tweets.

Not everyone is amused with technology. Prof Gallagar came to IIT Bombay for a golden jubilee lectures, and asked everyone to keep the things simple (one of my Matka DSP project partner, He inferred, “Do not do research.“). He was concerned about that every year they pile up crap on MS-Word and it does things less efficiently. Prof. Narayanan also does not like this crapping up. He built the fastest circuit simulator (BITSIM). A market-oriented student of him telling him since the simulator spends only only 10-16% on real computations, its not worthwhile for market. So you see some awesome, breathtaking GUI’s on the worst of the software (yes, I meant Windows 7). Software development! Every new version must have a better GUI. No once cares what is behind it. Not even technology students.

Processing power is in-fact has increased a lot. There was a time not in distant past when a computer use to run slower that Chacha Choudhary’s brain but still in what way we are utilising it? And for ‘fluid intelligence’, there is difference between intuitions and automation!

Reading is the first victim of technology. We all know that 80-85% of brain is utilised to process visuals. On the net, while reading serious material, you see some ridiculous advertisements and blah poping up here and there. How much brain it will take, you may not be aware. We are very visual creature. Next time you want to read seriously, avoid  sites which have ‘good visual design’. But most of the people do not like them.

It follows that if we’ve been dumbed down by technology, we may be unable to recognise it. But it’s important here to worry about the right things. It’s not the technology that damages our ability to think. It’s the habits of mind that technology promotes. The habits of disciplined, careful thought that linear reading promotes are more useful for understanding a changing world than the ability to pay superficial attention to five different streams of information. I don’t think computers make it more difficult. It has always been difficult. But if they allow us to pretend we don’t need it any more, then they are really helping us to become a lot more stupid, fluidly or not.

Comfortably Dumb


Author: Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.

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