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Is technology dumbing us down?


It was recently reported by The Independent that 90% of us are now suffering from what is being referred to as ‘Digital Amnesia’ with more than 70 % of people not knowing their own children’s’ phone numbers by heart and around half (49%) not knowing their partners mobile number.

The Kaspersky Lab refer to this digital amnesia as ‘The Google effect’, with the notion that we are safe in the knowledge that answers to pretty much anything we could need or want being just a click away and interestingly, we are comfortable in treating the web as an extension to our own memory. 

Dr Maria Wimker of Birmingham Universities house of psychology argues that The Google Effect makes us good at remembering where to find a given bit of information but not necessarily retaining what the information was. It is likely to be true that we do not attempt to store information in our own memory to the same degree as we used to, because we are confident in the reliability of the information found on the internet knows everything.

Furthermore, it is argued that innovations such as the internet, smartphones and tablets are affecting our ability to think critically and problem solve. The concern of many is that technology is in fact making us stupid.


I’m sure most of us will agree that technology is distracting. Whether it is stepping away from an important project to check your smartphone or flipping between browsers tabs without a real focus on one. We will have all been distracted by technology at some stage. It has been feared that this exposure to more distraction of this sort is in turn dumbing us down, with reports that distractions such as social media outlets could be responsible for lower exam results by up to 20%.

There is also a limit to how much information your working memory can take in at once. Attempting to take in too much information, something that happens a lot online, is like “having water poured into a glass continuously all day long, so whatever was there at the top has to spill out as the new water comes down,” productivity expert Tony Schwartz told The Huffington Post last year.

According to the Huffington Post millennials are more likely to forget what day it is or where they put their keys than people over the age of 55, and technology has been cited as a major culprit behind this. Scientist magazine recently commented “This is a population that has grown up multitasking using technology, often compounded by lack of sleep, all of which results in high levels of forgetfulness.” 

The young and future generations
The Google Effect will become a growing concern for parents as it is set to have the most notable effect on the younger generation in those under the age of 15 as well as future generations.

The Guardian recently reported that four years ago, just 7% of 5 to 15 year-olds in the UK had access to a tablet. By last year that figure was 71%. Some 34% of this age group even owned the tablets themselves, as well as 11% of 3 to 4 year-olds, according to Ofcom figures.

The popularity of tablets among children is a controversial topic, with differing views on the subject. Are these electronic devices with their apps, games and access to online video distracting children from more traditional, some might say ‘more wholesome’, activities, such as reading? Or preventing children from playing outdoors?

Despite these concerns, there are those that believe this notion of dumbing down by digital innovation to be nothing more than a conspiracy.

Anthropologist Dr Genevieve Bell, a vice-president at Intel believes so. She says technology "helps us live smarter" as we're able to access answers. "Being able to create a well-formed question is an act of intelligence, as you quickly work out what information you want to extract and identify the app to help achieve this, suggesting a level of engagement with the world that's not about dumbness."

It could be argued that with so much access to unlimited information about everything and anything, technology surely has a positive impact on ability to learn and gain information.

What are your thoughts? Is Technology smartening us up, or dumbing us down?

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