Is technology making you dumber?

Do you remember writing a letter on a piece of paper to a friend during the last few weeks? How about texting or calling that friend during the last few hours? What is the last time you used spell check on a typing software like MS Word? What is the last time you pick up a printed encyclopedia to find information for a school/work paper? Forget about going to the library and picking up the Encyclopedia Britannica because after 200+ years of printing the book in March 2012, the publishers decided they will only issue electronic/digital editions of Britannica. It is an advantage that items like Encyclopedia Britannica is now electronic. If you were to find a single article in the encyclopedia of full of thousands of articles, it will consume a lot of time to find the right one. With the electronic version you have the advantage to quickly search the item and dig into even more refined articles you didn’t even know about. The software version of Britannica will not only find all the related articles in a second, it will even create a map of according to relevance to the searched topic. But this is not the scenario for all the items available electronically. This paper will specifically address the issue of distractions related to technological tools.

Some experts have argued that the increased use of information technology for our daily tasks will eventually hinders the development skills and abilities of children. I disagree on these experts because any technology used wisely can be beneficial to the society. While the use of spell check can make a student highly dependent on technology, there are benefits to language developments as well. For example, the use of specialized software to help improve spelling techniques for students with autism. Researchers reported the speech recognition software has improved the quality of life for these autistic students by providing them the opportunity to be independent. (Blischak et al. 2003) The software like Microsoft Office have customisation ability which will allow a user to disable the spell and grammar check. Most university IT departments have decided to disable the spell and grammar check for the school computers. I think it is helpful if we disable the feature for elementary school users. This will help build their language skills while promoting language through technology. However, students are not all the same. For example, a study on the effects of calculator use found that while for some students their mathematical abilities were hindered by the use of calculator, for others it had a positive feedback. (Bridgeman et al. 1995) But in Asia, there is this widespread belief that calculator use in early age could result in degradation of student’s ability to understand and perform mathematical tasks. This Asian belief is rooted in most Asian cultures. I agree with this statement because if a student is not forced to memorize the multiplication table and the periodic table of elements, the students will always fall back on electronic or physical book support. Especially when students face with real world problems which they have to solve for their future carriers or even in daily life, they will face an uphill battle. If you were to buy a small file server that is priced at $300 and you can pay monthly for 3 years, you should be able to calculate how much per month, ~ $8.37, in few seconds so that you know what you are getting into.

The technologies are great if you use wisely. Like any other product ever invented to make tasks easier for people must be used properly. Tools are tools and they are only useful if you know how to use them properly. When it comes to tools like computers and mobile phones it is important to learn how to manage and use them properly for your advantage. For example, at University of Calgary, I seen so many people distracted by their phone or their laptop during lectures. Once a professor point a finger at a student and asked if she agree with what he just said. She was confused and distracted and she answered yes. The answer was no and this student was a smart student. She should be able to say no, the explanation for that problem was wrong because she scored 94% of the midterm exam just few weeks ago. The reason she answered it wrong because she was on Facebook posting on her friend’s wall when professor asked the question. Not only she distract herself, it also can distract others behind her. Some even watch movies while sitting in the lecture room.

The Internet is full of educational tool ranging from great search engines such as Google to online textbooks and everything in between. If you are a visual learner, you will even be able to access databases full of 3D animations on whatever the subject you are following. Even today you came across this paper because of the Internet services. To write this paper, I used the Google Scholar to search articles to prove my point of view. Although the Internet is full of great resources like this, did you know that most students including myself would slant off to sites like YouTube while studying for exams? Even yesterday I was writing an essay for Science 311 English class I had this urge to update my website. This is a growing major problem for most people. Not just the teenagers, but also the professionals use the net for the wrong reasons. Once I saw a bank manager playing a MMO(Massively multiplayer online) game while in his glass room. All the customers walks into the bank can see he playing the game. These technology addictions are hard to beat. Add salt to the addiction wound is the massive Internet pornography databases. From professional pornography to homemade delivered through the web, FTP, torrent and even through emails and internal office networks. Prostitution has been the world’s oldest profession. But with the development of technologies like the Internet the prostitution also has boom along with pornography industry. Even in countries where these activities are illegal, there is always a way on the Internet. For example, the infamous “girlfriend experience” use the cover of friendship services for prostitution even in places like Florida where prostitution is illegal. Where is most of their clients comes from, yes, the Internet.

Distractions comes from all forms and in many different ways. Social networking sites/apps, the mobile phone, the Internet and computers are only a few out of many. It is important that while the technology has given us tools to improve our abilities, depend on how you use them, these tools can be an advantage or disadvantage to you. I find most technologies are useful when used properly. Therefore, it is not the technology that causes distraction, but it is YOU who create a victim out of your own self.

Blischak DM, Schlosser RW. 2003. Use of Technology to Support Independent Spelling by Students with Autism. Topics in Language Disorders. 23(4):293-304.

Bridgeman B, Harvey A, Braswell J. 1995. Effects of Calculator Use on Scores on a Test of Mathematical Reasoning. Journal of Educational Measurement. 32(4):323-340.