Just about anywhere you go–Worldwide, it seems–people are checking their Smartphones or, perhaps, their Pads.  Gotta keep up on who called Me,  do I need to return it or can I just send a text until later?  Emails?  Nothing like a friendly lunch with Friends, or dinner with Family, only to spend most of your time just seeing the tops of each other’s heads–as the group is each  engrossed in checking their calls and messages.

Now, think about it: can you still multiply or divide two three-digit numbers; how’s your Spelling; which is the third planet from the Sun; can you find Italy on a map; how about write in “cursive” (that’s the characters that are generally linked together)?  Can you write in full sentences, without abbreviations?  Or, have we forgotten some of these things that we probably learned in Elementary School?

Tim Wu, a Professor at the Columbia Law School, has written frequently about how the use of mobile computers effects our Intelligence. He used a novel approach in phrasing this question: the linked article from the New Yorker, about a 1914 Time-Traveller confronting the average American in 2014; but, they are separated by a curtain.  The article is,

The Man from a century ago, is well-educated in numerous Fields of Knowledge, somewhat of a Renaissance Man.  He is amazed by the fact that the Lady behind the curtain, after only a slight pause, can answer virtually any question, and with complete thoroughness.  She does seem, however, to have a strange accent (21st Century American-English).  The cloaked  Lady is armed with only a smartphone and an Internet connection.

Professor Wu’s question is: have we evolved Biologically or, with today’s gotta-have tools, are we merely evolving Technologically?  Have we really become smarter today, or do mobile computing devices eliminate some of the areas of knowledge that once were common among all educated peoples–and have now become obsolete?

Various academics, writers and researchers refer to this field as “Human Augmentation”.  Nicholas Carr asserts that the Web is responsible for growing cognitive problems.  But, Clive Thompson believes our technologies are boosting our abilities.  So again, are we getting smarter or stupider?  Tim Wu stresses that the answer is dependent upon how you classify “We”. Thompson is judging the “cyborg” (cybernetic organism), the combination of Man and Machine.  Carr, on-the-other-hand, is judging the Man underneath.  What do you think?




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