Technology and the Intellectual Decline of Humanity

“Use it or Lose it. We have all heard that expression.  And that expression is so very, very, very true, whether we are talking about typing or dancing or walking or talking or calculating or driving or observing.  This is because with any activity that we choose to regularly engage there will necessarily be subtle refinements whereby we area more efficacious in engaging in that activity.  Two observations nicely bring out this point.  There is now extraordinary efficacy in the way in which people now use technology these days in comparison to how people used technology a mere decade ago.  This is because our various devices are much more an extension of ourselves than they were a decade ago.

So, while it is perhaps a bit over the top to say that “Nowadays countless many people can send a text message while having sex and never miss a beat”, there is surely far more truth to that claim than not.  This is owing to none other than the fact that we have integrated texting into our day-to-day living with the result being that there is a mastery with respect to texting that was very nearly unimaginable a mere decade ago.

In a different direction, notice that by-and-large, we have become quite accustomed to talking with a person while there is a considerable amount of background noise.  That would have been entirely unacceptable not so long ago.  But it is routine these days.  Multi-tasking, as we call it, is a routine part of our daily living.

But then there is this reality: While it is manifestly obvious that human beings have become rather masterful in the use of gadgets, it is manifestly false that there has been a dramatic rise in human understanding and insightfulness.  Indeed, it is arguable that commonsense as taken one hell of nose dive.  Here is a wonderful illustration of this very point.

Below is part of set of remarks on the syllabus that I sent out to one of the classes that I am teaching this semester.

15-page essay

As can be seen, I have in parenthesis, write after the author and title of the essay the remark “15 page essay”.  That remark do not occur anywhere else on the syllabus.  What is more, there is absolutely no place on the syllabus where I speak about a required essay for the course.

Well, approximately 18 students wrote me an email inquiring about the 15-page essay that I am requiring for the course.  To be sure, 18 out of 400 students is hardly a lot of students—just over 2%.  However, we do not always need a lot of people to say something in order to wonder “What on earth could have motivated a person to raise that question that or make that comment?”

A most fascinating insight here is that from the fact that people are now efficient in the use of technology what does not follow at all is that people are increasingly more intellectually insightful or perceptive or reflective.  That is, what does not at all seem to be true is that there has been dramatic rise in either the intellectual wherewithal of individuals or the intellectual perceptivity of individuals who routinely use technological gadgets.  Are there exceptions here and there?  Absolutely.  But as they say, the exceptions prove the rule.  The person who is unbelievably talented with respect to the use of technology but who is also exhibiting extraordinary intellectual depth is ever so rare.  And this point applies across the board, whether we are talking about adults who earning their livelihood or about students who are studying, including college students.  Indeed, it was just about a decade ago when office hours (which I have at public setting on the Syracuse University campus) were an occasion for extraordinary conversation about ideas discussed during class.  I would leave exhausted owing to the extraordinary richness of the conversations.  That is rare nowadays.

In the end, then, I can effectively demonstrate it is simply not the case that technology marvelously enhances the intellectual thought and depth of insight.  Perhaps that will happen in the very future.  But if that does not happen, then the unthinkable may occur, namely the following: There will be a very disconcerting sense in which, on account of technology, human beings will be worse off to a significant degree in terms of their intellectual on account of technology.  Nay, we will be more like zombies than the rational creatures that was initially constitutive of our biological make-up.  Put another way: As most people are using technology these days, humanity would seem to be in the throes of a deep, deep intellectual decline.

© 2014 Laurence Thomas

About Laurence Thomas

Laurence Thomas is Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Department of Philosophy at Syracuse University. His most recent book is The Family and the Political Self and his most recent article in French is "Juifs et Noirs: Au-delà du Mal" in Trigano (ed.) Juifs et Noirs: du Mythe à la Réalité. Thomas has published numerous essays on the topic of friendship. The essay "The Character of Friendship" has appeared in volume on friendship, entitled Thinking About Friendship, edited by Damian Caluori and the essay "Friendship in the Shadow of Technology" has appeared in the anthology Moral and Moral Controversies edited by Steven Scalet and John Arthur. His most recent essay--entitled "Being Moral and Handling the Truth"--is about circumstances under which it is morally permissible to lie. Indeed, an example is given in Section IV of a lie being morally virtuous.
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  1. Pingback: Is Morality on the Decline? Ethical Relativism in the Workplace – DIALOG MAGAZINE

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